Multidisciplinary artists Gerard & Kelly’s Modern Living is a dance performance that has been presented in a series of famous modern houses, including Philip Johnson’s Glass House, the Schindler House, and Mies Van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House. This dance troupe cavorts through the spaces of each house to explore, in their words “intimacy and domestic space within legacies of modernist architecture.” There is additionally an emphasis on an exploration of “queer space,” where voyeurism and exhibitionism are uncovered through the interaction between the dancers through the transparency of the rooms they explore. The latest incarnation of Modern Living ran from September 28 through October 6 in Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, completed in 1930 in Poissy, a suburb of Paris. Probably his most famous house, at the time it was an astoundingly radical image of a floating white pavilion elevated on thin columns above the flat lawn below. It is shocking even now, and reminds us of Frank Lloyd Wright’s comment that “human houses should not be like boxes blazing in the sun.” It was a complete rejection of all things Beaux Arts and classical. Where a house was rooted firmly on the ground, this modernist villa hovered above; in place of small windows punched into a wall, it had a continuous horizontal strip of glass; where a gable roof would provide shelter, there is a flat roof terrace of paving and plants. Compared to the excessive ornament of the Beaux Arts, and even contemporary Art Deco interiors such as that of Robert Mallet-Stevens, the Villa Savoye is abstract and stripped bare. The walls are stucco, the only ornament is the occasional highlight of a deeply saturated painted color—architecture is reduced to space, form, and light, the house is essentially as “naked” as the Greek ruins that Le Corbusier admired. Villa Savoye first appeared in Le Corbusier’s’ Complete Works in grainy black and white photos, with barely any furniture inside. The Savoye family only lived there briefly, complaining that it leaked and was uninhabitable. The interior was seen briefly in a black and white film by Pierre Chenal in 1930 along with other Le Corbusier houses and his urban plan for Paris. It was occupied by the Germans, then the Americans in World War II, and was a derelict ruin used as hay barn until its restoration from 1985-97. Since then, it has been a mysteriously empty shell and absent of dance, even though Le Corbusier’s idea was that architecture is activated by the human presence in a “promenade architecturale,” as one walks through and around the forms and spaces of the house. In this sense, Gerard & Kelly have finally brought the Villa Savoye to life, in a choreographed work that is inspired in part by the purported affair of Le Corbusier with the singer and dance sensation of the 1920s Josephine Baker. Aboard an ocean liner from Buenos Aires to France, Le Corbusier met the black, American “chanteuse” who had performed in Paris and drew her nude. The Marilyn Monroe of the 1920s, Baker captivated the imagination of Adolf Loos as well, who designed a striped house for her on a corner in Paris, although there is no evidence she ever asked him to do so. Along with Cubism’s inspiration of African masks and culture as in Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the perceived exoticism of Baker’s singing and dance had injected new life into these two uptight, polemical architects, certainly at odds with Le Corbusier’s Swiss Calvinist background. Baker went on to aid the French Resistance and became a Civil Rights activist, speaking at Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington. Taking Baker and Le Corbusier as a starting point, Gerard & Kelly’s six dancers glid, slid, sinuously snaked, and danced through the house, beginning at the entry, going up the ramp and spiral stair to the Grand Salon, then up the ramp to the roof terrace. Individually and together, singing and dancing to an insistent drumbeat, they joined to form a conga line through the master bedroom, then back down the ramp to the outside. Alongside the linear activity of the choreography, the dancers alternately formed pairs of male and female, black and white, gay and straight, gesturing to and intertwining with each other in intimate poses in relation to the internal architecture. They sporadically exposed various body parts, baring buttocks and breasts, draping themselves over the seductive curves of the spiral stair, and then outside on the roof terrace. The dance extracted the essence of the architecture as a magic box of possibility, where the audience and stage oscillate back and forth, creating an electrifying and exhilarating experience. Remarkably, at the end of the last performance, after the light rain stopped, a double rainbow emerged, a tribute not only to Gerard & Kelly’s multi-colored queer themes, but recalling da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, inscribed within the circle and square, the ultimate symbol of motion and stasis, and the harmony of architecture and humanity.
