A memoir on late Architecture Legend Le Corbusier whose name stands for Crow and who truly redefines the modern India by Prof and Author Dr SS Bhatti, Founder Teacher and Former Principal of Chandigarh College of Architecture. An SR Exclusive
Chandigarh- The Legacy of Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier, the greatest architect of the 20th century, gave us Chandigarh. The “City Beautiful” as we fondly call it has put India on the world-map of modern architecture and town planning. An indefatigable many-splendoured genius, his creativity was as prodigious as it was versatile. Had he so desired he would have been as great a painter as Picasso or as great a sculptor as Henri Moore. But he chose architecture, and revolutionised it throughout the world.
Chandigarh with Mohali and Panchkula
He has left an unparalleled legacy: “more than 32,000 architectural and urbanistic drawings and plans (from his own hand as well as those of his associates) of 400 projects, some 300 paintings, more than 7,000 drawings, illustrated books, lithographs, engravings, works in enamel, tapestries and furniture.” This has been published in 30 volumes.
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An on-the-spot sketch by Corbusier with annotations no computer can match
How he became a Crow?
The name “Le Corbusier”, meaning the “crow”, invented for him a true alter ego that urged people to address him in the third person. It greatly helped him in the process of self-actualisation in the service of his ideals.
When in conflict with the opinions of powers that be he would politely assert, “I have no objection to what you say but Corbusier doesn’t agree!”
The spirit of an Inventor & invincible fighter
Two of his inventions have gained universal currency as part of modern planning. The word “sector” used first in Chandigarh has been used everywhere as a substitute for its olden counterpart “neighbourhood” even though it does not have the same original connotation derived from geometry. “Pilotis” using structural columns for multi-storeyed buildings, leaving the ground floor for parking and circulation of air, can be seen in use throughout the world.
Art in Chandigarh Architecture - Assembly Enamelled Door by Le Corbusier, Outer side(l) & Inner Side (r)
With the spirit of an invincible fighter, he assaulted not only the academic and traditional in architecture but also waste, hypocrisy, and disorder—the three besetting sins of modern society. Notwithstanding his apparent irrationalities and self-contradictions that exist between his works and words, this bespectacled prophet of harmony sought to bring order to industrial civilisation through reason and lyricism. It was thus natural for him to create a new language, with its syntax (out of structure and technology) and semantics (out of conventional connotations of doors, windows, stairways, etc.
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Architecture reveals the spirit of an Era
He declared: “Town Planning expresses the life of an era. Architecture reveals its spirit.” Through a town-plan he sought to combine a new order with economy, health, rationality, and clarity—so that Sun, Space, and Verdure could become the prized heritage of every citizen.
Tapestry at Chandigarh
Le Corbusier’s formation was completed in Paris at 30 when the French painter Amédée Ozenfant initiated him into Purism, a new pictorial aesthetic that rejected the complicated abstractions of Cubism. They launched a polemic avant-garde monthly review, L’Esprit Nouveau in 1920. Written in an evocative style, his book “Toward a New Architecture” was the most influential document of its time. Le Corbusier also wrote poetry.
A painting in PURISM style using everyday objects
Many keep bragging to be his associates even when Le Corbusier called them “draftsmen”, not architects. He left no doubt about it through an inscription that described “Portrait of the Family” of Pierre Jeanneret, E Maxwell Fry, and Jane B Drew which is responsible for construction of the Punjab capital.
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Le Corbusier on French Currency
In 1987, we instituted at Chandigarh College of Architecture [CCA] Le Corbusier gold medal to be awarded each year to B Arch graduate with the best all-round performance in academics and co-curricular activities. CCA was founded at his behest as the academic wing of the great Chandigarh experiment in modern urbanism that he was then leading. Since its establishment on 07 August 1961, CCA alumni have become luminaries having made magnificent contribution to nation-building through their versatile creativity.
About the Author
Dr SS Bhatti is a versatile professional—architect, artist, art & literature critic, poet, singer, musicologist, writer, philosopher, and mystic. He applies the tools of Theory, Practice, Research, and Pedagogy to the study of four major fields of human endeavour: the Humanities, Art, Science, and Technology besides Comparative Religion. He has also discovered some Spiritual Realities that illuminate the purpose, path, and salvation of human life. He defines Architecture beautifully. He was also the Founder Teacher and Former Prinicipal of the famous Chandigarh College of Architecture. Currently he is spending his retirement years authoring out-of-the-box books, writing beautiful poetries and sketching his heart out.
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Text & Image courtesy: Prof SS Bhatti
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