Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret), one of the master architects of the 20th century, was a pioneer of the Modern Architecture Movement. His work intended to convey the efficiency and modernity of the emerging technological world. He was greatly influenced by the industrial structures and hence developed pure forms that are seen in his paintings as well. He wanted to build tall buildings as he believed it would resolve two main problems – overcrowding and urban sprawl. His vision for the future city included footpaths for people and massive roads dedicated to motorways with smooth curves to provide easy transition.
Corbusier formulated the Five Points of Architecture which dictated his career and were implemented by many architects to come. They were – the pilotis, free ground plan, free façade, ribbon windows and roof garden. His other important contribution to the modern architectural thought was the ‘Modulor’ — the study of the proportions of the human body that reoccurs in his buildings and art. Symbolised by a man with a slim waist and an upright arm, the modular man serves as a measure for universal proportioning and activities performed for different activities in various positions — sitting, bending, working, standing etc. It places human needs at the centre of design and architecture and gave an “infinite number of combinations of plans”.
Thus one can find Corbusier’s signature design principles intending to create a play of light, space and nature in his work in Chandigarh. He designed the city akin to a living organism. The city’s ‘head’ is home to the sweeping concrete masterpieces of the Capitol Complex and a lake. The ‘heart’ is the commercial centre and vast green spaces form its ‘lungs’, all connected by a circulation system of roads and pedestrian-friendly avenues. Signifying the functional city, the sectors were self-contained.
Chandigarh became a canvas for implementation of Corbusier’s five points of architecture portraying a modern architectural world. Based on the concept of the unending spiral and unlimited growth, the Government Museum and Art Gallery in Chandigarh stands on thick reinforced concrete beams and columns – the Pilotis that leaves the ground free for undisturbed circulation of men and materials while the upper floor enjoys a free plan for unhindered and flexible display possibilities as well as undulatory glazing for free or filtered light as required.
The pilotis allows for the aesthetical lightness that elevates the structure from the ground and gives it a floating lightness and enables free air movement around and under the concrete plaza. The Government Museum and Art Gallery showcases this as the artwork can be laid out and arranged in whichever way possible as the walls are not structural and the free space allows them to create a flexible layout.
The principles of a free façade allowed separation of the structural element from the facade walls. This made it easier to build walls of any material or shape. The absence of load-bearing walls also made it possible to add windows of any shape and size which provided light. This is well-observed in the ribbon windows of the Museum as well as the Punjab Legislative Assembly, which has an open-plan interior and exhibits the principle of a flexible plan. It is framed by a portico of reinforced concrete columns, that offers a view of the Shivaliks.
The free façade also allowed him to use brise-soleils or sun breakers like egg crate walls that would allow ventilation to be incorporated into the concrete buildings as seen in the front facades of the Government College of Arts and also adopted in Chandigarh College of Architecture.
The fifth principal was a terrace garden that was intended to include nature in his buildings. The Secretariat building supports a rooftop terrace garden meant to offer a view of the Shivaliks from the highest point of the city.
Corbusier’s five points are considered to be avant garde, truly ahead of the times, and have been continuously applied by architects. The Villa Savoye, Paris, displays the five points collectively.
(This is a series by faculty and students of Chandigarh College of Architecture. The writer is a student of Semester 7)