Posts tagged with "Le Corbusier":
To even the most casual observer, Le Corbusier has become a household name. His lifetime achievements in brutalist architecture, city planning, and pilotis represent his tireless search for modernism, and now, more than a half-century after his death, the Swiss architect’s legacy is being reconsidered with the public reopening of his final work, the Centre Le Corbusier, in Zurich. Originally named the Heidi Weber Museum, or “La Maison de l’Homme,” Le Corbusier designed the museum for his friend and patron Heidi Weber. A tireless devotee to the architect and his other forays into art, Weber envisioned displaying her large collection of Corbusier-designed objects in this purpose-built building. It is the only museum exclusively dedicated to an architect as a visual artist and includes his paintings, sculptures, furniture, tapestries, and collages, among other media. The museum recognizes the building itself as central to the collection and narrative as well, as many of Corbusier's artistic ideas are manifest in his final body of work—despite being one of his only buildings composed almost entirely of glass and steel. The building aligns with many modernist ideals and aesthetics. The structure was prefabricated, with the steel parts cast in foundries off-site and installed in the largest pieces possible. The primary color scheme is a nod to the De Stijl, a popular Dutch movement focusing on color founded after World War I. Corbusier also manages to integrate his signature concrete elements in the highly stylized inner staircase and in the fabrication of an external ramp. The concrete is raw and textured, and the lines of the formwork are visible for posterity. Warm wooden elements on walls and on the stairs add a soft contrast between the natural and manufactured materials of the building, as seen in his famous works at Ronchamp and the Maisons Jaoul. Le Corbusier died the same year he completed the design for the museum, however. The building was completed two years later in 1967, but only after the chaos of the unexpected death and the assemblage of a new construction team. The building faced further complications after its final opening, as its sole proprietor, Heidi Weber, struggled to maintain the museum both physically as well as programmatically, with the building often only sporadically open as Weber juggled logistics and operating costs. In 2014 Weber’s 50-year operating term came to a close, and the city of Zurich began its search for a replacement that would celebrate Le Corbusier’s legacy and final work in the way the architect envisioned. The Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, a specialist institution for art and communication, was selected in 2019 and both city and museum agreed to invest in inside-out renovations. Local architects Silvio Schmed and Arthur Rüegg were selected to head up the project, and the pair collaborated on the restoration process while adhering to preservationist principles. The opening exhibition, Mon univers, runs through November 17 and achieves the exhibition vision of the famous Swiss architect and his patron—an impressive and comprehensive collection of Corbusier’s art and objects acquired on world travels, coupled with both a photographic exhibition highlighting the architect himself by René Burri.
An exhibition in Oslo, Norway, is showcasing some of Le Corbusier's most important and oft-overlooked paintings. The exhibition, Le Corbusier by the Sea, is themed around the architect's sojourns in the French seaside town of Le Piquey where he would sketch natural objects like pinecones and shells. These sketches would be worked into paintings when he returned to his Paris studio. Several of the paintings also depict bathers lounging in the sand, rendered in informal, curvilinear shapes that recall the organic geometries that Corbusier's architecture tended toward later in his career. A statement from the museum posits that the architect was inspired by the shabby houses of local fishermen and links his visits to the area with his works' turn toward supple stone and wood forms and away from the austere High Modernism of his earliest buildings. The exhibition includes letters and various artifacts from Le Corbusier's life between 1926–36 when the architect traveled every summer to the shore. Two films on the famous designer will also be screened as part of the show and are intended to show the lighter side of the man's personality. The show is being held in the Villa Stenersen, a venue managed by the Nasjonalmuseet, Norway's National Museum. The Villa is itself an architectural attraction, being a carefully-preserved Functionalist home that was designed in 1937–1939 by Arne Korsmo, a leading Norwegian architect. The structure is in the process of being restored to its original colors and materials. The show will be up until December 16, 2018. Click here for more information.
“Working by calculation, engineers employ geometrical forms, satisfying our eyes by their geometry…their work is on the direct line of good art,” Le Corbusier described the engineer’s aesthetic. This kind of engineering expressionism is employed to interesting ends by Ennead Architects at the Engineering Education and Research Center (EERC) at the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering. The building features a dramatic glass-enclosed atrium that connects disciplines on a monumental staircase and provides sightlines into working laboratories, arranged like a page of comic book panels. A glass ceiling spans the 80-foot-wide space, and two towers on either side contain multidisciplinary research labs and electrical and computer engineering research spaces, respectively. The unification of disciplines in the atrium is expressed through a series of expressive parts: A truss-like bridge, a bespoke waterjet-cut spiral staircase, and slanted columns below the mezzanine level all show off the aesthetic of an engineer rather than one seamless whole. This honesty is a direct appeal to the students and engineering community who will inevitably congregate in the atrium.
