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Three Museums by Le Corbusier: A Workshop for Their Care and Conservation
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In February 2018 staff from the Getty Con-servation Institute (GCI) and representatives from three Le Corbusier-designed museums—the Government Museum and Art Gallery in Chandigarh, India, the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, and the Sanskar Kendra museum in Ahmedabad, India—met in Ahmedabad for a five-day workshop.

The purpose of the GCI-organized workshop—part of the GCI’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative—was to advance conservation practice and create a professional network among the museum participants. Also in attendance was the director of the Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris, which maintains the architect’s archive and acts as a resource for scholarship on Le Corbusier.

At the workshop, participants shared information about their museum buildings, discussed the significance of their buildings both individually and collectively, toured the two museums in India, and developed policies for conservation. Each museum also developed an individual statement of significance, after which a statement of collective significance was drafted—especially useful to the museums in India, which are in the early stages of their conservation strategies.

Le Corbusier was one of the first twentieth-century architects to have a global practice, and the three museums (the only ones he built) were designed in the 1950s and 1960s based on his concept of the “Museum of Unlimited Growth.” Although designed for different urban contexts and climates—and although they house different kinds of collections—they share many similarities in design and layout.

The National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo sent a delegation headed by its deputy director and chief curator. The museum’s building (completed in 1959) is in good condition but has several additions designed by different architects; it houses one of the most significant collections of Western art in Asia. In 2016 the building was designated a World Heritage Site as part of the Le Corbusier transnational serial listing. Museum staff are conscious of the dual role of their institution: as a place for the display of art and as an iconic building.

The Sanskar Kendra’s building (completed in 1954) in Ahmedabad is in poor physical condition, and in recent years the museum has experienced decreasing visitation. Its collection includes examples of traditional Gugarati paper and fabric kites, and it serves as the city museum of Ahmedabad. The museum’s delegation included representatives from the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s Heritage office, along with notable local architects with experience in heritage conservation. The city government recently committed funds to renovate the Sanskar Kendra, and the workshop coincided with the start of planning for improvements to the building and its collection.

The Government Museum and Art Gallery in Chandigarh (completed in 1968) was the last museum in this group to be built. It houses an important collection of Gandhara sculpture and a notable collection of Indian miniature paintings, in addition to contemporary art and textiles. The city of Chandigarh was designed in its entirety by Le Corbusier, beginning in the early 1950s, with the art museum located prominently in its cultural core. It is designated locally and acknowledged nationally as a modern architectural icon. The Government Museum delegation consisted of museum staff and consultants working on its conservation management plan (CMP). The CMP, which will guide the conservation of the museum building and collections, was funded through the Getty Foundation’s Keeping It Modern initiative.

An important outcome of this workshop, in addition to the sharing of information about common issues and heritage, is the network of museum professionals created. Participants left with an expanded understanding of their own museum’s heritage significance and an appreciation for their “sibling” museums. The group has committed to continue to share information about common issues and concerns, and it will look for opportunities to meet again.

The GCI’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative was created to advance the practice of conserving twentieth-century heritage through research and investigation, the development of practical conservation solutions, and the creation and distribution of information through training programs and publications.