Le Corbusier: the man who created Chandigarh

Born Charles douard Jeanneret Swiss Frenchman Le Corbusier influenced the development of modern architecture. His art education led to the study of architecture and in 1922 he began working as an architect under the name Le Corbusier. His design theories, which focused on function, were the basis of much modern architecture practice.

Le Corbusier, professional name of Charles douard Jeanneret (1887-1965), Swiss French architect, painter, and writer, who had a major effect on the development of modern architecture. Born on October 6, 1887, in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland, he received an early art education there, then studied modern building construction under Auguste Perret in Paris. Later he spent brief periods working with the German architect Josef Hoffmann. In 1922 he went into partnership in Paris as an architect with his cousin, the engineer Pierre Jeanneret, and adopted his mother’s maiden name, Le Corbusier.

While practicing as an architect, Le Corbusier was also active as a painter and writer. In his painting he was associated with Amde Ozenfant in the school of purism, one of a number of movements that grew out of cubism. In 1920 he founded with Ozenfant the review L’Esprit Nouveau (The New Spirit), for which he wrote numerous articles to support his theories on architecture; these theories were developed from 1920 to 1925 and culminated in his concept of the ideal house as a machine for living.

On modern materials such as ferroconcrete, sheet glass, and synthetics; and on contemporary needs such as town planning and housing projects. His work did much to bring about general acceptance of the now common international style of low lying, unadorned buildings that depend for aesthetic effect on simplicity of forms and relation to function.

His most famous buildings include a prize winning design for the Palace of the League of Nations, Geneva (1927 1928); the Swiss Building at the Universitaire, Paris (1931-1932); Unit d’Habitation (1946-1952), an apartment house in Marseille, France; Notre Dame de Haut (1950-1955), a pilgrim church in Ronchamp, France; and the High Court Buildings (1952-1956) in Chand garh, India, part of his plan for the entire city. He was also one of the architects appointed to plan permanent buildings for the United Nations in New York City; the Secretariat, a tall, glass sided slab, is primarily of his design. His writings include Vers une architecture (Towards a New Architecture, 1927); La maison des hommes (The Home of Man, 1942); and Quand les cathedrales taient blanches (When the Cathedrals Were White, 1947). Le Corbusier died at Cap Martin, France, on August 27, 1965.

The buildings of Swiss French architect Le Corbusier were influenced by his work as a painter, and nowhere was this more evident than in Notre Dame du Haut, in Ronchamp, France. Designed by him and completed in 1955, the church has an angled, concrete roof that appears to swell above the building’s thick, sculptural walls, all of which have the fluidity of brush strokes. Le Corbusier rejected right angles on the exterior and used only curving surfaces that echo the rolling countryside surrounding the site. The south wall contains deep windows with tinted glass that he selected to project colored light on the opposite interior wall. To accommodate the vast crowds that make an annual pilgrimage to the church, Le Corbusier included an outdoor pulpit for open air Masses. Inside alone with yourself; outside 10,000 pilgrims in front of the altar, he said, explaining the church’s private and public character. Le Corbusier, along with German architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Adolph Gropius, was known as one of the founders of the International Style, which emphasized functional buildings with clean structural lines. As an expression of the International Style, Notre Dame du Haut surprised the architectural world with its free flowing shape and spiritual nature. Today it stands as Le Corbusier’s most enigmatic and popular building.


Cubism, a movement in modern art, especially painting, that was primarily concerned with abstract forms rather than lifelike representation. It began in Paris about 1908, reached its height by 1914, and developed further in the 1920s. Cubism was a revolt against the sentimental and realistic traditional painting of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and against the emphasis on light and color effects and the lack of form characteristic of impressionism. It drew inspiration from tribal art, especially that of Africa and Oceania.

The doctrines of the cubist school follow the dictum of the French postimpressionist Paul C’zanne, Everything in nature takes its form from the sphere, the cone, and the cylinder. The most common type of cubism is an abstract and analytical approach to a subject, in which the artist determines and paints the basic geometric solids of which the subject is composed, in particular the cube or cone, or the basic planes that reveal the underlying geometric forms. In another type of cubist painting (synthetic cubism), views of an object from different angles, not simultaneously visible in life, are arranged into a unified composition.