Polychromatic, Le Corbusier-inspired postmodern churches in Kerala are hidden gems of India that were recently photographed by art studio Haubitz + Zoche. In the series titled Hybrid Modernism, the post-colonial churches built after the country’s independence in 1947 are efforts by Indian architects to reinterpret Western influences and develop an identifiable local language with bright colors and sculptural forms. In post-independence India, Le Corbusier was responsible for the master plan of Chandigarh, a city in the north of India. He also built influential buildings such as the High Court, which became famous for the play of colors contrasted against the beton brut surfaces. His style made its way across the country into the architecture of Kerala, a southern state in India. Haubitz+Zoche shunned the popular churches and pilgrimage centers in Kerala, but explored the lesser-known ones that contain a variety of Western influences, Corbusian and beyond. A mixture of postmodern motifs can be seen in the architecture. Sculptures of stars, crosses, globes, and Bibles populate the facades, conveying the world-encompassing, light-radiating themes of Christianity. The photographs are an extension to their work from 2014, when they captured the extravagantly ornamented movie theaters of South India. A similar cinematic sense can be discerned from the region’s religious architecture. An exhibition of the photos, titled Postcolonial Epiphany: Churches and cinemas in South-India, is now on view at Zephyr, a modern art museum in Mannheim, Germany. The exhibition highlights the spellbinding magic with which these venues captivate their audiences. Visitors can experience the architecture’s otherworldly attraction by looking at the photographs.
In the United States, people with disabilities in the architecture profession and architectural academia are statistically invisible. Neither the American Institute of Architects, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, nor the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture collect data on the number of architects or architecture students in the United States who self-identify with physical or cognitive disabilities. The groundbreaking report, “Inclusion in Architecture,” published by the J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York, does not include data on disability. The lack of knowledge about disabled architecture students and architects in the United States stands in contrast to other strides made in diversification, equity, and inclusion. The profession’s self-examination—statistically and culturally—has forced a significant transformation in who can become an architect in the United States. Looking at attendance in colleges, faculty appointments, and representation at professional events, architecture appears to be a more diverse profession in terms of race and gender than it was 50 years ago. From celebrated architects to the deans of the most elite architecture schools, we can see efforts at diversification making a mark. Diversification is critical in architecture because ideas about race, gender, ability, and disability are formed and reproduced in the design and construction of buildings and urban spaces. The absence of disabled architecture students, architects, and particularly academic and institutional leaders within the United States relegates people with disabilities to being a a topic of discussion versus agents of change. In fact, a strand of disability theory argues that disability is a relative category, constructed in spaces that produce disabled bodies and minds. But whether perceived as innate or relative, a medical sensibility underpins many discussions of disability in architecture, because if people with disabilities are considered at all, it is as the subjects within spaces as opposed to the creators of them. This is due to several structural issues that prohibit people with disabilities from envisioning a future in which they participate in architecture in all its myriad manifestations. One key area that limits accessibility to architecture as a profession is the actual buildings where architecture education takes place. While numerous architecture schools are entirely accessible to people with disabilities, the majority of the elite Ivy League schools of architecture—Yale University, Harvard University, Princeton University, Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University—have historically had physically inaccessible spaces for people with lower-limb disabilities. In the 1990s, years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Yale, Princeton, Cornell, and Columbia still contained facilities inaccessible or difficult to access for people in wheelchairs. Almost all of these schools of architecture have been renovated, but key spaces—lecture halls (particularly the podium of the lecture hall where people speak), pin-up spaces, offices—remain either inaccessible or difficult to access. Again, many schools have these problems, but these elite institutions have a disproportionate influence on the profession. We have lost out on multiple generations of architect leaders with disabilities who might have offered key perspectives on architecture, not only because of the barriers literally constructed in the architecture of elite institutions, but also due to the ways we imagine the production of architectural knowledge. For example, architectural education requires a thorough knowledge of historic precedents, but how do we imagine the spaces in which