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CRAFT YOUR JOURNEY
Blueprint of a Dream
BEHIND THE SCENES

Blueprint of a Dream

A KAMALAN PRODUCTION JOURNEY
WITH OPENHOUSE MAGAZINE
Blueprint of a Dream

KAMALAN X OPENHOUSE, AUGUST 2018

As a cultural magazine and studio that showcases shared passions through designed spaces, Openhouse wanted to rediscover the legacy of architect Pierre Jeanneret in Chandigarh, a city popularly known as Corbusier’s masterpiece.   kamalan collaborated with Openhouse to craft a journey around Chandigarh, in North India.  Designed to represent and guide the dreams of a nation born anew, Chandigarh gave us the opportunity to chart the modernist philosophy of Jeanneret, while exploring diverse architectural traditions in Delhi and Amritsar.
PROMINENT THEMES
  • History & Architecture

  • Religion & Community

Delhi

Chandigarh

Amritsar

Delhi

The ever-bustling capital of India, Delhi is the city that carries multiple identities in its sleeve. On our first day, we ventured into the iconic National Museum of Delhi, taking in the heritage of a city we were about to discover. Driving past the stately, quiet reserve of offices for the central government, we arrived at Agrasen-ki-Baoli, a centuries-old stepwell, that with its placing and a subterranean cool, made for an experience of travelling back in time. 

Our afternoon was set aside for an edition of kamalan conversations, an event series that aims to spark cultural dialogues by engaging a panel of experts and enthusiasts. For this edition, we invited Andrew to join the panel in a conversation around the significance of architecture - preserving the intangible heritage through tangible elements. 

After a successful conclusion of the event at the India Habitat Centre, we enjoyed a scrumptious meal at Karim’s, a heritage restaurant in old Delhi that is known for its delectable kebabs and biryani. Next day, we went for a walk in the Lodi gardens, exploring the exquisite tombs of Delhi’s 15th-century rulers set amidst verdant premises and drove to the old, bustling markets of Chandi Chowk, taking in a whiff of aromatic spices.

While the form and lines of the India Habitat Centre represented the “informal and romantic approach” that Allen Stein, an American architect, wanted to showcase, our walks in the markets of old Delhi revealed the romanticism of transience harboured by exquisite, but crumbling houses, the rouge facade of a 17th-century mosque, and the forgotten tombs of Mughal emperors.

Going by Openhouse’s interest in spaces that are telling, personal and private, we worked with our network to find out one such home, and towards the end of the first leg of our journey, visited the home of David Abraham - a leading designer in Indian fashion. Exploring the house as an extension of himself - and over conversations on design sensibilities that cut across genres of art, fashion and architecture - the afternoon melted into the evening, lending inspiration for the rest of the journey.

The next morning, before leaving for our next stop, we decided to visit the Humayun’s Tomb, an exemplar of Mughal architecture from the 16th-century. Visiting the gardens on a working day, we were able to explore the monument in its glorious solitude. As we prepared to leave, the onset of rains added to the allure of its sandstone facade.

Chandigarh

Driving past the light showers that greeted us as we drove on from Delhi, interspersed with coffee breaks and the taste of fluffy, buttery naans at a local dhaba, we reached Chandigarh, the city planned by Le Corbusier. Here, we met Avita, a heritage specialist who would be our accompanying expert for the next few days in the city.

Early in the morning, we entered the campus of Panjab University, where we photographed the modernist facades devised by Swiss-French architect Pierre Jeanneret. On its campus, we ventured into the Gandhi Bhawan, a centre dedicated to the study of Mahatma Gandhi’s work. Generally not open at such early hours, we were able to gain access to the space with Avita's help. Exploring the centre at a time when it was completely empty, we were able to observe its structural innovation at our own pace. After a long walk in the college campus, we relaxed over breakfast at a local restaurant.