In neither type of cubism is there any attempt to reproduce in detail the appearance of natural objects. Harlequins and musical instruments figure prominently in cubist portraits and still lifes because they seemed favorable subjects for geometrical dissection.

To avoid simple, naturalistic, and emotional effects the early, or analytical, cubists used mainly restrained grays, browns, greens, and yellows and often executed their works in monochrome. After 1914 in the synthetic cubist period many cubists introduced brighter colors into their painting. Cubism is important in the history of Western art as a revolutionary, passing style that marked the beginning of abstract and nonobjective art.

The leaders of the cubist school were the Spaniard Pablo Picasso, who worked in Paris, and the Frenchman Georges Braque; other notable cubist painters were the Frenchmen Albert Gleizes, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Leger, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, and Roger de La Fresnaye and the Spaniard Juan Gris. Notable cubist sculptors, who followed the same approach to art as cubist painters, include Picasso, the Frenchman Raymond Duchamp Villon, and the Russian born Americans Jacques Lipchitz and Aleksandr Archipenko. Among the many artists who were influenced by cubist ideas and techniques were the Frenchman Maurice de Vlaminck and the Americans Stuart Davis and Lyonel Feininger.

 A Dream Realised Le Corbusier in Mumbai

Le Corbusier liked skyscrapers so much that he once proposed replacing a large part of the centre of Paris with eighteen 60 storey structures. That made headlines and reportedly didn’t go down too well with the French public.

The celebrated architect and urban planner also believed that the best way for people to live was in hygienic high rises set far apart in a park like landscape. He did not approve of congested streets and bustling public squares, or untidy mixed use borough. His ideal city was one that held discrete zones for working, living leisure.

The architect cousins who worked together in France from 1922 onwards, first came to India in the 1951, when Nehru invited Le Corbusier to design a new capital for the Punjab. They went on to work in various other Indian states as well. “They supplied to India the characteristic way of handling reinforced concrete as a sculptural, poetic language,” a architectural historian Charles Jencks observes.

The cousins had different approaches to architecture Corbu was very methodical and well organised, Jeanneret was daringly innovative but anarchic but they supported each other. Both believed in Corbu’s recipe for the International Style: raise the building on stilts, mix in a free flowing plan, make the walls independent of the structure, add horizontal strip windows and top it off with a roof garden. Both believed in the grid system of town planning.

“Our teamwork has emitted an important architectural and urban production, we have been able to usefully create a common work,” Le Corbusier said. “In Chandigarh, Pierre’s task was gigantic and without him the city would without any doubt not appear now as a testimony of modern times, realised with poor means.”

Above all, the cousins shared the same ideology and concern for humanity; eanneret was a devout Gandhian, and when this sometime chief architect and town planning consultant to the Punjab government had leave Chandigarh in the 1965 because of his failing health, he left his car to his driver, his camera to his cook, adna his heart in India. “I now leave my home for a foreign country,” Jeanneret declared. When he died in 1967, his ashes were brought back to his beloved Chandigarh and immersed in the Sukhna lake.

Jeanneret’s Gandhi Bhawan in the Punjab University campus, is among the many interesting structures featured in the show. This dramatic structure is quite “symbolic of Gandhianism”, as Jeanneret once revealed its angular walls hold the sharp edge of truth, its lotus shaped roof represent knowledge, beauty ad inner strength.

 To Mix with Cubism

Still Life with Score by Eric Satie French artist Georges Braque painted Still Life with Score by Eric Satie (1921) in the synthetic cubist style. Braque worked in conjunction with Spanish artist Pablo Picasso to develop the 20th century art movement known as cubism. Cubist painting had two phases: analytic, characterized by the use of monochromatic color schemes and flat, fragmented forms; and synthetic, in which forms were still flat and fragmented, but color and decoration played a greater role, and the technique of collage was introduced.

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