A guard outside the Assembly Building of Chandigarh (Photo: NARINDER NANU/ AFP/GETTY)

When Jawaharlal Nehru commissioned the French architect Le Corbusier to build the city Chandigarh he proclaimed it as the embodiment of a newly independent India “unfettered by the traditions of the past, a symbol of the nation’s faith in the future”.

The resulting feat of urban planning has been proclaimed as Corbusier’s masterpiece – a city built from scratch in the plains of Punjab from the street layout to the public buildings. Crucially, such was the attention to detail of the Swiss-born maestro that he also insisted on being responsible for the furniture inside his buildings, commissioning his cousin Pierre Jeanneret to design thousands of pieces of equipment to sit inside their monuments of 1950s minimalist design.

Such is the enduring appeal of Corbusier and everything he touched that Chandigarh, which now has India’s highest per capita income, has become a symbol for a less glamorous feature of the nation it was designed to symbolise. Amid India’s high-speed transformation into a world power, the purpose-built furniture that once filled the city’s chic public spaces is being systematically sold off in the auction rooms of London, New York and Paris.

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Cahal Milmo and Andrew Buncombe
The Independent

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