In 2016, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian invited Architectural Digest into their Calabasas mansion. As is expected of most celebrity houses, it was filled with very nice—and very expensive—items. The chairs in their office and dining room fetch tens of thousands of dollars whenever they appear in auctions today, but their provenance has much humbler origins: They were once so ordinary and so ubiquitous that they were once more valuable as firewood.
How the chairs ended up as status symbols is a saga that began in post-partition India and ends in marauding art dealers and a battle over who gets to own cultural history.
In 1947, India became an independent country after hundreds of years of colonial occupation and rule. While it was a celebratory time, it was also an incredibly difficult and often violent transition, which displaced over 10 million people based on religious and ethnic lines. New political boundaries were drawn and the capital city of India’s Punjab province ended up in the newly formed country of Pakistan. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru commissioned famed architect Le Corbusier to design a new the city of Chandigarh, to signal India’s newfound democracy and symbolize its national aspirations.
The second episode of Nice Try! treks to Chandigarh, where host Avery Trufelman explores the modernist city’s ambitions and how Le Corbusier, his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, and a team of Indian architects composed a new narrative for India through urban design. The orderly city was conceived as a total work of art, with everything from manhole covers to furniture and civic structures meticulously planned.
For this episode, Trufelman talks to Vikram Prakash, a professor of architecture at the University of Washington, in Seattle; Manmohan Lal Sarin, a senior advocate of the High Court of Punjab and Haryana in Chandigarh; and Richard Wright, the owner of Wright, an auction house specializing in modern and contemporary design.
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Correction: Vikram Prakash is a professor of architecture at the University of Washington, in Seattle.