Saturday, March 07, 2009

Corbusier @ the Barbican

There could have been no better venue to exhibit works by Le Corbusier in London other than the Barbican. The Barbican estate came into being just after the WW2 between 1965 and 1976, on a 35-acre site, designed by architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. The central water body, the podium connected with numerous and often confusing bridges as public spaces and grey towers that form walls protecting this concrete utopia are prime example of Modern Brutalist architecture. Interestingly the conception of this estate started in the same year when Le Corbusier had his last swim towards the setting sun in the Mediterranean Sea on 27th august 1965.
The exhibition includes some really good drawings and models besides the modular furniture and some art works. A dark monochrome wooden block model approximately 2 X 2 meters with Chandigarh city being represented through carved relief work was beautiful, reminded me of the time when I had the opportunity to look at the Chandigarh complex from the terrace of the secretariat building. The models of Ronchamp and the recently completed Sainte Pierre in a small French town of Firminy were stunning. The exhibition also has some really interesting models and drawings of unrealized mega visions like plan Obus in Algiers and Ville Contemporaine in Paris.
If we go by the words of Ludwig von Mises "[The planners] are driven by the dictatorial complex. They want to deal with their fellow men in the way an engineer deals with the materials out of which he builds houses, bridges, and machines. They want to substitute "social engineering" for the actions of their fellow citizens and their own unique all-comprehensive plan for the plans of all other people. They see themselves in the role of the dictator—the duce, the F├╝hrer, the production tsar—in whose hands all other specimens of mankind are merely pawns. If they refer to society as an acting agent, they mean themselves. If they say that conscious action of society is to be substituted for the prevailing anarchy of individualism, they mean their own consciousness alone and not that of anybody else" (The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science) I believe Le Corbusier fits this profile, every time he left architecture and went for urban planning and design, but none the less this man did it with suave!

A lot of us urban planners and designers get such opportunities while we cater to benevolent dictators, rich clients and even important institutions of democracies but very rarely do we see such cohesive utopian visions formulated and asserted on the urban landscape. Most of the times it lands up becoming a muddled up patchwork of egos, bureaucracy, client's desires, miscommunication, regional and global political upheavals and we land up with a Frankenstein of a plan that no one and sometimes not even the design firm is responsible for. One thing we have to accept is Le Corbusier can be critiqued because he designed and design is commitment that goes beyond statistics and words and he seemed to have managed the design part of his life quite successfully.

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