Then, we left for the Capitol Complex, the political heart of the city that embodied Corbusier’s spirit of “revolutionizing office buildings”. From the magnificent facade of the High Court on one side, that seemed to cast a shadow of justice with its sweeping roof, we walked towards the louvred structure of the Secretariat. From its sound-proofed office interiors, we climbed to the top of the terrace from where we could catch a view of the entire complex. Finally, we moved on to the Palace of Assembly, where with no ongoing sessions in place, we were lucky to be able to access its vibrantly designed assembly hall. 

After a sumptuous lunch in a Punjabi restaurant, we were excited to head on to the house of Pierre Jeanneret, that immortalizes his creative genius. Although closed after 5 PM, we managed to get access to its premises through Avita’s contacts and were able to click images of its modernist facade in the perfect evening light, promising to return the next day to spend more time inside. Later, we explored the sculpture art at Rock Garden, a space that exhibits art designed from waste and watched the sun set by the waters of Sukhna Lake.

Early next morning, we began the day amidst the sprawling botanical collection of the Rose Garden, before arriving at the house of Pierre Jeanneret. Converted to a museum, we were fascinated by the glimpse its interiors provided at the life of the Swiss architect. As a couple of hours flew by, Andrew told us of a school designed by Corbusier that he’d read about. With its name as our reference, we went on a searching expedition - asking the locals for directions, and arriving at another school of the same name, until we found our way around the back to reach the primary school that could instantly be recognized as Corbusier’s work, one we were thrilled to locate and photograph.

Later, we visited the City Architecture museum that was designed by Jeanneret. Observing the blueprint of the city as it was conceptualized and the letters of correspondence between architects of the time, we got an intimate sense of the origin story of this city. At the Government College of Art nearby, we noted the philosophy of Corbusier in its structural design. Walking its corridors, we were taken in by the practical sessions being carried out, as students of art moulded lifesize sculptures in clay.

In a fitting conclusion to the day, we had conceived of a meeting with Shiv Dutt Sharma, a prolific Indian architect of modernist aesthetic, and a contemporary of Jeanneret. Jeanneret passed away before the building of the City Architecture museum could be completed, which was then seen through to the end by him. We listened to his stories of the days spent with Jeanneret, when the famed architect would arrive after a busy day’s work, travelling in the iconic white ambassador for design discussions that would spill over into the night. Through these exchanges, we were able to piece together the working mind behind the design aesthetics captured in the past few days. 

Amritsar

The next day, we left for the rustic village of Punjabiyat. The monotony of this long drive was broken by cups of simmering tea, enjoyed at the roadside stalls, and the changing vignettes from Amritsar’s newer, urban landscape to its quieter and older rural settlements. Once in Punjabiyat, a serene, isolated farm, we relished a much-awaited lunch and spent some time at a small library in the farm.

As it began to rain, the tiredness of our long drive washed away and with renewed excitement, we set out to explore the village on a farmer's tractor. Soaking in the warmth of its unspoilt rural ambience, we tried our hands at some of the rituals that make a day in the village, from grinding flour in a traditional, hand-operated mill to drawing fresh milk. As the evening set in, we spent time at the home a farmer, sipping tea and chatting about life in the countryside.

The next day, we left for Amritsar, the city of Sikhism. Immersing ourselves in the devotion that pervades the iconic Golden Temple, we witnessed the preparation of langar, a community meal served to everyone who visits the gurudwara. Stepping outside the Sikh place of worship, we enjoyed a meal of the famous Amritsari kulcha or stuffed bread, at a local restaurant. As the evening set in, we drove to the Wagah border to watch a military practice, held daily, between India and Pakistan. Here, excited crowds cheered on as the border forces engaged in a rigorous drill and lowered the flags at sunset.

Between sitting at the steps of an ancient stepwell, and catching a view of the Golden Temple in the perfect morning light, we had met the greats of modern architecture known only in books until now, and discovered the lines of other architectural traditions. 

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