this knowledge is acquired? Consider the imagined physical commitment required to understand the discipline’s history, embedded in sites such as the Acropolis of Athens, the Roman Forum, or Teotihuacan, among numerous other examples. For the able-bodied, these sites are challenging places to visit—an observation confirmed by the writings of architects including Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, and Alvar Aalto. But both the Acropolis and the Roman Forum were far more easily navigated thousands of years ago (by contemporary standards) than they are today as “modernized” sites of architectural preservation. The early 19th-century Romantic notion of experiencing ruins under physical exertion has been permanently built into the experience of many important architectural monuments. This is a key aspect of historiographical aesthetics virtually unexplored in the literature or teaching of architectural historical practice. In other words, a romanticism of the body’s relationship to historical spaces hangs over the experience of architectural history, one that is furthered in the descriptions of these remote sites in classrooms and our expectations regarding the experience of the past. If the design of spaces of education and historical knowledge shape ideas about the abilities of architects, then the physical spaces encountered within architecture internships also require critical analysis. The ADA has enabled people with physical and cognitive disabilities in the United States far greater access to all types of buildings and public spaces. However, the ADA does not govern all construction sites. Even if architecture schools in the U.S. make a concerted effort to improve accessibility, there are several impediments to students with various disabilities becoming architects. It is virtually impossible to undertake an architectural internship without being able to navigate the relationship between the making of architectural representations in offices and the material assembly of architecture on a construction site. To imagine the increased accessibility of construction sites is utopian but necessary, primarily because doing so would re-envision the types of people who create architecture tout court. Labor unions might pursue this to further workplace safety. The latter is a staggering problem in an industry that is extraordinarily and needlessly dangerous: Over a 45-year career, someone working construction will have a 75 percent chance of acquiring a disability from a workplace injury. Construction work accounts for only 3 percent of employment in the United States and almost a quarter of all workplace injuries. Thus, we arrive at the most disturbing point about disability and architecture—the construction of buildings produces disability more than any other sector of the economy. To imagine the accessibility of a building extending from the people who dig its foundations to those who use its interiors enables us to reimagine what a building is at an ontological level. It radically transforms the disabled from being the subjects of spaces to the agents of architecture’s conceptualization and construction at the most granular level. Architects and architecture students are working at a time when discourses on diversity, equity, and inclusion have made measurable transformations within architectural academia and the greater profession. This has led to new generations of African-American, Latinx, and Asian-American teachers and students, the expansion of global architecture history curricula, and student organizations focused on race and gender, among many other outcomes. It is time that we let people with disabilities partake in this important transformation occurring in American architectural education and the profession. Of course, these forms of identification are not isolated, and opportunities exist for understanding intersecting and mutually reinforcing relationships among various forms of subjectivity and disability. In recent years, academic architecture panels, journals, and symposia have brought disability perspectives to architecture. These are important contributions. However, in many of these venues, no architects with permanent and severe disabilities were present to represent this particular form of identity. As this article demonstrates, the structural limitations to a career as an architect with disabilities run deep, and the limitations to academic leadership in this area run deeper. To imagine disability having a place in architecture will involve much more than making buildings accessible or identifying people with disabilities and making entreaties to them to enter the profession. It will involve expensive transformations to the physical spaces of colleges and universities; a lessening of the athletic aesthetics of architecture history, theory, and design; and legal structures that will open a field like construction to more people. If we pursue these transformations in the accessibility of space, discourse, and construction, we will likely see a parallel shift in the types of people who imagine becoming an architect and leading this profession. In turn, the discussion of accessibility and its realization in the design and construction of buildings will enter a new, more sophisticated, and ethical stage of development. David Gissen is Professor of Architecture at the California College of the Arts. He became an above-the-knee amputee while an architecture student in the early 1990s – a surgery related to an earlier childhood illness.
