10 reasons : Why Corbusier is still relevant

The trigger for this piece is the I talk I watched by Ramachandra Guha in the The Hindu Literature Festival on “Ten reasons why Gandhi is still relevant”. On similar lines I was thinking why Corbusier is still relevant today. This is no way a comparison between Corbusier and Gandhi. It would be silly. The only thing common i believe is their ubiquitous presence. Their names are so familiar that we often we often miss the value of their contribution. In my personal practice, i rarely look up on Corbusier’s projects for reference. But in teaching he can become a great academic tool. Previously I wrote a piece titled ‘Shades of ramps’ which traces the idea of the ‘ramp’ thematically. Scholarship around Corbusier and likes, allows this type of exploration of ideas. Kenneth Frampton writes incisively about Corbusier in his monograph :
“To publish another book on Le Corbusier after so much has been written by himself and by others is to run the risk of redundancy; yet it will be along time before we shall free ourselves from the fertility of his vision and the range of his influence. In fact, as the new century unfolds and as our knowledge of his overall achievement continues to grow, by virtue of even more meticulous scholarship, we have all the more reason to feel that we will never quite finish with the labyrinth scope  of his production : Architect, urbanist, painter, graphic designer and writer, polemicist and mystic. Le Corbusier was a figure of many guises, to such a degree that it is hard to know where one role ends and the other begins. At the same time, we are aware that a reconciliation of opposites was an irreducible aspect of this method”
I tried to put down ten points, reasoning why Corbusier is still relevant today.
  1. Books written on him. Starting from Kenneth Frampton’s monograph to Colin Rowe’s essay ‘The Mathematics of Ideal Villa’, there are brilliant and engaging lenses to investigate his incredible body of work. My recent favourite is ‘Le Corbusier Redrawn’ by Steven Park, in which 26 of his houses are redrawn impeccably to 1:200 scale. The recent novel ‘Plastic Emotions’ by Shiromi Pinto delicately weaves him into the story of Minnette De Silva and rise of modern architecture in South Asia.
  2. Books written by him : His writings preceded his radical work. He has written close to 40 books. He has been writing continuously alongside his practice, which shows his struggle with ideas. He has continued the line of Vitruvius, Alberti, Palladio to precede theory before practice. His topics are so varied, that one of the books is on ‘Aircrafts’.
  3. Four Compositions,1929 and Domino House,1914-15. These two diagrams codify and communicate architectural methodology in a precise way.
  4. Villa Savoy. I had the privilege to see this house as a student. It is after this project, I discovered Corbusier. My thesis guide Prof. Rajan used the word plastic to describe a key concept of modern architecture. Space was plastic in this house. It was wound around the ramp and held between different degrees of enclosure. It was an orchestrated release from the ground to the sky.
  5. He painted. In his house in Paris the most eloborate space is dedicated to the art studio. The drafting table sits in a quite little corner next to this painting studio.
  6. His built in India. He built in India during the end of his career. It is interesting to see the modifications he had to make for his ideas. Sarabhai House is so brilliant and particular.
  7. He changed his mind : It is ok to change one’s mind. He broke all the rules he set for himself. He built Ronchamp. What an incredible interpretation of a religious space by an atheist!
  8. Scale of the projects. The scale varies from a city to a cabin design done with the same rigor.
  9. He traveled. ‘Journey to the East’ is a book which capture his learnings from his travels. His famous sketchbooks are an great sample of his learnings.
  10. He drew. Wherever he went. On travels or on his study table.
Some books written on him
Some books written by him
Left : Four Compositions, Right : Domino House
His painting studio in Paris