Le Corbusier

Chandigarh 1951-1956

One morning in the summer of 1950, a letter arrived at 35 rue de Sèvres (Le Corbusier Paris agency), from the government of the Indian region of Panjab. The brief document announced plans for a mission, in which two men of rank were to visit Europe in search of a team of architects far a completely new capital city.

India, a British territory since the second half of the seventeenth century, had gained its independence from England in 1947. With the partition that year of the former British colony into India and Pakistan, Panjab, a province in the north, was divided: its eastern part remained in India, while its western part became West Pakistan (…). Since Lahore, the historic capital of Panjab, was now in West Pakistan, the Indian section needed a government headquarters of its own.

 

It was decided that Simla, the former summer capital of the British regime, immortalized by Rudyard Kipling, was too isolated and too close to the new border to assume this function. The site chosen instead was slighdy south (…). 230 kms north of New Delhi (…).

 

By the time, Le Corbusier was approached, the new project already had a cumbersome history. Initially, an American, Albert Mayer, had been selected to be the overall planner of Chandigarh (…).

The Siberia-born Matthew Nowicki was to be responsible for the architectural design (…). Mayer proposed that Indian government officials travel to Europe and America to get ideas for the look of the buildings – a suggestion that quickly upset people in a country trying to escape the shackles of western imperialism.

Then, on August 31, 1950, Nowicki was returning from Chandigarh when his TWA Constellation crashed near Cairo. lt was a moment when the exchange rate between rupees and American dollars was particularly unfavorable to the Indians. Looking for an excuse to drop Mayer, the government used Nowicki’s death as a reason to consider changing teams. This was when P. M. Thapar, the administrative head of the capital project, and P. L. Varma, the chief engineer of Panjab, were dispatched on the four-week trip to the United Kingdom, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, ltaly, Sweden, Belgium, and Paris.

The Indian delegates were seeking a new architect willing to move to India for three years and accept an annual salary of not more than three thousand pounds, or about $50,000 today (…).

 

Eugène Claudius-Petit, the French minister of reconstruction and urbanization, whom Le Corbusier had met while crossing to America in 1946, had recommended the architect – in spite of his notoriously difficult personality and the unlikelihood that he would agree to their terms.

 

It was a cold and gray November day when Thapar and Varma, both nurtured on warm sunshine, entered the offices at 35 rue de Sèvres. The sixty-three-year-old Le Corbusier did not greet them enthusiastically.

The dapper architect immediately told the two emissaries that he would not consider relocating and that their new city would have to be designed in the heart of the very old city of Paris.

Even before coming face-to-face with Le Corbusier’s imperiousness, Thapar and Varma had other reasons to be skeptical (…); they had already visited l’Unité d’Habitation in Marseille and doubted the value of its underlying ideas for India (…).

In London, the two officiaIs met the husband-and-wife team of Edwin Maxwell Fry and Jane Beverly Drew, both members of CIAM. They asked Fry and Drew to take on the task of implementing Mayer’s basic ideas. However, Thapar and Varma, for aIl their trepidation and misgivings, had also seen the fantastic potential of Le Corbusier’s inventive design sense and groundbreaking urbanism for their project. They asked Fry how he would feel about working with Le Corbusier and making it a team effort. The Englishman replied, «Honour and glory for you, and an unpredictable portion of misery for me.» (…)

© Photo C. Baraja – E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

 

 (…) Claudius-Petit (…) continued his attempt to persuade Le Corbusier to undertake the project that he had initially treated with such skepticism. Two days later, Fry and Drew joined Thapar and Varma in Paris for a meeting with Le Corbusier, who then signed a preliminary contract.

That momentous event occurred at 9: 30 in the morning on a Sunday – a fact Le Corbusier relished; he loved lndia in part because, unlike France, it was a country where one worked seven days a week.

The complete societal and historical change that underlay the new project now thrilled Le Corbusier. More than six million Muslims had left lndia to move to Pakistan, while some seven and a half million Hindus and Sikhs had moved across the new borders into lndia.

Ever since Panjab had lost the beautiful, romantic Lahore to Pakistan, the new capital was urgently needed (…).

Those tensions and necessities required him to build a brave new world. Architecture had to fulfill a burning human purpose weIl beyond the basics of housing

An entirely fresh start requiring an unprecedented solution was the Corbusean ideal.