In 1951, Balkrishna Doshi attended the International Congress of Modern Architecture in Hoddesdon, England. The 24-year-old architect was the only Indian there. He was besieged with questions about Chandigarh, the planned new capital city of Punjab. At Hoddesdon, Doshi sought employment with Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier was chosen as lead architect of Chandigarh by Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister of India. Doshi was promptly dispatched to Corb’s atelier in Paris. Speaking no French, and receiving no pay for the first eight months, Doshi survived on a diet of bread, olives and cheese. For the next four years, he would work on Le Corbusier’s most important Indian projects: the High Court and Governor’s Palace in Chandigarh (the latter unbuilt), and the Shodhan House and Villa Sarabhai, and the Mill Owners’ Association (MOA) Building in Ahmedabad. Doshi was quickly designated by Le Corbusier as the atelier’s principal interlocutor between Paris and India. In 1955, Doshi returned to India to oversee the completion of several projects there, and started his own firm in 1956. His pivotal role in the Mill Owners’ Association project–probably the last direct link between the Pritzker laureate and Le Corbusier–is worth a close look as we celebrate Doshi’s legacy. After World War II, Le Corbusier was seeking to move beyond the International Style by bringing in elements of traditional architecture, yet avoiding nostalgia. Doshi remained a key elaborator of this fusion. In his own projects, in his own words, he builds not on the literal elements but rather on the spirit of Corb, “expressed in proportions, modulations of space, creation of rhythms and tonalities.” However, in the early fifties, Doshi was not yet at a stage where he could operate independently of the western, modernist canon and pursue his own more overtly Indian architecture. He needed to please the Mill Owners Association, who wanted the Le Corbusier "brand" on every aspect of the project, including the furniture. Doshi needed also to meet Le Corbusier’s exacting standards, describing the building as a “little palace… an architecture for modern times adjusted to the climate of India… a true message toward an Indian architecture.” Disputes between the client and Le Corbusier created an opening for Doshi to design the building’s furniture himself. It was in harmony with the little Indian palace, but would not have been out of place in Saint-Germain showrooms like Steph Simon, next to designs by Charlotte Perriand, Pierre Jeanneret, and Jean Prouvé. The archives of the Le Corbusier Foundation house hundreds of pages of letters, sketches, and plans relating to the stormy interactions around the design and construction of the Mill Owners’ Association. Money issues dominated the process well before the design phase even began. Le Corbusier even requested Nehru’s personal intervention on the issue of the double taxation of his income in India and France. Money conflicts were so acrimonious that for a period of several months Le Corbusier did not communicate directly with his client. This paved the way for more involvement by Doshi. The subject of money was so pervasive that one was surprised, finally, to come across something about architecture in the correspondence. The first such document was a memo by Le Corbusier headed “For Doshi Only”:
To find the methods to rapidly put in places these factors a/shadows and sunlight b/rain c/wind affecting the following projects: Mill Owners’ Association Sarabhai Museum Mr. Hutheesing This work is exclusively for Doshi so that he can develop the elements of a modern architecture capable of addressing the Indian problems, climate, materials, laborThus Doshi was anointed as the fulcrum between east and west. In a series of letters to him, Jean-Louis Véret, a French architect who also worked for the atelier, raised several questions from the worksite, exhorting him facetiously to “show us the efficiency of the new India.” Doshi responded – in excellent French for someone who didn’t speak it at all in 1951 – with detailed sketches and descriptions. Doshi relished being in the control tower at rue de Sevres while Véret sweated it out on the frontiers of modern architecture. In Véret’s direct correspondence with Le Corbusier, most punch list items were marked “Doshi” in Corb’s hand. Doshi’s access to the Old Man was taken for granted by his colleagues. A frustrated Véret berated Doshi for being unresponsive once construction was underway: “you don’t have the excuse of having to wait to see Corbu,” he wrote. In mid-1954, Le Corbusier resumed direct contact with the MOA officials about finishing details of the building, including the touchy subject of the furniture. Having harangued and bickered with their architect about the carpeting, the width of the entry to the toilets and other details, the tenacious MOA president asserted that they were owed original designs for the entirety of the furniture. Le Corbusier, through an underling, suggested Mira Sarabhai (of the prominent family which commissioned a private house in Ahmedabad) to obtain some brochures from the U.S. or England and pick the furniture “in the spirit of the building.” With the construction phase drawing to a close, each side staked out irreconcilable positions on the finishes. The client wanted the architect’s brand on not only the building but also its contents, and the architect told the client to go buy them off the showroom floor! Abroad, no less. Doshi arrived in India to replace Véret in January 1955. Véret wrote: “This is great news because at least the building will be finished correctly.” Several months later, however, the subject of the furniture was still not resolved. Meanwhile, the end of the construction phase failed to bring with it an improvement in relations between Le Corbusier and his clients. Le Corbusier was fed up, and the feeling was mutual. The resolution of this impasse fell to the recently repatriated Doshi. He authoritatively advised the MOA that “for the last few minor details pending I have already given complete instructions…” At this point the archive trails off, confirming that Doshi handled it himself. The final plans for the project, as published in Le Corbusier: Oeuvres complète 1957-1965, show close approximations of actual furnishings. Doshi’s fixed concrete table, a massive freeform conference table, and a second conference table in the shape of an “A” are recognizable in the plans signed by Le Corbusier. We know that prototype chairs came from Chandigarh, produced under the aegis of Pierre Jeanneret. The rest of the furniture, including stools, cabinets, and desks, was designed by Doshi and executed under his supervision in Ahmedabad. Two preceding generations of Doshi’s family had been in the furniture business, so he knew what he was doing. With four years in Paris under his belt giving him the confidence to assert himself, Doshi broke the logjam by telling the Ahmedabad contingent that he had been, in effect, anointed by Le Corbusier to make the furniture. Perhaps he even pointed out to them that it was standard operating procedure at rue de Sevres for someone else in the atelier to design, or at least work out, the furniture, as Perriand and Jeanneret had done for several Corb villas. Doshi would go on to father a new Indian modernism that melded late Corbusian precepts with Indian traditions and concerns. He would be responsible for bringing Louis Kahn to Ahmedabad a decade later. The Mill Owners’ Association was his first trial by fire on his way to assuming his pivotal role in the history of architecture.
