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Archi-Graphic

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Are you a trivia whiz who knows his Alto from his Ando? Which bespectacled architect set the trend, nay stereotype, for round eyewear across the profession? Whose eyebrows are on fleek?

The Distinguishing Features Game, is one of more than 60 infographics featured in Archi-Graphic, a book from publisher Laurence King. Author Frank Jacobus, an associate professor at the Fay Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas, dreamed it up as part of his goal to bring data visualization to his field—along with a much-needed dose of levity.

“I love the humor in the book and that’s part of what we’re after,” Jacobus says. “There’s a tendency to take things too seriously in architecture. We’re trying to make things a bit lighter. Part of my interest is in data visualization and I thought, what a great way to bring architecture to a bigger audience.”

Jacobus sketched out all of the infographics and worked with a group of about 20 architecture students to research and digitize them. The whole process took about a year and a half and sounds a heck of a lot more fun than your typical course of study. “It was its own class, so to speak, and we started asking questions that aren’t asked in lectures, like who had affairs with whom?” Jacobus says.

The book covers topics like rising skylines; a comparison of how much work an architect actually produces to how much buzz he or she generates (as measured by Google hits); and what building styles dictators prefer. It also tackles tough facts like the lack of diversity in the profession, which Jacobus says are the most impactful infographics in the book. “One of them called ‘Ladies and Gents’ talks about a discipline that’s slowly becoming equal but not anywhere close to where it needs to be,” Jacobus says. [Editor’s note: it’s about 17% female and 83% male.] “‘AIAn’t Ethnic’ deals with ethnicity in the discipline. It’s a play on words and references a Suprematist painting style that evokes the whiteness of our discipline. [Editor’s note: it’s about 72% caucasian.] We have some things to do in remedying a male-dominated, mostly caucasian profession.”

Very important and worthwhile issues and ones where seeing a graphic certainly hits the message home more so than abstract figures.

Images courtesy: Laurence King publishing

Beyond Bawa

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All too often, the architecture books you see on other people’s coffee tables allow you to wallow self-indulgently in the pure sensuousness of the pictures, and the thinly worded script might as well not exist. Don’t get me wrong. I like to immerse just as much as the next man, but this is something Robson does not allow you to do. This is not to say the pictures in the book are bad. On the contrary they are extremely beautiful – and beautifully laid out – but they are very much a supporting act to Robson’s detailed analysis of where modern Sri Lankan architecture came from, and where it seems to be going.

As you would expect, Geoffrey Bawa is presented in a big way. But Robson does something far more complicated here than just list Bawa’s achievements: he traces the bloodlines of Bawa’s architectural descendants all over Monsoon Asia, defined by him as stretching from India’s Malabar coast in the west to Irian Jaya in the east, right across the Indian Ocean. Descendants there are many, and the sheer extent of Bawa’s influence over the length and breadth of this area is simply staggering.

Monsoon Asia is warm and wet and the single most important element of its buildings is the roof. Monsoon architecture relies on the apparently random placing of pavilions and pools, to achieve a harmonious whole that must look as if it has been there a thousand years. Robson explains how the volumes of these pavilions and spaces in between blur into each other, bringing the jungle into the house, so that the architecture disappears into its surroundings. The ‘artless simplicity’ of this arrangement in fact takes a great deal of forethought. The natural materials used – wood and clay and stone – age and discolour naturally, and this organic decay is built into the design. Modernism on the other hand relies on its effect on the pristine condition of its product.

Geoffrey Bawa’s particular genius lay in being able to marry these two dramatically opposing styles. The Modernists loved him simply because he was modern. The traditionalists loved his pioneering use of vernacular regionalism.

Robson believes that Bawa never consciously introduced regional elements into his work. “If you take the local materials and the general feel of the place into account, then the resultant building automatically becomes regional,” Bawa said. “I just build what I am asked to build.” Was he being a little disingenuous here? Probably. He was a clever man and it seems likely he knew exactly what he was doing. But it took great courage because regionalism was a dirty word back then, considered somehow a lessening of civilization.

Robson then goes on to introduce the people around Bawa: a fourth, human dimension to this architectural tale which I, as a writer, found enormously interesting. They developed their own distinctive style – that particular, very beautiful, method of plan drawing for which Bawa became famous, where every tree is as important as every building

One of the absolute delights of this book is Robson’s limpid prose, which effortlessly conveys quite difficult architectural concepts without resorting to technical jargon.

Robson ends with a description of the East Coast Park McDonald’s in Singapore – the most beautiful McDonald’s in the world! – which surprisingly incorporates Bawa’s signature motifs: clay tiled roofs, open-sided pavilions and reflecting pools. When Bawa’s method and philosophy are reduced like this to fashionable gimmicks and stylistic formulae, Robson notes, architecture flies out the window. When the global appropriates the local, the local loses its raison d’être. But this McBawa is merely the price he has paid for his enormous success: it is the architectural equivalent of the striped curtains in the farmhouse. Any love is good love, as the song goes, and I am sure Bawa would have been appalled and flattered in equal measure. Who knows, even as I write this, there is probably a township springing up in the deserts of Arizona called Bawaville.

I quiver with anticipation.

http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Bawa-Modern-Masterworks-Monsoon/dp/0500342385

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Images Courtesy: Thames and Hudson

In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones

In Which Annie Gives It Those Ones (1989) is an Indian National Award winning film featuring  Arundhati Roy, Indian superstar Shahrukh Khan ,Arjun Raina and Roshan Seth in the leads, the film directed by Pradip Kishen makes an excellent judgment on the environment of an architecture school in Delhi – which everyone from a creative discipline may relate to.

