Chandigarh wakes up to save lost heritage

Architect items as "precious" junk lying in their backyard

Published on 9 May 2011

Author(s): Mangalorean

Type:  News

Discarded furniture and other items were being sold off in the international markets for thousands of dollars

Authorities in Chandigarh have finally woken up to the value of the "precious" junk lying in their backyard. Items originally designed by the team of architects associated with the city's founder-architect, Le Corbusier, were lying for years amid dusty piles of discarded official furniture and sold as junk.

The city administration realised the value of the discarded furniture and other items when it discovered they were being sold off in the international markets for thousands of dollars. The Chandigarh administration has now given three weeks' time (till May end) to all its departments, and those of Punjab and Haryana stationed here, to submit the inventory of such heritage items lying with them.

Scores of items comprising furniture, tapestry, drawings and other things, which were designed, made and used by French architect Corbusier, his cousin Pierre Jeanneret and others associated with the founding and planning of Chandigarh in the 1950s and 60s, have been sold off in auction houses in Britain, the United States and other countries in recent years. A dining table sold off as junk by Panjab University fetched nearly $12,000 at an auction in Chicago (USA) last month.

The union ministry of home affairs (MHA) has also directed the administration to preserve items related to Le Corbusier and his team and take pro-active steps to safeguard such articles.

Chandigarh's Home Secretary Ram Niwas has asked all departments in the union territory (UT) to immediately prepare an inventory of heritage items in their respective offices. "All departments must prepare a list of the heritage items lying with them.

They must also submit a report regarding the items which have been auctioned or sold, intimating the itemwise details and with whose approval the said auction had been carried out," Ram Niwas told senior officers at a meeting held here Thursday.

From schools and colleges to Panjab University and the junkyards of government offices and institutions, every place is now being re-visited by officials to prepare an inventory of the city's treasure which was dumped as waste earlier.

A three-member committee has been constituted by the Chandigarh administration to assess the heritage value of the identified furniture and accessories. The team comprises the principals of the government colleges for arts and architecture here and a senior architect of the UT administration.

"The team has visited some of the places in Chandigarh to identify the heritage status of the wooden furniture and were successful in identifying the furniture items like chairs, tables, benches, stools, library tables and side-boards related to Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret.

The identification was done on the basis of joinery work, detailing, type of wooden material used and year of manufacturing," an official of the administration told IANS here.

Even manhole covers in the city, designed by the founder-architects, have been stolen in recent years and sold off in auction houses abroad. One manhole cover fetched $21,600 at an auction in 2007. These manhole covers have the sectoral map of the city on them. An inventory on the remaining heritage manhole covers has also been done.

At a meeting held last month, the home secretary directed all heads of departments to ensure the preservation of heritage furniture, sketches and drawings, tapestry and other items linked to the city's founder-architect and his team.

"Every department will have a designated nodal officer to deal with the heritage items. Security guards would be deployed at various places to ensure that these items are not stolen or taken away illegally," a spokesperson of the administration said.

Among the buildings and premises where heritage furniture and other items are lying include the Punjab and Haryana civil secretariats, assembly complex of both the states, high court complex, Panjab University, Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) and some government offices.

Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, is a 114 sq-km city. This centrally administered city was founded in early 1950s as a symbol of an independent and modern India after the country became independent Aug 15, 1947.

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