Le Corbusier informed Thapar and Varma that Pierre Jeanneret’s involvement was a further requisite to his taking on Chandigarh. (…) The financial rewards were not commensurate with what any of them would otherwise have earned (…). But the idealism and commitment of Thapar and Varma moved the westerners. After his hesitant start, Le Corbusier announced that he would give himself over with aIl his heart and soul to the new project.

Le Corbusier then told the others that once they had all gone to India, they would have ta change Mayer’s plan and «begin from the beginning.» Unlike the American, the Swiss intended to honor Indian culture – the way of life practiced by the peasants for the past thousand years, as well as the geometric beauty of the Hindu temples constructed in carved stone.

When Chandigarh was selected in March 1948, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had said the site was “free from the existing encumbrances of old towns and old traditions. Let it be the first large expression of our creative genius flowering on our newly earned freedom”.(…)

When Nehru got word of Le Corbusier’s intentions, he was delighted. The architect’s wish to make architecture that was “neither English, nor French, nor American, but ‘Indian,’ of the second half of the twentieth-century” was exactly as the prime minister had hoped.

When the Jeanneret cousins left Geneva that Tuesday morning, they flew first to Cairo. From there, they took an Air India Constellation to Bombay, continuing on to Delhi, where they arrived in the middle of the day on Wednesday.

The villages he had gone through on the road from Delhi were so old that no one knew when they had begun; he felt himself linked to the origins of the world. It was a terrestrial paradise in perfect accord with the entire cosmos; he marveled at the way myriad forms of life were intertwined, with men, women, children, donkeys, cows, buffalos, dogs, all functioning with a kind of unity (…)

Driving in a jeep over rough terrain where there were no roads, tackling the concept of the new city, living at first in a tent, getting little sleep, he was exhausted – but hardships only contributed to his exhilaration (…) Le Corbusier was in his most euphoric state yet.(…)

During his first week on the subcontinent, Le Corbusier completely redesigned Chandigarh. (…) Le Corbusier had filled thirty-two pages of a large sketchbook with the main concepts, while the other three architects – Pierre, Fry, and Drew – hashed out the details. (…)

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris.

(…) The objective was clear: “The last touches have been put to the plan of what will become a city unique in the world, to be realized here in simplicity and the joy of living. To do such a thing, we had to come to India!” (…)

Varma, who completely backed Le Corbusier’s ideas, was the perfect intermediary to the local people. And for their realization, Pierre Jeanneret was the ideal second in command (…) at the same time, Pierre recognized that his own self-doubt limited him, and he willingly ceded to his more confident, domineering cousin-rather than struggle for an equality that would have been impossible. (…)

A collaboration without a hierarchy was impossible for Le Corbusier (…)

“Our collaboration became possible because l remained very flexible with Le Corbusier who conceived himself as the absolute master”. (Pierre Jeanneret).

In India, Le Corbusier and Pierre would collaborate more harmoniously and effectively than ever before. Pierre had the craft to take his more inventive and dynamic cousin’s ideas, where the obstacles to their execution were “almost insurmountable in the technical and ethnic context of the country”, and make them succeed.

Nicholas Fox Weber, “Le Corbusier. A Life”, Ed. Knopf, New York, 2008.

 

The future site of Chandigarh.Photo of the « CHANDIGARH PROJECT » album.

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris.

“We’re on the terrain of our city, under a splendid sky, in the midst of an eternal landscape (…). I’ve never been so tranquil and solitary, absorbed by the poetry of natural things and by poetry itself.”

Le Corbusier

LC ready to start working with his jeep. FLC

 

© Archives Fondation Le Corbusier.

“Between myself and Pierre Jeanneret there has always been an unlimited, total confidence, despite the difficulties of life, despite the inevitable divergences. If our characters, over the years, have taken different directions, our friendship remained.

My architectural work exists only because a certain teamwork has existed between us.

It is work shared, until the moment when the circumstances of life (and of good friends) have separated us … Pierre Jeanneret has been my best friend.

His modesty and perhaps the grumpy
side of ‘Père Le Corbusier’ have occasionally kept us from communicating more closely. Pierre was a comrade …. He knew how to reassure me. We have been closely united. That is what friendship is. And it is friendship that matters in life.”