It also takes a satirical glimpse of the ongoings in such creative schools where students prepare and present their ultimate submission- An Architectural Thesis. The film shows in brutal honesty what goes under the curtain of architectural education.

Louis I Kahn: Silence and Light

Louis I. Kahn is unarguably one of the most prominent and important figures of 20th-century architecture. He is known as the poet and philosopher amongst the great modern architects. On 12 February 1969, Kahn gave a lecture at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), entitled ‘‘Silence and Light’‘.

This fundamental text reveals Kahn’s spiritual understanding of architecture and his creative thinking. Kahn’s idea of architecture goes far beyond the mere building. He understands architecture as a concept comprising the entire environment of mankind. With this he anticipated more than forty years ago what is branded ‘sustainability in architecture’ today.

‘Louis I. Kahn – Silence and Light’ makes this text accessible again in its primary version, for the first time ever also in Kahn’s own voice on audio-CD. The book includes a full-length reproduction of the Zurich lecture in original English and translations into French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Kahn’s illustrations drawn while speaking and the number of previously unpublished images of the architect lecturing complement the text. Text are provided in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

To supplement the primary text, the editor has included an introduction written by Kahn’s close friend and fellow architect Balkrishna V. Doshi, as well as many of Kahn’s own images and drawings, some of which have never seen daylight before.

This book serves as an invaluable addition to any student, teacher, practitioner or critic of architecture who have been influenced by this yogi of architecture called Kahn.

For more details click here: LOUIS I. KAHN – SILENCE AND LIGHT

Image Courtesy: © Park Books

Architecture Visionaries

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The book Architecture Visionaries revolves around biography and projects fo 75 noted architects of 20th century. The biographies start with Antonio Gaudi and ends with Shigeru Ban.

Arranged in a broadly chronological order, the book gives the reader a sense of the impact that creative individuals have had on the advancement of architecture and our built environment. Important dates in the architects’ careers are established in timeline features, allowing the author liberty to move beyond well-known biographies to analyze the buildings and map out the astonishing insights behind them.

With insightful passage describing thoughtfully selected sample, this is a compelling and unique lead to the architects whose idea have created the buildings around us.

A very valuable addition to every architecture buff’s library.

Image Courtesy: © Laurence King Publishing Ltd

A History of Western Architecture

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Properly covering the history of architecture in any single volume is a big challenge, but David Watkin successfully covers thousands of years with about 700 pages in his book, A History of Western Architecture.

The book begins the journey with early Mesopotamian Temples from 3600BC and then travels through all the major architectural movements, including Classical, Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Modernism, and the rest of the 20th Century. As the title suggests, the book focuses on the western part of the world – Europe, Scandinavia, and North America are the main focus of the text.

The book provides a very good history of architecture and combines easy to understand prose with excellent images of the structures. The fifth edition of the book covers all relevant western architecture up to the mid-2000s. The work from the 2000s is fairly thin, but this is understandable given that these buildings are too new for their relevance in history to be fully understood.

The pages are full of high-quality images of the buildings being discussed. Almost every page has a photo or drawing, albeit almost all of them are black-and-white. The color photos that are including come in clumps of three or four – and only in certain sections of the book. Most images are noted with the location and date of the structure.

Archcritik highly recommends A History of Western Architecture for all architects, especially students and architecture buffs.

Image Courtesy: © Laurence King Publishing Ltd

Elements of Venice by Giulia Foscari

Elements of Venice is an extraordinarily well-researched and presented research effort, led a written by a key member of the Venice Biennale team, architect Giulia Foscari, a daughter of Venice with impeccable credentials and profound insights into the nature and history of the great, enigmatic City of Venice.

This work will be intriguing for those just beginning to dip their toes into the lagoon of Venice’s cultural and architectural history. It is also a boon for those now fully immersed into the deep historical waters of La Serenissima.

“Developed as a research project parallel to FUNDAMENTALS – the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale, curated by Rem Koolhaas – this book introduces a radically new way of seeing Venice. With examinations of twelve different architectural elements, the guide allows readers to better understand the fundamental transformations that have shaped Venice over the past ten centuries.” This Biennale opened at the end of June 2014, with this book printed in June as well.

The Foreword by Rem Koolhaas states that the presented research “…presents micronarratives revealed by focusing systematically on the fundamentals of our buildings…” and uncovers “…not a single, unified history of architecture, but the multiple histories, origins, contaminations, similarities, and differences of these elements and how they evolved into their current iterations through technological advances, regulatory requirements, and new digital regimes.” He concludes, “With Elements of Venice, this radical and thought-provoking book, Giulia demonstrates that Venice has been a city in perpetual transformation and, in the centuries of its splendour, at the forefront of modernity.”

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Foscari, Giulia, “Elements of Venice”, Lars Muller Publishers, Zurich, June 2014, 692pp., paperback, small format.

The book’s Introduction consists of the author’s Preface and two articles that set the stage for the elements discussions.

