‘Le Corbusier was a poet of forms, a painter, a writer, a lover of nature’

In the new, revised and updated edition of the book, Curtis explores interactions of ideas and forms in Corbusier’s individual buildings and in his oeuvre as a whole.

Written by Parul | Chandigarh | Published:October 9, 2015 6:20 am
William J R Curtis (right) with P L Verma, former chief engineer of Punjab, and his wife in front of their house in Chandigarh. William J R Curtis (right) with P L Verma, former chief engineer of Punjab, and his wife in front of their house in Chandigarh.

“Le Corbusier was much more than just an architect. He was a visionary of sorts who tried to understand the city and the landscape at all scales. He made utopian proposals to deal with the transformations engendered by the industrial revolution. He also thought in international, in fact, in global terms. Beyond individual buildings he proposed type solutions for the city. He was a poet of forms, a painter, a writer, an urbanist, even a sculptor, but he also reflected upon the meaning of life and the evolution of society,” said William J R Curtis, award-winning historian, critic, writer, curator, painter and photographer.

Here in Chandigarh for the international symposium commemorating the legacy of Corbusier, being held from October 9 to 12, Curtis’s second edition of the classic Le Corbusier: Ideas and Forms will be released at the inaugural function, where the international expert on Corbusier will deliver a keynote address, and is also a key speaker at the symposium.

In the new, revised and updated edition of the book, Curtis explores interactions of ideas and forms in Corbusier’s individual buildings and in his oeuvre as a whole. Conceived as a synthesis of Corbusier’s diverse activities, but with architecture as its main focus, the book presents an illuminating account of his architectural output while also revealing broader features of Corbusier’s creative universe. Published in the year of the 50th anniversary of Corbusier’s death, the book has been rethought, reworked and redesigned to include four new chapters, illustrations, expanded text, notes and bibliography. Curtis documents Corbusier’s individual projects in detail while linking them to the architect’s philosophy, utopian vision and activities as a painter, sculptor and author.

“He was interested in nature in all its forms. A modernist, he was also inspired by the past which he transformed in modern terms. In my book, I say that he was a revolutionary who returned to roots: a radical in the true sense. But above all, Le Corbusier was an architect and in my book I unravel the many levels of meaning in his individual buildings while also tracing the development of his vocabulary and generic themes. In effect, I try to expose the inner structure of his way of thinking architecturally and of his creative universe of ideas, images, symbols and forms,’’ said the author.

Curtis first visited India in May 1980, and his one contact in all of India, Aditya Prakash, who was then principal of the Chandigarh College of Architecture, opened all doors for him. “In Chandigarh, I was able to spend a whole day clambering around on the roofs of the main buildings on the Capitol in the extreme heat. The direct experience of the Assembly was one of the most profound that I have had, and there I include the architecture of all cultures and all periods – it is a work ‘timeless but of its time’,” said Curtis, who was often back in India and gradually got to know P L Verma, former chief engineer of Punjab whom Curtis describes as the animating spirit of Chandigarh.

Curtis has documented individual projects of Corbusier in the book, after decades of research and deep insights. Plans, paintings and original sketches have been drawn extensively from the Foundation Le Corbusier for the book.

“Of all the buildings in Chandigarh, it is the Parliament or Assembly Building that holds my attention the most and always has. It is one of the masterpieces of modern architecture: more than that it ranks with great monumental statements in the universal history of architecture in India and elsewhere. It is a building ‘timeless but of its time’,’’ added Curtis.

Over the years Curtis has photographed the Assembly Building from all angles, close and far. Some of the strongest shots are in black and white, and capture the dialogue between the scooped portico and the distant High Court.

Others are in colour and capture the textures of the concrete and the deep cut shadows of the angled sun breakers.

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