LE CORBUSIER

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris. © Archives Fondation Le Corbusier.

LC on the future site of Chandigarh. JM around 1951.

 

© Archives Fondation Le Corbusier.

Le Corbusier with André Malraux, French Minister of Culture, Chandigarh 1958. FLC.

 

© Archives Fondation Le Corbusier.

“Chandigarh will be the city of trees, flowers and water, of houses as simple as those of the time of Homer and of some splendid buildings of the highest modernism (…).”

Le Corbusier

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris.

The slightest detail has been created to the exact measure, for practical and aesthetic reasons, to equip Chandigarh public space:

the emblematic water pipes man hole covers in moulded cast iron bearing the grid-pattern of Chandigarh director’s plan, the public fountains in moulded terrazzo, the street signs, the paper bins, the houses’ numbers, the bus shelters, the water reservoirs, the “no parking” fences…

The use of street lamps in moulded concrete created for the Cité Radieuse de Marseille becomes widespread.

These signs reinforce the visual identity of the city and take a part in everybody’s comfort.

The city centre is equipped with underground parking lots and roads interchanges, whose construction only became widespread in Europe from the end of the 70’s.

 

 

Cast iron sewage cover, decorated with Chandigarh’s master plan (LC-MU-01-B).

© Photo C. Baraja – E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

Concrete light pillar. (ref. LC-MU-13-A).

 

© Photo C. Baraja – E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

The Governor’s palace – Museum of Knowledge
(undeveloped projects)

The Palace of the Governor crowns the Capitol. Its plan and silhouette are the result of the strict conditions of the problem. In the course of three years, 1951-1953, the project development took shape. 1954: Crisis! The costs are infinitely too high! What happened? The plans having been accepted, they were revised in respect to the general heights and sizes of the various parts … and since it was for the Governor they had slipped in on the side the largest dimensions of the Modulor. The volume proved to be double that of the original project ! And the scale of the Palace grew enormous! They had designed for the scale of giants!

All was reconsidered. The choice of sufficiently low dimensions of the Modulor cut the cubage of the building in half consequently reestablished it to the human scale. The final working drawings demonstrate that we have set the Governor into a Home of Man.

Le Corbusier, Œuvre Complète 1952-1957.

 

Giani Rattan Singh behind the Governor’s Palace.

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris.

The Secretariat roof is the ideal observatory for discovering the Capitol site. From there, one can see a partially complete project and also imagine the entire project in its completed state.

Visible in the foggy background are the Shivalik mountains. the Capitols’ symbolic monuments are set against these foothills of the Himalayan range.

To the left is the Assembly hyperbol tower facing the High Court whose arched roof stands out starkly from afar. On this vast paved piazza, between the two flagship monuments of Chandigarh, will stand the symbolic “architectural folies”, designed and passionately desired by Le Corbusier, but all built posthumously (not on this panoramic, around 1965).

In the center is the Governor’s Palace with a crescent shaped roof; reminiscent of a bull’s horns. Despite the importance that Le Corbusier placed on this building in the Capitol’s layout; it was never built – Nehru considered it anti-democratic – but an account of it still exists thanks to the models of Giani Rattan Singh.

Further on, in the same axis, today stands the Open Hand sculpture (1951/1985), dreamed by its creator on this very location.

In the middle, stands the Martyrs’ Memorial (1952/1986), a long sloping ramp with the sides decorated with Indian Swastika symbols and the Wheel of Ashoka, a tribute to those who lost their lives in India’s partition.

 

Panorama of the Capitol complex from the Secretariat.

Ink drawing, two elevations of the Capitol buildings.

 

 

© Archives Fondation Le Corbusier. © Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris.

To the right, is the Tower of Shadows (1952/1987). This shadow and light sculpture is a nod to the Jantar Mantar of Delhi and Jaipur – astronomic observatories built by Maharajah Jai Singh II of Jaipur in the early 18th Century – which Le Corbusier admired and was beautifully photographed by Lucien Hervé.

Lower down is the sunken Trench of Consideration (1952/1987), a vast utopian piazza which leads to the 15-meter high Geometric Hill (1952/1986), whose bas-relief of the symbol of the “24 solar hours” was never built.