Foscari’s Preface presents an intellectually rigorous yet very approachable rebuttal to false paradigms routinely used to characterize Venice – applied sometimes because of the city’s apparent homogeneity, but often because of the desire of some correspondents to seek out “new” secrets to demystify an allegedly mythical place.  She concludes,

“Lauded for decades, the ‘myth of Venice’ has become, through overuse, a cliché. Venice is not a perfectly round, gleaming ‘pearl’; it is not the ‘Serenissima’ that survived, unchanging, even when it had been demoted from the ranks of the world’s capitals (sic). If this is how it has appeared, it is because it is a metamorphous entity. It is because the city truly is an amphibious creature, born between land and water, in a lagoon that for centuries has served a a huge womb, protecting its offspring in a constant state of development, in which constant changes were the norm. Never have there been turning points so abrupt as to compromise its links with the past; never a revolution. The city has moulded itself to history just like its building have adapted to subsidence. Without ruptures. It has aged over time (col tempo, as Giorgione teaches us by portraying the face of an elderly woman who looks us straight in the eye with a intensity that, at times, is hard to bear). It is only through clues, or minimal alterations of the elements of architecture that at first glance might appear coincidental or insignificant, that we can see that this metamorphosis has happened and is still happening in Venice.”

The Metamorphosis of Venice – A Historical Parenthesis uses San Marco – the Piazza (“Square” in this book) and the Basilica – to show transformation of elements – a metamorphosis from the Lagoon into the precinct and structures that are present today.

Cloister: Corridor: Wall - Venice (c) R.D.Bosch 2013

Dissecting the Building Elements of Venice reveals the City through its architectonic features, studied by performing a post-mortem dissection to make the key elements readily observable, and t0 gain an understanding of their relationship to context over time, in the manner of Rem Koolhaas’s studies of elements and typology over the decades, not by utilizing a chronologically “evolutionary” route.The twelve elements explored through “micronarratives” – ranging from one to many within the study of an element – are:

FAÇADE            STAIR          CORRIDOR         FLOOR      RAMP            ROOF           CEILING          DOOR         FIREPLACE       WINDOW         BALCONY           WALL

Rest assured, this approach is not a “building blocks” kit or arcane technical dissertation, but a new way of seeing through well-researched and illustrated micronarratives.

A Maps section follows the text, locating the specific discussions by color code to helpfully identify the element involved and by page number for the specific site. The scale of the maps, however, makes the page numbers minuscule, so keep a magnifier handy if you desire to route find with the book as a guide. Finally, the Appendix includes complete Image Credits, and Acknowledgements.

The beauty of Giulia Foscari’s work includes an implicit challenge to us to remove blinders of traditional approaches to assaying Venice, allowing development of our capability to “see” with fresh eyes, to comprehend not only Venice, but all areas of the environments we inhabit or visit. Perhaps each, in their own way, will be inspired to greater understanding and more comprehensible communication.  Hard work, true. Yet, as Pablo Picasso observed,

 “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

For more details:

http://www.amazon.in/Elements-Venice-Giulia-Foscari/dp/3037784296

Image Courtesy: Lars Muller Publishers unless otherwise specified.

Le Corbusier: Acrobat of Architecture – B. V. Doshi

A youthful Doshi (in black coat) on site with Le Corbusier.

A youthful Doshi (in black coat) on site with Le Corbusier.

Q. So much has been written about Le Corbusier that I think we can dispense with the basics. We know, of course, that he was a many-sided man – architect, painter, sculptor, poet, author – or rather polemicist. However, if you had to choose the one outstanding quality of his personality, what would it be?

A. This is interesting because, you know, I have my own private image of the man. And the key to his personality, for me at least, is contained in a poem he once wrote. It’s called “The Acrobat” and it goes:

An acrobat is no puppet,

He devotes his life to activities
in which, in perpetual danger of death,
he performs extraordinary movement of
infinite difficulty, with disciplined
exactitude and precision…..free
to break his neck and his bones and
be crushed.

Nobody asked him to do this.
Nobody owes him any thanks.
He lives in an extraordinary world, of the acrobat.
Result: most certainly!
He does things which others cannot.

So I will always see him figuratively walking the tightrope, swinging from the trapeze, scorning the safety of the net. He did things that no one else would dream of doing; he took risks, big risks, he dared. That’s why I think of him as the acrobat of architecture. I think you’ll see what I mean as we go along.

Q. Yes, I recall that he’s been referred to as a magician, a juggler, someone who could keep all the balls in the air at one time. But can you give me a concrete example of what you mean?

A. Oh, there are dozens of instances. When the roof of the gymnasium of the Unite d’Habitation at Marseilles was being finished, the engineers came to him and said, “Monsieur, this will not work, there are going to be some cracks.” So he said, “What would have happened if God had done this and the cracks appeared? We would paint, wouldn’t we? So we’ll paint. That’s all.” What he was saying was that things will always go wrong some place, but we can always find alternatives.

Q. Can we go back to the beginning, to the time you first met Le Corbusier?

A. That was in 1950. I was living in London then and I learned that the CIAM Congress was going to be held at Hoddesdon. Somehow I managed to get myself in as an observer. When I got there I found they were discussing Chandigarh. I also found I was the only Indian present, and so I was asked a lot of questions – “What is the meaning of Chandigarh?” and so on. This encouraged me to ask if I could get a chance to work on the project. Maybe, I was told, but Le Corbusier is a very difficult man to work with. Incidentally, this was the first time I met and shook hands with him. Later I was told to submit an application in my own handwriting. He had this peculiarity – perhaps he had it checked later by those handwriting specialists. He had many little superstitions. Years later I discovered that he always carried a big coin, some kind of icon, given to him in Brazil. His wife used to complain because it tore his pockets all the time. Anyway, the upshot of it all, was that I was told I could join but I would be paid nothing.

