Le Corbusier Meets Albert Einstein Cultural Studies Essay
Le Corbusier is one of the most influential architects of the 20th century; his work (writings, buildings and ideas) defined the work of architects across the world. In his post-World War II architecture, especially at Chandigarh, we observe a marked departure in design approach from Villa Savoye (1929). This essay should analyse, discuss and assess with examples the validity of this statement.C:\Users\Admin\Desktop\628x471.jpg
Le Corbusier meets Albert Einstein
Amongst many famous modern and postmodernism architects, Charles - Édouard Jeanneret, formally known as Le Corbusier is one of the pioneer architect that stands out from others. This Swiss French architect was born in October 6, 1887 and died in August 27, 1965 at the age of 78. This award winning architect is also a designer, urbanist, and writer, he is an important key person that contributes many work such as the art movement: De Stijl, Urban design project "Plan Voisin", architecture movement Brutalist architecture, organized the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne or better known as "CIAM" and many more. His work can be found in Europe, India and America. Le Corbusier’s works are well known and inspired many architects around the world and has had a great impact on the future generation of architecture. This essay will discuss and analyse Le Corbusier’s work on Villa Savoye and Chandigarh through critical study and response to designs, the validity of the statement will be assessed.
Located in Poissy, 33 kilometres north-east of Paris and north-central of France. Stands an International style Villa build by Le Corbusier, it used to be a country retreat house for the wealthy Savoye family that is now a world iconic historic monument since 1964. Villa Savoye started construction in 1928 and completed in 1929, Villa Savoye is not only famous for Le Corbusier’s unique and Avant garde design at that time but is also one of the world renowned great examples of the International style building that France is proud to have. In the book "The Villa Savoye and the Modernist Historic Monument" by Kevin D. Murphy, he said that "what the new monuments shared with the older ones was their saliency as examples of internationally recognized architectural styles that France could claim to have originated" and "Villa Savoye was championed as an especially significant and pure example of early Modernism that could become part of the patrimony because France had been an important site for the movement's development in the 1920s." (Murphy, 2002).
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Front View of the Villa Savoye
Other than Villa Savoye’s famous International style, Le Corbusier also carefully considered the design of the villa’s exterior shape and its surrounding environment to make the villa stands out, Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman talks about the villa in their book "Architecture from Prehistory to Post-Modernism: The Western Tradition" they said that;
"Unlike the confined urban locations of most of Le Corbusier's earlier houses, the openness of the Poissy site permitted a freestanding building and the full realization of his five-point program. Essentially the house comprises two contrasting, sharply defined, yet interpenetrating external aspects. The dominant element is the square single-storied box, a pure, sleek, geometric envelope lifted buoyantly above slender pilotis, its taut skin slit for narrow ribbon windows that run unbroken from corner to corner (but not over them, thus preserving the integrity of the sides of the square)." (Hyman, 1988).
In His villa’s design he uses the Idea "Five Points of a New Architecture" Proposed in 1927 by Le Corbusier himself, the first of the five point is to add "Pilotis" or also known as supporting columns, by adding this underneath the villa, the living accommodation will raise above ground and the inhabitants will get to enjoy the view and also to get away from the north Europe damp problem by elevating the building. The second point was to create a free plan structure which means that the structure of the house should be separate from the wall which forms the spaces, made possible by removing the load-bearing walls. Which means that you have a structural system therefore you can place the wall where you want your spaces to be created. The third point is to create a flat roof terrace or garden, at that time technology was only beginning to allow this to happen so it was a very intelligent idea by Le Corbusier, by doing this, building site for domestic purposes, including a garden area will restore to the villa. The fourth idea is to have the Horizontal windows so that the people in the villa will be provided with an incredible view of the surrounding area. Where ever you standing in the building, the horizontal windows also provide good illumination and ventilation for the people inside. And for the last idea of the five points by Le Corbusier is the façade should be free, it shouldn’t be structured, it should be something that you can play around with. Basically it means that the building should have freely-designed facade, won’t be affected by the load-bearing considerations and the façade should consists of a thin skin of wall and windows. (House, 2007)
For those who do understand the concept and theory behind it will agree that this villa is an incredible beauty piece of architecture. Le Corbusier design this villa based on the international style movement which consists of 3 main principles, In the book "The International Style" by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson which they discussed about the three distinguishing aesthetic principles of the International Style. The first principle is "emphasis upon volume-space enclosed by thin planes or surfaces as opposed to the suggestion of mass and solidity", the second principle is "regularity as opposed to symmetry or other kinds of obvious balance" and lastly the third principle is "dependence upon the intrinsic elegance of materials, technical perfection, and fine proportions, as opposed to applied ornament" (Johnson, 1969) Le Corbusier uses the above three aesthetic principles to design the villa and that is why there is not much arbitrary decoration on the façade of the villa that we can see and the strip windows are all balance on all facade same goes to the arrangement of the thin concrete pilotti. The colour and material that Le Corbusier uses are also very primitive and simple, in this villa he only uses concrete and plastered unit masonry for the façade with a basic white rendering instead of steel or aluminium and it all relate back to the international style.