Extensive earthworks were carried out to enclose and conceal vehicular roads. The dugout earth was used to create artificial hills to isolate the Capitol from the rest of the city. The waters of Shukna, the artificial lake, can be seen shimmering in the background (1955).

 

The High Court and the Open Hand monument, the Assembly in the foreground.

© Photos E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

“This note to tell you that the High Court Palace where close to 1 000 workers and women and donkeys are working is simply extraordinary. It is an architectural symphony that exceeds all my hopes, that bursts and develops under the light in an unimaginable and unremitting way. From up close or from a distance, it is surprise and a provocation of astonishment (…)”

Le Corbusier 1954

High Court building (inaugurated in march 1955) was the first monumental structure completed in the controversial new city.

The unprecedented composition of rough concrete quickly assumed the status of a monument of modern architecture. T he High Court encourages faith in government and the possibility of true justice. Authoritarian without being arrogant, this completely original building has a nobility of form and emanates a wonderful energy and optimism.

When you first see it, from afar, it draws you in, like a magnetic force, the way the Gothic spires of Chartres summon you nearer. Part of that pull comes from color. (…)

Nicholas Fox Weber

 

© Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris. © DR.

(…) While it was under construction, Le Corbusier asked everyone with whom he was working if they should put color on the three great columns. Without exception, the other architects and engineers said no, the forms themselves had such majesty that the addition of hue would be an unnecessary distraction. Le Corbusier listened attentively. Nonetheless, day after day, he continued to pose the same question. The negative response was unvarying. Then he went ahead and had the colors of the Indian flag applied ta the columns anyway (…).

His decision making came, as always, from within himself and from sorne vague source of inspiration. It was as if his art happened to him, and he was merely the agent. In that vein, once he had received the impetus and executed its directives, he was unequivocal; as M. S. Sharma pointed out, this was the same person who said of his paintings, «If you like them, very nice. If you don’t, forget it.”

To the left and right as well, color is everywhere – showing up through further openings and the windows – and is always changing and surprising you. But for all that fury of hues and forms and sense of reckless abandon, the columns support the roof with impressive strength and muscular grace. The color is not overkill; rather, it gives music to the concrete. In the bright sunlight, the green, yellow, and salmon are as bold in spirit as the robust cylinders they coyer.

The three entrance columns have the lasting power of a force of nature, like a mountain peak or a giant waterfall.

Nicholas Fox Weber

 

Perforations on three pillars contrasting the colors.

Big Courtyard. Le Corbusier Tapestry for Chief Justice. In the foreground, armchairs, so called “Advocate or Press chair” Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret (ref. LC-PJ-SI-41-A), benches in the background. Pierre Jeanneret (ref. PJ-SI-38-B).

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris. © Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

“Advocate or Press chair” model. Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. (ref. LC-PJ-SI-41-A)

 

© Photo C. Baraja – E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

Very high-backed chair for the Presiding Judge. Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. (ref. LC-PJ-SI-44-A).

 

© Photo C. Baraja – E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

 High-backed chairs, original leather upholstery. Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. (ref. LC-PJ-SI-43-A).

 

© Photo C. Baraja – E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

Reformed armchairs, note the brightly-colored original upholstery selected by Le Corbusier.

 

© Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

 

 

© Photo C. Baraja – E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

Minister’s Table”. Model designed by Corbusier for the Secretariat, a few copies also furnished the High Court during the second planning phase in 1960 and the Legislative Assembly as well. (ref. LC-TAT-07-A).

© Photo C. Baraja – E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

Yet they declare themselves as having been constructed by man. Those great stiltlike legs are monumental in the same way as the buttresses of Notre-Dame, manifesting their builder’s capability. The High Court at Chandigarh is different in scale and purpose from the cathedral, but like that great edifice, it has both a grandeur and the quality of not diminishing the viewer. Like Notre-Dame, Le Corbusier’s court makes you feel tall and strong; its radiant energy enters you.

The fenestration of the High Court is one of Le Corbusier’s finest abstract compositions, precisely orchestrated to suggest randomness and improvisation. The well-organized complex network of interior ramps that lead visitors to courtrooms and offices is equally dynamic. In its framework, its is comparable to the human skeleton; in its ongoing motion, it resembles the human circulatory system (…) Nature, after all, is the greatest architect ever.

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris.