Q. And so you went to Paris?

A. Yes, I went to 35 Rue de Sevres. A strange place–quite unlike the usual architect’s office which hascertain set divisions. His own room was very small, with everything painted black. There were just two lights, one focused on a sculpture, the other exactly on his table.

When I knew him much better I could understand the significance of the room. Because where work was concerned he was like a monk, an ascetic; he spent a lot of time alone – painting, thinking, writing. Now what is this but meditation? Indeed, for 40 years, he never met anyone until lunch time. And he was very irritated if someone disturbed him. He once went into isolation for four days, without even enough food to sustain him. And he thought and pondered long over whether his theories were correct or not. At the end of the four days, he emerged convinced more strongly than ever that what he was doing was right.

Q. Does this mean that once he made up his mind, he wouldn’t change it? To use the analogy of the acrobat, once he set foot on the rope, there was no turning back.

A. Yes, but it was always a considered decision, never capricious or impulsive. A lot of thought had gone into it before. Let me give you an example. When the Millowners’ Building in Ahmedabad was being planned, he had this large space but the toilets were small and the doors to them were only 70 cm. So a letter came from the millowners complaining about this. Le Corbusier replied, saying, “Gentlemen, you will realise that a pregnant woman with two suitcases walks easily along the corridor of a railway wagon which is never wider than 70 cm, so I’m very sure that this door is not too small for you, fat though you are.”

Q. He must have enjoyed that, his clash with the millowners. Because he did see conflict as an essential element of creative life, didn’t he?

A. Oh, certainly. He enjoyed struggling against an adversary, the more powerful the better. Remember that early in his life he had said, “I want to fight with truth itself. It will surely torment me. But I am not looking for quietude.” He knew that there would always be conflict and trouble and he believed in being prepared for it. He once drew a diagram for me – a star, above it a cloud, and above that a dagger – and he said, “You can always look at the stars, but remember that behind them is a cloud, and behind that a dagger.”

In fact, I think he found a certain exhilaration even in defeat. In Paris after Marseilles, we were all waiting for him to come back from a client, and when he returned we asked, “Monsieur, what happened? Did you get the assignment?” “No,” he replied, “they wanted me to change the kitchen height, change this, change that. So I told them, I have not worked for 25 yers to change now. I would rather not build. Goodbye.” “But what will you do now?” we asked. “The one thing I’ve learned in life,” he answered, “is to take revenge for my defeat by working twice as hard.”

Q. What in your opinion was his essence as an architect?

A. He had so many qualities that it’s difficult to summarize. One of the most important certainly was that here was a free mind, bound by no rules, not even his own. He never worked with one idea but orchestrated many ideas, each the seed of a different tree and each enriching the other. So he moved constantly in different, apparently contradictory, directions. I was once in his office with P. L. Verma, then the Chief Engineer of Chandigarh. And Le Corbusier asked, “What is the truth really?” Then he drew two parallel lines, with a wavy line in between. “Truth is like a river,” he said, “it flows continuously, changing course, modifying itself, without ever touching either bank.” Truth for him was always in the process of evolution.

He was not concerned with consistency. And he was constantly improvising. For example, in the Millowner’s Building there is a regular series of columns, but suddenly at the end he removes two columns to make a concrete wall. No purist would do this. But he needed that to make a visual impact – his real strength.

Structure for him was only related to the function it must perform – it was not a rigid element. So he did not follow one system, but used many systems to achieve his goal. Because many systems together really add up to another system, don’t they?

He was never rigid, always varied, forever playing with dualities and multiplicity. In the High Court at Chandigarh, for instance, the main portico is made of three large parallel walls and originally they were painted white, but after a while he painted each a different colour because he wanted that area to stand out and be conspicuous. Now anyone doing this in a school of architecture would fail because it is not consistent. But to create a space, Le Corbusier would sacrifice everything.

And he knew how to go about it because he was a great inventor. Thus when Marseilles was being built he was away for a while and when he returned, his engineer colleague Bodiansky had already built the windows – simple, square wooden windows. Now Le Corbusier was anything but simple. Immediately an idea struck him: why not paint the sides of the sun-breakers to distract from the windows? A trompe d’oeil, so to speak. He had complete mastery of how to guide people’s vision.

Q. This is another element in his architecture, isn’t it, the use of colour?

A. Yes, to him paint was not alien – it was also used to add to the total experience. He could paint a wall to highlight the space, or to limit the space or to conclude the space. In other words, he could make space infinite or finite or destroy it completely.

Q. How were all these qualities reflected in Chandigarh? How did he react to India in the first place?

A. He saw many things for the first time – the bright blue sky, the relentless sun, the hot winds, the cool moon, the beauty of tropical nights, the fury of the monsoon. And he said to me once that while his work thus far had been a counterpoint to nature, he now realised that he had to have a pact with nature. The Sarabhai house is a perfect example of how architecture and nature can merge. He looked at the skyline of Indian temples, he saw arches and domes, verandahs and balconies. In general I have the impression that in India he felt the impact of another culture that has joy and grace and compassion.

Q. What would you say was the impact of India on his work as an architect?

A. Well, mainly that he was looking at things in a different way than he had in the West. What do you do in a country where there’s no technology but lots of very skilled people, people with ideas; a country far behind in time but also very vital and full of energy? He began to think of using natural materials in a different way. When he came to Ahmedabad in 1951 and he saw the concrete columns in Kanvinde’s ATIRA building, I know that he took pictures back to Paris and asked: Why not use concrete like this?