2018 Pritzker Prize laureate Balkrishna Doshi delivered a wide-ranging lecture at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto in Canada last night during a reception honoring his career and achievements. The sprawling discussion covered topics ranging in nature from the finer points of self-directed communal housing in India’s small towns to the ways in which institutional buildings can be imbued with a sense of wonder and surprise. Doshi, the first Indian to win the Pritzker and one of only a handful of architects ever selected from non-European or American countries, seemingly relished in the opportunity to discuss the relative difference and richness in perspective his “uncharted” architecture possesses, saying at one point, “If you come to India, we can show you how [poetic architecture] can be done.” The talk, autobiographical in nature and encyclopedic in its treatment of the vital but seldom-discussed facets of thoughtful architecture, was organized generally as a series of life lessons presented to the students and staff in attendance for their benefit. Below are a few of the many key points Doshi espoused in describing his life-long pursuit of open-ended, dynamic, and multivalent architectures.
- Create spaces where you can lose yourself—In describing visiting religious temples and participating in familial ceremonies during his youth, Doshi explained that he would lose himself in the spectacular detail of sacred spaces but that he was also often inspired by the ability people have to transform any place into a special one. These two things come together for Doshi to inspire both an admiration of architecture and an acknowledgement that people and the stories they create play as important a role in the full expression of space as typical architectonic elements do. Doshi said, “mythical stories have become for me a fact because they are in my memory,” adding later that “everything can become sacred because there’s always something there that is unknown to us.”
- Be a citizen as well as a professional—Responding to a question about the relationship between mass shootings and architecture, Doshi explained that for him, being involved with other people as a citizen and an individual was of the upmost importance and that building human relationships should sometimes supersede professional concerns. Remarking on the current state of politics and society, Doshi said, “right now, the dialogue is missing and I think dialogue is very important.”
- Focus on stability, not mobility—Several of the projects Doshi covered in his lecture focused not just on the inherent usefulness of his designs, but on their potential for reuse and reinterpretation, either through the lens of an evolving family, for example, or through the ways in which nature and the changing of the seasons can lend spaces a sense of dynamism. For Doshi, the propensity buildings have for long-term use and re-use comes from designing for stability. In response to an audience question, Doshi himself asked, “when we design, do we [anticipate] if we were the users, the ways in which we would modify” something like a house or an apartment?
- Design things that can be used for many, many purposes—In discussing a design for a water tower for a new company town, Doshi explained that instead of striving merely for the most efficient or easy-to-build form, his office explored a way of creating a water tower that could also be used for festivals and celebrations throughout the year. With the project, Doshi tried to answer the question: “How does one create [spaces for] several activities that are natural [to engage in] when there are no opportunities to do them?” His answer? To design a brick and concrete water tower with a wide skirt at the bottom that creates covered outdoor space and provides a winding staircase that ascends to the top of the tower so “young couples can have ice cream cones” on their way to the top to enjoy the view. Doshi also discussed self-directed housing types in Aranya, India that allow occupants to incrementally add to their units over time in order to create dynamic dwellings that can grow along with their inhabitants or add the potential for economic development and social integration.
- Embed movement, nature, and an appreciation of time in your work—Doshi imbues many of his projects with direct connections to nature out of necessity due to India’s climate. His works, like the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology and the Indian Institute of Management developed with Louis Kahn, allow nature to flourish amid architecture. Doshi said, “we are [never] aware of time, but if we sit in one place and watch the sun, everything can become sacred and can have some use we do not currently know.”