(…) As a sculptural object, the High Court is a fine amalgam of forms, with rhythmically charged verticals and horizontals and a perfect balance of small and large elements. But half a century or so after its completion, while it remains a virtuoso visual performance, it is richer still. For not only does the High Court connect harmoniously to the plateau that surrounds it and to the distant mountains, and relate to the adjacent buildings in view, but it also interacts with the people perpetually entering and leaving it.

As you approach the looming structure, you walk amid women in brightly colored saris, (…); half-clad children (…); old men stooped (…); and judges and lawyers and their clients pacing purposefully toward the courtrooms. You hear the composite sounds of the assembly of people, and the justices in their black robes speaking both Hindi and Punjabi.

The High Court seems to succor them. All these unexpected elements – the people selling their wares, the piles of faded legal documents visible in the windows of the offices and courtrooms – are at home in Le Corbusier’s creation, rather than intrusive on a pristine design.

In january 2000 (…) There was a distinct lack of maintenance (…) But for all that, what force ! And what a new way of thinking about the role of justice and the ability of color and form to add confidence and joy.

Nicholas Fox Weber, “Le Corbusier. A Life”, Ed. Knopf, New York, 2008.

 

 

- Impluvium receiving water from the channels. Apart from their highly esthetic aspect and their symbolic meaning, the pyramidions are functional units that control water downpour from the roof during heavy monsoon rains.

-  Inclined access ramp to the top floors.

 

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris.

Le Corbusier’s enormous office building – the Palace of the Ministries, known generally as the Secretariat – opened in Chandigarh in 1958, five years after Nehru had laid its foundation stone. Initially, the architect had hoped to make it a true skyscraper. (…)

It was not to be. The engineers and Indian architects on-site told the architect that there was no local concrete strong enough to bear the vertical load of a skyscraper. So Le Corbusier simply turned the form on its side as a great horizontal slab. When the necessity for compromise had technical reasons, rather than being the result of human ignorance, no one could be more accommodating.

Again, one should not picture the building as it appears in many photos: as a purely aesthetic object. (…) If photos suggest an orderly appearance to the grid of the facade, in actuality, up close, what is contained in that rectangular block is a frenzy of forms.

Yet there is a system to the madness; the surface and structure of this office building intended to serve three thousand employees is based on the Modulor. Issues of climate and sunlight are addressed by deep brises-soleil to provide shade, floor-to-ceiling window glass to permit maximum light (…). The façade has rhythmic regularity, like the beat of the metronome.

Balkrishna Doshi was witness to the process whereby Le Corbusier came up with the design of this building front. Initially, he had designed the Secretariat to have balconies that stretched across the entire façade. But these long spans were so heavy that they needed to be cantilevered and required supporting elements that were not part of the plan. The contractors and site architects could not figure out how to conceal the necessary armature. Doshi reports, “Everyone wondered where the solution lay, and a lot of work was put in. One fine morning Corbusier arrived at the site, took a look at what was happening and said: No, no, no, not like that. Let the columns go straight down breaking the sun breakers. Don’t make changes in design. Just let them go through. As is often the case with easy solutions to complex problems, no one else had thought of this idea of keeping the armature visible.”

These bold, continuous columns on the exterior of the building, blatantly there to provide support, had, Doshi observed, an aesthetic consequence as well: “The sun breakers changed and a totally new pattern emerged, most interesting and very beautiful because you never anticipated the strange rhythm that would occur. Le Corbusier was always able to give us the unexpected. In his desire to be formal he got into difficult situations in which there was no alternative but to land in a mess. But like an acrobat, he always managed to emerge unscathed.”

Nicholas Fox Weber, “Le Corbusier. A Life”, Ed. Knopf, New York, 2008.

 

© Photos Lucien Hervé. Getty Fondation, Los Angeles.

These bold, continuous columns on the exterior of the building, blatantly there to provide support, had, Doshi observed, an aesthetic consequence as well: “The sun breakers changed and a totally new pattern emerged, most interesting and very beautiful because you never anticipated the strange rhythm that would occur. Le Corbusier was always able to give us the unexpected. In his desire to be formal he got into difficult situations in which there was no alternative but to land in a mess. But like an acrobat, he always managed to emerge unscathed.”

Nicholas Fox Weber, “Le Corbusier. A Life”, Ed. Knopf, New York, 2008.