Q. Are you saying that bêton brut was discovered here?

A. No, not really discovered – Marseilles had already been built in rough concrete. But here we have to do the formwork in small plates, because pouring and casting is difficult. And he said, why not take planks and do what we call shuttering? He also used steel formwork and said, why don’t we show the rivets also so we can feel how the concrete is poured. In India he looked anew at concrete as texture. What he did here was to add plasticity. Le Corbusier was a man of great plasticity.

Which reminds me. He spent a lot of time looking at Indian miniatures and he once showed me a painting of Krishna and Radha dancing. “ You see,” he said, “how front and back are both shown, how you can twist the plane to get a complete image.” The problem that was intriguing him was how to get another dimension within the same plane. And this is what he did in Ahmedabad – he made the formwork go against the nature of the concrete, i.e., normally the formwork is designed vertically, but here he placed the shuttering planks diagonally, so that the shadows cast are diagonal, while the basic level remains horizontal. This was done with the idea that the plane must get another dimension through shadow.

In Indian miniature paintings you notice that something will suddenly go out of the frame. Or out of all those cows, one cow will turn its head. We allow those exceptions. Le Corbusier was like that – exceptions were important to prove the rule. And this came out of the realisation that rigid structures are not the answer if you want them to survive.

Q. Did he really know about Indian philosophy? So much significance is attached now to such things as the symbolism of the wheel, for example.

A. I don’t know. But I doubt very much that he really read Hindu philosophy or anything like that. Basically people who are philosophers don’t have to study religions or faiths. They sense things and feel it when they move around – they absorb intuitively, unconsciously. They work mostly by instinct.

Q. What about the Open Hand? People also see parallels between this and the open hand of Christ and Buddha. Did it have any spiritual meaning?

A. Again I don’t know, but it’s possible. He was a very secretive man, and though he was religious he never admitted it. I think all creative people are mystics in a sense. Let me tell you a story about Bucky Fuller. He was once in Florida with the contractor who made his domes, and Bucky said to him, “We must find an office building with this kind of plan.” And he drew a plan with a basement. The contractor said, “Bucky, basements are not possible here because the water level’s too high.” “You think so?” asked Fuller, “Anyway let’s go and find out.” So they started driving around, and Bucky kept looking at the tops of the trees all the time. He would just say, go straight, turn right, or turn left. After 10 minutes they came to a house and Bucky said, “Stop. There’s a house. Go and ask about it.” The contractor went in reluctantly and said to the owner, “I know there’s no sign saying that this house is for sale, but is it?” And he replied, “Well, I’ve been thinking of selling it so, yes, it is for sale.” “May I see the plan?” he was asked. And amazingly the house had a basement and a plan almost exactly like the one Bucky had drawn.

Q. So what was he, psychic?

A. Yes. And therefore I’m convinced that all these people have their antennae absolutely acute. Other- wise how come that the Shodan House ramp which was done in Paris is very similar to the ramp in the Amber Palace which Le Corbusier had never seen? And how come that Louis Kahn’s dormitories and structures at Ahmedabad are very close to the buildings in Mandu, which I showed him later much to his surprise. Therefore these people were not only psychic, but at a certain level of creativity your intuition becomes universal.

Q. Which brings us to another question often raised with regard to Le Corbusier – that of intellect as opposed to emotion or instinct.

A. With Le Corbusier the prime motivating factor was undoubtedly instinct. He never had a set plan in his head. In regard to his painting he told me, “When I start to work it’s blue, but when I’ve finished it’s green. I don’t know how that happens.” And otherwise why would he choose the cooling towers of the Sabarmati as the model for the Assembly building in Chandigarh? Nobody would dream of doing that. But to him it was a wonderful symbol of tomorrow, of rising aspirations, a figure of tremendous force. This was his impulse operating, his visual insight telling him: this is what you must do against those mountains and in that barren area.

Q. Is this true – the connection between the cooling towers and the Assembly?

A. Of course it’s true, it’s 100 per cent true. I was in Ahmedabad at the time, and I know that he went to the cooling towers in the night. He was fascinated by them; he picked up two wooden planks and struck them together to check the acoustics and made a note of it. And because he’d stayed there so long he developed pneumonia when he got back to Paris.

Q. Which brings us to Chandigarh. But how did he go about the building of Chandigarh?

A. Whenever Le Corbusier worked he would go to the site, to get the feel of it – without this he wouldn’t even do a drawing. In Chandigarh the first thing he did was to sketch the Himalayas – you could say he was overwhelmed by them – then the barren land, a couple of mango trees and of course the bull with the big horns. From the very beginning, I feel, he began looking at the city as an offering to the Himalayas. I remember Giedion, the noted architec- tural historian, writing to him at that time saying, “You who talk so much about the Piazza San Marco, how dare you put buildings so far away in a climate that’s so hot.” Le Corbusier’s answer was, “Yes, but I am doing this as objects against the backdrop of the mountains. This is my notion of space in the 20th century.”

Q. There’s been so much controversy over Chandigarh – what exactly was the extent of Le Corbusier’s involvement in the city?

A. We must be very clear about this: his concern was the master plan, the capitol complex – the four major buildings – the Civic Centre, parts of Sector 17. Isn’t it ironic that the man who propagated Unite d’Habitation was not allowed to do housing? He said: “Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew want to do housing. If I interfere now there’ll be trouble.”

