Le Corbusier Symposium 3/3 ARTNET

Date: Monday 1 January 1968
Time: 18:00
Running time: 60 mins

Kenneth Frampton’s lecture continues (starts in Part 2/3):

Kenneth Frampton quotes Le Corbusier’s “Revolution can be avoided through design.” He claims to be putting together a series of ideological identifications with decisions about expression and about aesthetic, and to say that one reflects the other: he argues that there is indeed a very strong connection. Then, he will argue that his basic work, the period from 1917 to 1935, is illuminated by the awareness of the problem of architecture versus building. Consciousness of this problem mentioned takes place on two levels: one is the level of what is the paradigmatic plan form and the other, what is to be the essential status of the built expression. In both levels, there is this problem of architecture versus building. Both problems were anticipated by Adolf Loos. Although correspondence has not been revealed, it is clear that Ozenfant, Le Corbusier and Paul Delaunay in L’Esprit Nouveau, were very aware of Loos, and “Ornament and Crime is published quite early in that magazine. Unfortunately, another text is not published in L’Esprit Nouveau, which Frampton thinks that is absolutely central to this whole problem: Loos’s “Architecture” of 1910, which begins with a problem: “the houses here are in harmony with the landscape and with the lake, they do not look as if they are of the hands of man, they look as if they were done by the hands of God” then “we have here a modern villa and all the harmony is destroyed.” Why is the harmony destroyed? Because the modern villa is by an architect. It doesn’t matter if he is a good or bad architect, but “he comes from the city and has no culture.“ By this, Frampton explains, he means that, by definition, urbanized populations are uprooted populations, and are in essence torn from their culture, in the sense of something organic, in the sense that Heidegger would have understood the word culture. That this problem lies underneath the whole heritage of the Gothic revival of Pugin and that it would have been a shared angst by L’Eplattenier and then part of Le Corbusier’s inherited tradition. Therefore, in 1924, we get a very elegant statement of the problem in la maison La Roche, which is an ‘L’ shaped and, in Frampton’s view, it has a Gothic revival plan; bracketed entirely by itself. While La Roche is stuck into the cube, the free plan is used as an allusion between building and architecture. Le Corbusier was conscious of this opposition in levels other than the plan form. Namely, in the level shown most clearly in the weekend house, in which the building process is not allowed to enter the level of the architectural expression. In all the projects that appear in Vers une Architecture, in the maison Citroen, the build process is always suppressed, the building is made out of white stuff, just as the Palladian villas. There is a curious break of course, which is the weekend house, from the 5 principles of modern architecture. About the weekend house of 1935, he writes: “the planning of such a house demanded extreme care, the elements of the construction, where the sole architectural means.” He built a house in which the elements of the construction, as it would have been the case for Pugin or Viollet-Le-Duc, were the sole architectural means. Questions follow.

Madhu Sarin, architect, is presented. She explains that her interest in Le Corbusier aroused really out of having lived and studied architecture in his city, Chandigarh. She presents a picture of Chandigarh as if it was conceived and contrasts it with what it is today. She wants to examine the role of architects and planners in the creation of an urban environment as well as system. Le Corbusier wanted to reform society through the control of the built environment, he attempted to create an utopian or idealistic society, based on the assumption that as long as you control the built environment and the physical framework of the city, you can create the society that you try to create. She offers a brief summary of the plan for Chandigarh, a city that is a product of unique historical circumstances. As a result of the partition of India in 1947, the province of East Punjab was partitioned and the old capital of the estate went to Pakistan. The city, as a result, received millions of refugees who had been uprooted and were suddenly in a region with no center. The politicians and new leaders of independent India, thought of it as an opportunity to use the creation of a capital as a symbolic expression of the aspirations of the new nation. The circumstances which made Le Corbusier’s association with Chandigarh were related to the high aspirations for the new nation held by the new government, but they only represented a little portion of the population. When Le Corbusier received the proposition to plan the new city, he was advised to live in the city, close to the site, for at least three years. The plan was prepared in one week, during the first visit of Le Corbusier. He thought of it as an organic system, whose units are the sectors and, very simplistically, are based on the concept that within certain physical dimensions, you could create a self-sufficient unity within the city. What it is not taken into consideration it is that Indian society has very little in common with European society, especially in terms of disparity and the fact that it was not an industrialized area. The premise that you would automatically go to whatever is closer to you: the nearest school, shops etc. Poor people living in a rich sector (the servant of the rich) if they have kids with them, they would have to send them to the opposite side of the city, and viceversa. The other conceptual basis is that most of the traffic is going to be vehicular traffic, far from the truth, given that only 10% of Chandigarh population has a car. Chandigarh today is a city with two faces. Madhu poses the question of how did Le Corbusier managed to convince the people in charge of building that city, of following that ideals, separated from actual life. She wants to address, study and understand the situation in which that could have happened, rather than to criticise Le Corbusier himself.

Transcription by María José Orihuela, Architect, MA HCT at the Architectural Association.

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