 

“Opposing free shapes to geometry, horizontals to verticals, traditional to invention, solids to hollows, gentle slopes to jutting ones against the rolling backdrop of the horizon, disciplined concrete to unruly vegetation, the play of colors to the immense sky, sometimes transparent, sometimes tormented, that’s exactly what Le Corbusier wanted”.

Lucien Hervé 1962

 

General view of the Secretariat. Note the free-standing tower of the access ramp to the upper floors, unattached to the main building. A similar ramp, facing the opposite side, serves the back façade.

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris.

Giana Rattan Singh executing the Secretariat model.

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris.

“The Assemblies Palace is about to be finished. At first, the imagination of its author was struck by some industrial shapes.And as ages ago, by the patient study of the “beef’s bone”, here we are, far from the starting point. (…) We can already predict the influence that these news architectural conceptions will exert”.

Lucien Hervé, 1962

 

Le Corbusier assisted by Giani Rattan Singh working on the plaster model of the Assembly tower. Archieves GRS/G54 around 1955.

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris.

During one of his visits to the Sarabhais (financier of a villa in Ahmedabad), Le Corbusier was on his way one morning to the local airport when he saw the vast power station of the Ahmedabad Electricity Company. Its monumental cooling tower had the form of a grain silo but with aIl the surfaces curved and stretched. Le Corbusier was riveted by the gigantic elastic structure. He was just then developing the Assembly at Chandigarh, and he imagined how this shape might be applied to the entirely different domain of civic architecture. He immediately began sketching.

Anand Sarabhai was in the car that morning. The architect’s unique ability to see what others would fail to notice, and the fancifulness that accompanied his perceptiveness, were striking to the boy. At the airport, where there was a tiny restaurant, Le Corbusier fixated on the orange and green of the plastic salt and pepper shakers, moving them back and forth like chess pieces, staring at them. Everywhere he looked, color and form affected him.

In little time, a short, seemingly open-topped structure – concave around its entire surface and resembling the cooling tower – rose from the roof of the Assembly. The base of the assembly is a Corbusean rectangular block, a lively amalgam of pilotis, brises-soleil, and exterior spiral stairs. The anomalous form emerging victoriously from its flat roof, serving as its main auditorium, the meeting place of the Panjab Senate, has the triumphant energy of birth itself. It was a public space entirely without precedent.

Le Corbusier had utilized not only the appearance but also the strucrural properties of cooling towers. He had visited such structures at night, when he could observe them freely, and spent considerable time checking their acoustics, sometimes banging two wooden planks together to hear the echoes. He then applied the principles of these industrial forms to the hyperbolic shell of the Assembly.(…)

 

© Photos Lucien Hervé. Archives Fondation Le Corbusier.

That sheath has been molded in a form that maintains its tensile strength. At its top, the tower culminates in an oblique, angled section – as opposed to a flat, horizontal roof. That unusual roof is buttressed by an aluminum framework that is – Le Corbusier delighted in providing the explanation – “a veritable physics laboratory destined to deal with the play of natural light and with a degree of artificial light, with ventilation, with the electronic – acoustic machinery.” This “laboratary” was a rational and orderly structure intended not to impose an impossible order on the natural havoc of life but, rather, to serve and honor complexity.

“Furthermore, this cork will lend itself to future solar festivities, reminding men once a year that they are children of the sun (a fact entirely forgotten by our extravagant civilization, crushed as it is by absurdities, particularly with regard to its architecture and its urbanism)” he wrote (…).

The interior of the hyperbolic cylinder of the Assembly has thrilling physical properties. Part of it reflects sound, another part absorbs it, to allow for ideal acoustics on ground level when the deputies meet. The shape serves the purposes of air-conditioning by allowing cool air to enter several meters above the level of human congress and descend to breathing level, while the warmer air rises to the level of a mechanical apparatus that removes it. The form that, from the outside, is startling and discomfiting, is, within, accommodating and succoring.

Nicholas Fox Weber

 

© Photos Lucien Hervé. Archives Fondation Le Corbusier.

(The visit of the Assembly is) … an unforgettable unfolding of events. You do nothing other than look and absorb the sequence of astonishing experiences.