Q. What about the demarcation, the segregation of classes?

A. This was given as a directive by P. N. Thapar, then the Secretary, Punjab Government, and Fry and Drew followed it. But Le Corbusier told me, “This is a bureaucratic decision and I don’t agree with it.”

Q. What about the absence of bazaars, another criticism often levelled against Chandigarh?

A. Look, Le Corbusier was essentially a man of the Mediterranean – he was fascinated by places like the casbah in Morocco. And I have seen with my own eyes his Chandigarh sketches with shopping streets leading to open spaces and he’s even written there “The Indian Bazaar”. But those sketches are missing now, lost, disappeared, I wish I’d pinched them at that time.

Q. So it’s very unfair to blame all the ills of Chandigarh on Le Corbusier?

A. Of course it is. I remember we were once walking in the High Court area, at that time the land was quite flat, and I said, “Monsieur, with such wonderful buildings coming up here, look at what is happening all around – the buildings by Fry and Drew, I mean.” He replied, “I know, but don’t worry. I’m going to create hills here so that we will not notice them and this will become a contained place.”

Q. So he was dissociating himself from the rest of Chandigarh?

A. That’s what I’m saying. He was creating an island for himself. On my next trip to the city, those hills – mounds, rather – were made. He didn’t complain, but just found a way to enhance his own world. As I’ve said so often, he was a man of great invention. If the site had something undesirable he would hide it. He was always doing these balancing acts.

Q. What do you think of Corbusier’s Chandigarh, then?

A. I think the capitol complex affords a unique architectural experience. There is this tremendous juxtaposition of the Assembly and the High Court, saying that justice is independent of politicians. So we have an independent justice, an independent legislature and between them lies the Governor’s Palace. Thus a triangle is set up to symbolise people’s participatory governance. And then we have the Open Hand which says, let us open ourselves to the world – let us give and let us take. The whole conception is fantastic. It’s an example of how to create buildings which respond in terms of space and confront one another allegorically. For the first time you have a complex of buildings placed in a certain order, philosophically and visually, in relation to site and then in relation to form and scale. In the classical manner, the church was always placed in the centre of the town, but here we have Le Corbusier taking his capitol buildings far away and also placing considerable distance between them.

Q. But he’s been criticised so much for those distances.

A. I know, but it was all carefully thought out and conceived that way. These powers must confront each other so the distance between the buildings was very important for him. He didn’t see it as a gathering place for people, but rather as a vast area where tensions are set off, an area that is awe- inspiring. So it had to be kept very pure. And I think the same thing is true of the capitol’s distance from the city – he didn’t want it mixed up with all kinds of day-to-day activities. Of course the problem remains: how do people in a democracy use these buildings? But I think that both Le Corbusier’s vision and the people’s convenience have validity.

Q. Would you like to comment on the individual buildings in the complex? Let’s take the High Court.

A. In the High Court, as always, silhouette was important for him. You see these shapes, almost like an umbrella, but look at the negative space and it’s like a dome (perhaps a reaction to Indian architecture). So he had this play of positive- negative, of floating form against the light. I believe that this relationship with the sky was being discovered at this point in his work. And now he was using elements even at the cost of structure. These shells in the High Court were supposed to be very thin, but engineering-wise that was not possible so they were done as slabs, curved slabs, cantilevered.

Of course the High Court has many problems. The rain beats in so you have to build an arcade. The judges don’t like it because the courts can’t function the normal Indian way. But one really has to look at the High Court as a plastic building in terms of form and space. And I think it’s a magnificent building, it’s a grand way of arrival – the way it sits on the plaza and the poetry its silhouette evokes.

Q. What about the Assembly?

A. The best thing here is to tell you what Louis Kahn said when he first saw it. He said: “I have never met a man in my whole life who can freeze his dreams. Le Corbusier has done this in the Assembly building.” I myself think of the Assembly as the culmination of architectural experience, pure experience. It is absolutely unmatched in terms of form, space, proportions, the play of light. I could go on for hours about it – how he created a dual structural system for the interpenetration of volumes; how beautifully he taps the sun to bring this wonderful light into the building; how the pure geometry he talked about all his life came back on top of the Assembly in the cylinder and the pyramid and the cube. In the end he created a building that was a piece of sculpture.

But again I have the feeling that there are lots of problems in the Assembly. While it was an absolute success in formal terms it was not the same in practical terms.

Q. The Secretariat?

A. The Secretariat too has its points and it’s very impressive from the front, but that also happened by accident. The initial design had sun-breaker-like balconies, but the problem arose that such big spans would not work because they were also cantilevered, so you needed supporting elements. Everybody 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, they are really supporting elements.” So the columns went right down, and 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. In his desire to be formal he often landed in a mess. But, like the acrobat, he always managed to emerge unscathed. However, everyone knows that the Secretariat fails, fails totally, as an office building.

Q. What about the plan of the city?

A. I think that 20 years hence Chandigarh may not even be considered an Indian city because it gives us Le Corbusier’s sense of the future but not of Indian life. Indian communities live in groups, mohallas, there’s a mixing of families income-wise. This was never considered in Chandigarh. So you have streets, open spaces, houses – but you have no life.

Q. What was your involvement in Chandigarh and with Le Corbusier?

A. I worked on the High Court, designed some sections of it. I also did some work on the Governor’s Palace which as you know was never built. In Ahmedabad I worked fully on the Shodan House and the Millowner’s Building.