“About time!” was perhaps the most common refrain on social media when it was announced that the 2018 Pritzker Prize had been awarded to the architect, B.V. Doshi, the grand old man of architecture from the Indian subcontinent. He is the first Indian to win the prize and its oldest recipient. It would be impossible to write a history of the modern architecture of India or, for that matter, of the non-western world, without acknowledging Balkrishna Doshi’s seminal contributions. His career spans nearly seven decades as an educator, urbanist and an architect, and his legacy undoubtedly transcends the Global South. Yet for all the tributes that poured in, there was a eagerness to fit the contribution of the man and the significance of the award into a neat box. Robin Pogrebin’s piece in The New York Times, “Top Architecture Prize Goes to Low-Cost Housing Pioneer From India,” was particularly reductive, if not offensive, to those more familiar with the work. It is not unlike calling Beethoven, “a pioneer in concerto writing from Germany.” While both statements might be true, they betray an incredible myopia toward the breadth of their legacies. When Doshi founded his office in Ahmedabad in 1955, the Indian state was not even a decade old. Mahatma Gandhi and his ashram in Ahmedabad had served as the epicenter of a great struggle against British imperialism. Doshi arrived in this city from Chandigarh, where Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, had commissioned Le Corbusier to design a new capital for the state of Punjab. Inevitably, the landmarks of the new nation liberated from European imperialism would now be built according to the doctrines of high modernism. Doshi himself was a product of this movement, having worked for four years in the atelier of Le Corbusier in Paris prior to his arrival in Chandigarh. Even in India, modernism was seen as a tour de force that promised a new egalitarian social order, removed from the shackles of tradition. To be modern meant to embrace an architecture of European modernism and its associated dogmas of rationalist thinking, objectivism and tabula rasa planning, with an unfettered belief in progress and technology. For a nation recovering from colonialism, with great and diverse traditions in art, architecture and city form, reconciling these dogmas of modernist thinking took several decades. Doshi’s work and legacy is a search for this reconciliation, between universalism and place, rationalism and what philosopher Paul Ricoeur calls ‘the mythical nucleus of humankind.” The quest embodied in Doshi’s oeuvre has also been the quest of his peers Charles Correa, Achyut Kanvinde, Anant Raje and Raj Rewal, to name a few. It has been a quest of not one, but several generations of architects from the subcontinent and the Global South at large, to create an ontological and literal framework for an architecture that is modern and yet rooted in place. This involved acknowledging and reinterpreting elements from the rich traditions of Indian architecture –the courtyard, the jali (screen), a layered notion of enclosure, ornament and, very significantly, the plinth or the occupied ground. The treatment of the ground as a receptacle for the celebration of life is a critical aspect of Doshi’s work. It marks a clear break from the piloti and the grid–tools of Cartesian planning that favor the automobile’s hegemony over the ground. Doshi’s School of Architecture (1972), Sangath (1980), and The Gufa (1990) reveal an evolution of an autochthonous architecture of the ground, which becomes one of the most significant attributes of these buildings. The School of Architecture presents an activated ground, a constantly changing datum with tactile inhabitation. This is already a distinct shift from the Institute of Indology (1956), one of Doshi's earliest projects, or The Mill Owners Association building by Le Corbusier (1954) (a building that Doshi worked on as a project architect), which establish a strong single datum against the ground plane below. Sangath (which roughly translates as ‘working together through participation’) marks a true departure from the architectural tropes of Corbusier and Louis Kahn–the coming into being of a distinct architecture which is both modern and deeply rooted in place. The ground and the building are now inseparable and symbiotic. Landscape becomes the primary architectural mediator. The building is perceived as a rich topography of occupiable plinths culminating in vaulted porcelain mosaic roof forms that frame the sky. It is an architecture of multiplicity, tactility, ornament and myth. When the project was under construction, Doshi encouraged local craftsmen to leave their own creations in the landscape of the building, giving agency to the artisans. The waste of chiseled stone chips becomes an incredibly beautiful embellishment within the landscape. Upon entering the premises, you enter a haven–a world within a world. Programmatically, the building works not just as a studio but as a real celebration of life–a living ground for exhibitions, performances and festivities. In reflecting on Doshi’s work on housing, the French philosopher Paul Ricœur comes to mind. In History and Truth (1961), Ricoeur says, “The phenomenon of universalization… constitutes a sort of subtle destruction...of the creative nucleus of great cultures…the ethical and mythical nucleus of mankind. Everywhere throughout the world one finds the same bad movie, the same slot machines, the same plastic or aluminum atrocities, the same twisting of language by propaganda.” It is striking how prescient Ricœur is today in an era of fake news and climate change. Everywhere one finds the same twisted architectural forms, the same placelessness, the same erosion of public space and public life, the same universal crisis of housing, and the replacement of housing by speculative real estate in global cities