This world famous architecture Master piece by Le Corbusier doesn’t only look good on the outside but it’s even more interesting on the inside, filled with interesting and unique design and features. In Kevin D. Murphy’s Book he talked about how Le Corbusier’s design work with the nature and the circumrotation of the villa:
"The cube part is not a solid mass; it is hollowed out on both the southeast and southwest sides so that when the sun comes up the light floods the whole interior instead of merely skimming the outer wall.... The entrance hall is on the northwest, but in coming in from the road one has to go all around the south side of the house to reach it. Of course there is really no facade and no back or front, since the house is open on every side" (Murphy, 2002)
In this Villa Le Corbusier work carefully with his design on all four side of the building compare to his previous town villas project. This villa contains a special driveway integrated into part of the building, when a car approach to the villa the car will drive past the caretaker’s lodge and the car will eventually be under the building. Le Corbusier design the entrance was based on the turning of a car, after the passenger entered the villa through the main entrance into the main hall, the driver then drive the car to its garage. (Gast, 2000)
Follow by World War II from 1939 until 1945 affecting Europe and almost every country. In 1928, the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne better known as ‘CIAM’ was founded in Switzerland, CIAM’s aim is "basic new elements of a new approach to Architecture and Urbanism, it also introduced the basic elements to design of the individual dwelling and the rejection of the 19th century tenement city" (Mumford, 2009). Which also lead Le Corbusier to urban planning project the "Plan Voisin" where he split the capital of France into functional zones with 24 glass towers built in the middle but his idea was rejected by France because it is not effective enough.
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Chandigarh Assembly Building
180 miles up north of Delhi stand a giant concrete parliament house building built by Le Corbusier 60 years ago, the Chandigarh Assembly Building. Le Corbusier also design Chandigarh city by using idea from CIAM meeting such as his ‘functional city’ which applied after the war and the CIAM and apply it here "In the 1950s Le Corbusier's Capitol Complex started in the very highest government circles with Prime Minister Jawaharwal Nehru: the plan was to build a new state capital for a newly divided Punjab in a newly independent India. In architectural history, Chandigarh is well known and well-studied due to its planning and design." (Prakash, 2004). Because of the unstable climate in Delhi and due to India’s lack of modern resources, the construction process was very labor intensive. Women carried baskets of concrete on their heads which were then dumped into the formwork. The assembly building took 10 years to complete from 1953 to 1963.
Since Le Corbusier started the Chandigarh project, a lot of thoughts running through his mind while designing the building, he uses many concept such as symbolism for the Governor Palace’s roof, he "upturned the roof structures in vernacular buildings with the silhouette of bulls' horns… this symbolism related to his feeling about India" and "the delights of Hindu philosophy" He not only uses symbolism but also combine with the spiritual by using Hinduism as part of the concept. For the Assembly building, Le Corbusier acknowledged India’s spiritual and artistic traditions without lapsing into superficial imitation or ornamentalism, it was a question of probing Indian culture to its roots, its deeper pattern of myth and meaning, then transforming the substructures into modern symbolic forms. All the buildings and sculptures by Le Corbusier in the Chandigarh project have a meaning behind it.