Q. And this is over a period of seven years, so you got to know him well?

A. Yes, I was close to him both professionally and personally. Whenever I went to Chandigarh, we would take long walks together, during which he would tell me all kinds of stories. He was a stern man, and he had withdrawn from people in a sense, but he had a very warm human side that I can never forget. For example, when I was leaving Paris I lunched with him. He had spread some of his drawings on the table, and said, “Doshi, I want you to select one.” So I picked one. “Ah”, he exclaimed, “you have chosen the way I would have. Why don’t you take another,” I did so, and again he was pleased so he gave me one more. I finally ended up with three of his drawings, and I can tell you he didn’t easily part with them.

Q. What influence would you say Le Corbusier had on you?

A. Oh, he changed my entire career. Apart from architecture, he taught me to be a strategist, how to face the music, how to look at things and how to be open. Take strategy. He once told me, “Don’t send all the photographs of the building to the client. Send just one so that they get only a partial idea. This way you’ll have fewer arguments.” And when I was leaving Paris and went to say goodbye he had some colour samples in his hand. “Look”, he said, “when you show them the colours ask them to select one, but always keep the second choice for yourself. So they will be happy and your choice will compensate theirs.”

Architecturally, all my buildings have been influenced by him, though not obviously. In my home, for example, built in 1961, I had been greatly impressed by the Sarabhai house, and I was really trying to create that shadow and that proportion. But I wanted to do something he hadn’t done. So I decided that in the interior I would not use anything rough – I would have a polished floor, plastered walls, and not use sun-breakers (even now I avoid them, I’ve only used them once or twice). Still there are some similarities. When I left Le Corbusier I took a vow that I would not use the elements – apparently the same elements – associated with him. When you decide this, then you are left only with his spirit, which is expressed in proportions, modulations of space, creation of rhythms, tonalities. My greatest discovery was that I found freedom. I know that Le Corbusier would not have liked me to be imitative or to repeat a building again and again, but to invent and seek out new expression. That’s why I keep his photograph on my wall to tell myself, “He is there, watching me. Am I repeating myself?” So I make mistakes all the time but I’m happy that I’m trying.

Q. What about your other buildings?

A. The Institute of Indology was also built when I was filled with Le Corbusier and is strongly influenced by him. But I think my office building, Sangath, is truly representative of Le Corbusier. He would have been happy with it. This quality of light, for instance, would not have been possible without him. These are skylights, reflected skylights. He knew how to create a soft light that makes people’s faces glow, not a hard light that results in harsh lines. Treatment of light, as you know, was one of his great strengths.

Q. What about your School of Architecture?

A. He didn’t see the School, but when I was in Paris in 1963 I was telling him all about it, how we were going to have various scientific disciplines, physics and chemistry, how the architecture students would analyse buildings, study form, etc., etc. He listened in silence while I went on, then he just picked up a footrule from his table and asked, “But will they know how to use this?” I was quite taken aback but when you think of it the essence of architecture is how to use scale, isn’t it?

Q. What would you say is the influence of Le Corbusier on Indian architects in general?

A. I would say it is more apparent than real, more in terms of visual impact rather than theory, practice and analysis – in relation to our own culture. But there are people like Shivnath Prasad on whom he had a profound influence. Also Charles Correa and myself, and a lot of others in Delhi. It’s difficult to assess, though, because by and large it’s all fragmentary, just bits and pieces. Particular features were picked up – sun-breakers, of course, rough concrete, brick and concrete – and a few did pick up his notions of space. Generally the formal aspects were picked up but not the spirit.

Q. Not many people were as closely associated with Le Corbusier as you?

A. Yes, that’s true. There were some who were with him for as long as 10 or 15 years in Paris, but very few had the chance to be on site with him. I was witness to his endless adaptability and his capacity for improvisation. For example, the contractor would come to him and say, “I do not have this size of building material, say, stone.” He would ask, “What sizes do you have?” The contractor would tell him. He had perhaps allowed for three sizes, but the contractor may have had only two. Then he would say, “I’ll take this, which is my Modular, but you’ll have wastage. All right, I can use the wastage as residue.” He could treat flooring with residue, window panels with residue, sun-breakers with residue. And he would create a rhythm in his residue, adding a new dimension so that the building was actually enriched.

Q. Le Corbusier says somewhere that he admires “the house of peasants, the shack, the thing that is modest and on a human scale.”

A. You could say he was one architect who gave the ordinary man dignity. It was always as if he were looking at man and God together – no human being was really ordinary. Since he was not involved in politics or economics, he tried to give man dignity through his dwelling. What he would do was to scale the building in such a way that no man felt less than a king in his house. I recall him drawing some sketches and saying, “Here is a small house; if I make a tiny door the house will look still smaller. But if I make a full-scale door that will change things.” So this little act of altering the relationship between the opening and the space and the man made all the difference.

He was always fascinated by small-scale structures – steamships, railway carriages, houses of the poor. I remember taking him to the pols in Ahmedabad, to rooms just two metres wide. And him stretching out his arms and saying “My God, look how these people can live.” For him there was no problem thinking in two scales – the tiny, miniscule, and then the very large. Very few architects can do equally well in both.