From the vast entry hall bathed in cathedral-like light, you proceed through a wide corridor that feels like a promenade, a glade in a forest: manmade architecture that conjures very tall trees with sunlight filtering through the foliage above. This space, which Le Corbusier planned for deputies to pass one another and meet for informaI conversation en route to or from their assembly hall, encircles you in quietude and calm.

Nicholas Fox Weber

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris. © Photo E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris.

Then you enter the great meeting room. At first, it is frightening, like a weird cave.The space is a hallucination. The ceiling soars in a myriad of directions. There are relief sculptures plastered onto its crazy ziggurat of forms that resemble shapes by Jean Arp animated and gone berserk. One cannot possibly fathom everything going on. Nothing has prepared you for the play of light and dark, the explosion of deep colors, the nonstop choreography of ostensibly inanimate materials.

You are used to art as seen in museums: paintings on the walls, sculpture in the round. This time, you are inside the work of art. If you can imagine being totally enveloped by one of the great abstractions of Wassily Kandinsky or Jackson Pollock, being surrounded by its elements as if it is a vast tent, you approximate the life force and energy of this auditorium. But you are also in a functional space, a meeting hall where rational decisions are made, a place where the acoustics and air-conditioning work efficiently (…).

This space, unlike any that has been made before, inscribed with unique forms, represents an apogee of imagination and courage. Standing at ground level with that whirlwind of shapes above us, we have no doubt that great art is at the edge of madness. The sheer unabashed courage evident in this hall, its Wagnerian emotionalism, the will to do what no one has ever done before are both wonderful and terrifying. (…) Charles-Edouard Jeanneret ( Le Corbusier) had never lost an iota of his youthful intensity. Here, encouraged and supported by Nehru, welcomed by a culture completely different from his own, he expressed all of his rapture. He gave from the same depths with which he responded. Now that he could let loose, everything flowed in a torrent, cacophonous yet coherent.

Le Corbusier managed, on his own, what few people would dare to consider: the expression of psychological complexity in tandem with the logic, precision, and practicality of the sharpest engineer.

Nicholas Fox Weber, “Le Corbusier. A life”, Ed. Knopf, New York, 2008.

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris. © Archives Fondation Le Corbusier.

The Assembly under completion around 1962.

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris.

Le Corbusier started leaving his stamp on walls at the Cité Radieuse de Marseille (1947-1952). The print of a big Modulor man stands opposite the “Stèle des mesures” and the commemorative pillar engraved with the “Solstice” signs. The walls of the entrance are decorated with peculiar scallop “fossils”.

In India, his notebooks are covered with a vast repertoire of symbols or “signs” that he embeds like a signature in the most unexpected and sometimes well hidden corners, in the concrete walls of the Secretariat (1954-58) and especially the Legislative Assembly (1951-1962).

Neither the High Court (1951-55) nor the Ahmedabad buildings have signs on their walls. Le Corbusier started using signs in Chandigarh around 1955, when he began his collaboration with his Sikh assistant, Giani Rattan Singh. However, the drawing of the «City and wall» sign which can be found in numerous places of Chandigarh was made in Bombay in 1953.

A few years later, around 1965, these “marks” were also placed on the commemorative pillar of the Shukna Lake dam and on the one commemorating Nehru’s visit on April 2, 1962, as well as on the wall of the College of Architecture porch and those of the PGI Hospital.

 

© Photos Lucien Hervé. Archives Fondation Le Corbusier.

© Photos Lucien Hervé. Archives Fondation Le Corbusier.

”It’s just child’s play on sea sand (…) an intuition. (…) Games of chance: why have the city and the wall been brought together on this page of 1953, both arising from the strangest of excuses? Bombay Tata June 18, 53”

Le Corbusier

 

Original ink drawing by Le Corbusier of the “Wall and city” sign (ref. LC-SIG-20-A). A nod to the city of Bologna whose famous leaning tower can be seen in the far background. The text evokes “…a child’s game on sea sand…” and specifies the size “Ten meters”, of the final relief project. The blank was modeled in sand, a practice he experimented with when he stayed in Long Island (1950) in the house of Nivola, a sculptor, where he produced a relief in sand, poured plaster into it, and made a sculpture. FLC.

 

© Photos Studio Indiano, Chandigarh. Archives Eric Touchaleaume, Paris. © Archives Fondation Le Corbusier.

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