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The Open Hand Monument
For example like the 17 meters high, 13 meters wide sculpture "The Open Hand" is for those "people in ‘misery’ who cannot have it, as van Gogh's ear was an unreturnable gift of himself not to be received by anyone, only his painting." And "As Le Corbusier explained it, the Open Hand is a sign "to receive the created riches, to distribute them to the peoples of the world." and "a bird-like sculpture that Le Corbusier designed out of his own personal iconography but also to represent Harmony." (Lahiji, 1984)
In William J. R. Curtis’s book he states that the assembly building is like a cousin to the late Ronchamp or La Tourette. "Complex curves come into tense opposition with a cartesian grid to generate the dramatic effect of an espace ineffable. Heavily weathered bare concrete lends an ancient and primeval character to the building as if it had stood for centuries rather than decades." What he meant was only one single material is employed to the building, naked reinforced concrete. Concrete was chosen for this building because it was cheap compare to other material like Steel and glass, and in India labor was also cheap so it is the best solution to deal with the cost of construction. The other benefit from using concrete is that concrete establishes bold forms sensitive to light and shade and it produce an ‘ancient quality’ render finishing. The building is divided into 4 spaces, the forum, the assembly, Governor’s council and the office. When approaching the main entrance of the assembly, we can see a tall giant concrete structure, the portico, William J. R. Curtis also said that the building "began life as a large shaded box preceded by a tilted portico of which the top surface was upturned to act as a gutter; as at Ronchamp, Le Corbusier was evidently intrigued by the idea of a roof as an enormous sluice for the rain." (Curtis, 1983) Other than the portico roof for the main entrance, there are also three special elements on the roof of the building and also consider one of the most interesting feature of the building. When standing at a distance looking at the building, three elements will catch the attention of the public and that is the hyperboloid, the pyramid and the lift tower that also looks like an astronomical instruments. In term of symbolic forms Le Corbusier’s plan is to design the portico of the assembly building to resemble a section of an aqueduct resting on its support, while the hyperboloid assembly chamber on the roof inspired by the shape of an industrial cooling tower, "thus, the buildings (secretariat and assembly), while defining the space create both a fluid balance throughout the complex and constant references both forward to the mountains and back to the town" (Evenson, 1966) She talks about Le Corbusier’s design of the assembly building where the upper portion of the hyperboloid assembly chamber and the pyramidal skylight were allowed to extend beyond the roofline. Thus, breaking the silhouette of the building and adding sculptural elements to the roofline which then play against the jagged forms of the surrounding mountains and blend into it from looking at a distance.
Le Corbusier has a special design for the internal spaces of the building, In Evenson’s book she said that "Symbolically the assembly represents a coming together of citizen. In practice, however. The building seems an elaborately contrived means of keeping them separated" (Evenson, 1966) Le Corbusier separate the pattern of usage of the building, he design the office workers, the press and the visiting public each with their own system of entrances, lobbies and stairs, thus ensuring their separation from each other.
This essay began with some brief observations about Le Corbusier’s Life and the work and contribution towards the society then continue with the study and discussion about the designs and other elements of the "Villa Savoye" and "Chandigarh Assembly building". As we can see, the two building have some carbon copies and opposite side in term of design wise due to world war and other phenomenon. A famous quote saying "The eyes are the key to the soul" is a very simple theory, when we look at a building the first thing we see are the exterior features. Comparison of the two famous building, both of them are quite similar in term of shape because of the square shape building, the different is that the villa is lifted up by many thin concrete Pilotis and the gigantic Chandigarh don’t have any Pilotis or columns other than the front entrance portico to act as a gutter for the rain, the villa is much smaller in size comparison to the Chandigarh because the villa is built for the Savoye family as a weekend house and Chandigarh assembly building is for conference public use, in term of material wise, the villa uses variant material such as glass for the horizontal wide window along the façade, iron rod for handrails and many more other materials, Chandigarh uses mostly naked concrete for almost the entire building. Because Villa Savoye are design based on International Style and the "Five Points of a New Architecture" that makes the villa more of an architecture maths science theory building than the Chandigarh that uses the nature and spiritual and past of India history and culture to symbolised as part of the building. The interior of the two building have differences, especially because one is personal spaces and Chandigarh is public spaces. Lighting and ventilation is also important in a building, the villa has no problem in that area because of its horizontal window that allow fresh air and enough light for the whole place, but for the Chandigarh "It was when problems of lighting, ventilation and rhetoric came to the fore that Le Corbusier broke the assembly form up through the roof to create a lighting and airing system" (Curtis, 1983). In conclusion, both of the buildings show correspondence and different design. However the opinions are varying due to whether there is a design change in Le Corbusier’s styles, but from the research and observation of the building I have concluded, both of the buildings have a different style due to the comparison that is made above and also due to the influence of post-world war II.