Q. What was this, the attraction of opposites?

A. Yes, and it had some odd manifestations. At meals he would say one should eat sweet and sour things together. And when he ate meat he would say, “Let’s put some salt,” but big pieces of salt, not really spread out, so that the meat had no salt in some places and a great deal in others. In his drawings he had very thin lines combined with thick ones. His furniture was very low and the base was very thick. It seemed as though he always wanted two dimensions – thin and thick, tall and low, rough and smooth, light and shade. There was always this kind of counter-balance.

Q. This leads us to the role of music in his work, the use of counterpoint, if you will.

A. Music was terribly important to him – he came from a musical family as we know – and he extended this to his architecture. One of my most vivid memories of this came when we were working on the Shodan House. For some reason the pattern was too rigid, and Le Corbusier recognised this and it bothered him, so he turned it over to me. And when I began to work on the house I felt that instead of round columns, perhaps it should have a rectangular column that could do many things – become a wall, meet the wall at right angles and become a cupboard. When I showed him what I’d done, he said, “This is working right now. Let me begin to explore it.” Within two hours he had made a miracle out of the sections by just adding a little beam here and a slab across and putting a circle there to open it up. I remember I had some regular sun-breakers and when he looked at them he said, “Ah, you are too rigid, you know. Knock off these two.” So I knocked them off, and I realised after many years that those two were expressing the garden and the others in a regular rhythm were expressing the room. This is how he got other rhythms into the main rhythm.

Much the same thing happened in the Sarabhai House where you have these enormous, very heavy beams which really take you right in. The walls became almost like sliding panels – they are carrying load but sometimes you have a four-metre span, sometimes you have only a one-metre jack in between. Now Louis Kahn would not do this – he would certainly have a constant span.

Q. That’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you about – your experience of working with Kahn and the difference between him and Le Corbusier.

A. As you know I was also associated with Kahn for many years and it seems to me that he was always striving towards simplification, trying to get into an order that was very clear, very consistent, very precise, very austere. Now Le Corbusier didn’t give a damn about any of these qualities. He actually seemed to enjoy crisis situations because they offered a new way of putting things together. It was almost as though architecture were a game – or a gamble! I often say that Lou was trying to build silence – totally integral, without ripples of any kind. Whereas Le Corbusier was anything but silent – not that his buildings were noisy. They were musical – like the sound of someone playing the flute in a forest. The difference between them is that between serenity and joy.

To use another analogy, Kahn and Le Corbusier can be compared to Mughal and Hindu architecture. Now in India we had the same craftsmen working on both, but if they were building a mosque it would be very simple, clear and pure and the geometry would be very explicit. In the temple, on the other hand, things would twist and turn, go up and down, in apparent disorder. Like Le Corbusier who delighted in pure geometry which he would then destroy.

In general, I think Lou would accept the constraints while Le Corbusier would not. He would rise above them, and that is why he could create those fantastic unfoldings of spaces, those marvellous changes of light. Lou’s buildings are for meditation, Le Corbusiers’s buildings “sing”.

Q. What were they like personally?

A. Oh, they had totally different temperaments. Take food habits. While he was in India Lou would just eat boiled fish and boiled potatoes – nothing else. Whereas in Delhi Le Corbusier took me straight to Moti Mahal, ordered tandoori chicken and all kinds of Moghlai dishes and enjoyed it enormously.

Q. Did the two men know each other?

A. Well, not really, though Lou did attend a lecture given by Le Corbusier in Philadelphia. In typical fashion he stood right at the back of the hall, but after the talk people brought Le Corbusier over and they were introduced. I thought it would be a good idea for the two masters to meet and I told him, “Lou, one of these days when we’re both in Europe why don’t we go to Paris to see him?” He just replied, “Maybe”.

After Le Corbusier died I went to Paris, of course, and after three days I went to Philadelphia. I remember Kahn lived on the fifth floor then, and he threw the key down to me. As I entered I could see he was extremely dejected and at once he said, “Have you heard?” I answered, “Yes, I’ve just come from Paris.” Then, turning an agonised face to me, he asked, “But whom shall I work for now?”

Essence of Architecture by Juhani Pallasmaa

Contemporary architecture and ancient suggestions, the Louis Kahn’s Hurva Synagogue project

The Video proposed here consists in the reconstruction of the Louis I. Kahn’s first proposal for Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem (the project was developed between 1968 and 1974). Kahn was used to incorporate elements of the ruins into most of his architecture, in 1967 he received a commission to replace the destroyed synagogue called Hurva, which name can be translated from the Hebrew -marvelous coincidence- in the word “ruin”.

For Kahn, this project presented an extraordinary opportunity to express his most deeply felt ideas about architecture. It was his chance to build the great Jewish monument at the religious center of the new Jewish state, in the region where the three major Western religions were born. As the world’s leading Jewish architect, Kahn was conscious of the huge responsibility of this commission. In this project it is possible to find the elements that characterize Kahn’s architecture: a configuration of space as discrete volumes, complex ambient light and shadow, a celebration of mass and structure, the use of materials with both modernist and archaic qualities.

Kahn also expresses his concept of wrapping ruins around buildings: “The new building should itself consist of two buildings, an outer one which would absorb the light and heat of the sun, and an inner one, giving the effect of a separate but related building…”.The outer building of synagogue recalls some ancient monumental ruin, perhaps from Egypt, or even from some more remote past now lost to history.

The video shows the aspect of the whole composition, it focuses on the relationship with the ancient ruins, pointing out that these were the elements of inspiration for the project.

Credits: Francesco CERBELLA / Federico CAPONI
(Dipartimento di Architettura, Firenze, Italy)