from London and New York to Shanghai, Lagos and Mumbai. It is in this light that Doshi’s low-income housing in Aranya should be considered. The Aranya project is a highly sophisticated design for over 6,500 dwellings. For a site and services project, it breaks from typical gridded layouts that maximize rationalization and efficiency. Instead, the project provides an urban armature where a range of open spaces and pedestrian pathways intersect and connect residential clusters to a central spine. Incrementality is the defining attribute of the project. Users are encouraged to add rooms to the service core of their house over time. Eight demonstration houses were designed by Doshi to illustrate the array of available options, from one-room shelters to more elaborate homes. Cross-subsidies and financial structures were put into place to encourage people to build their homes incrementally. This they did, and Aranya today is a thriving city of over 80,000 people. The project has created common spaces where people from varied castes and diverse religions mix and cooperate. Social cohesion is fostered through the very framework of the project–a crucial aspect that is easily overlooked in its descriptions. That architecture can and should have a socially progressive agenda was, after all, a defining attribute of the modernism–to bring design to the masses, to produce not only a new aesthetic, but also a new egalitarian order. Form thus became an instrument of reducing social inequity. The canonical architects of the time engaged in feats of social housing, such as Weisenhoff Seidlung, the Unité de Habitation, Byker Wall and PREVI Lima. Aranya belongs to this lineage of architectural agency. Today, an architecture of social cohesion has given way to the architect as a celebrity superstar, complicit with neoliberal agendas, designing condominiums for the one percent. Form has utterly lost its social agency and become the perverse weapon of increased social inequity. Never before has the architect seemed more impotent in the face of global crisis–ecological, political and social. It is clear that architecture today needs less autonomy and greater spatial agency. This means a deeper engagement with forms and practices that offer modes of resistance to neoliberal orders, and less collusion with the forces of capital. For an architect who has completed over one hundred projects in nearly seven decades of practice, Doshi has yet to design a luxury condominium or a glass skyscraper! In belatedly acknowledging Doshi’s legacy, the Pritzker Prize finally brings attention to a great body of work. It also exposes a certain state of contemporary culture where practices of resistance are few and far between. Finally, in an age of toxic work cultures and the erosion of family life, the life of B.V Doshi also has something to teach us. This is reflected in his belief that great architecture is attainable not in spite of family life but because of it. Speaking at the Royal Academy of Arts last year, Doshi said that living together within an extended family remained one of the greatest influences of his life, where he "learnt about cooperation, tolerance, togetherness, humility, generosity, and interdependence." While much is made about Doshi’s associations with the masters, it is the women in his life who need to be celebrated–his three daughters, wife and mother-in-law. He is surely the only Pritzker Prize winner to have lived with his mother-in-law for 38 years. "I learnt so many things from her simplicity, humility... She was fantastic!" Doshi’s life and work are imbued with an ethos that integrates the quintessential qualities of architecture–form, space and light–with the quintessential attributes that make us human, to create institutions and places of lasting meaning and value; an architecture of place in an age of placelessness. This, in the end, is perhaps what makes Doshi so relevant to contemporary culture today, both in the east and the west. Sarosh Anklesaria is a Brooklyn based architect and Visiting Assistant Professor at the Pratt Institute. Sarosh spent eight years at CEPT University, which was founded by Doshi, and has worked as an architect at Sangath, the office of B.V. Doshi.
This is a preview of our special November timber issue. Mass timber is having its Maison Dom-Ino moment. At the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale, a curious structure sat on the grass near the international pavilion in the Giardini. It was an engineered timber version of Le Corbusier’s Maison Dom-Ino, the seminal, prototypical reinforced concrete project, which was celebrating its 100th birthday. As a manifesto of sorts for modernism, the original Maison Dom- Ino sent shockwaves through the architecture world and the built environment at large. It was a replicable, scalable building system made from simple columns and floor slabs, which could be stacked vertically and horizontally like dominoes. The 2014 version was commissioned by Brett Steele, then dean at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London. He described the “afterlife” of the 1914 Dom-Ino as “a set of guiding, abstract, and idealized principles” that have shaped the world as we know it today. The choice of timber in this case is an interesting one, as mass timber seems to be today’s material that looks promising for the future, much like steel and concrete did in the 20th century. As outlined in this issue, timber has a litany of benefits including carbon sequestration, lower embodied energy than steel and concrete, psychological benefits for inhabitants, less construction noise in tight urban sites, easier on-site construction in general, and many other positive aspects. It would reorient wood from light-frame suburban development toward mid-rise dense urban development. Taller and taller timber towers serve as the “Eiffel Tower” moments for the rapidly expanding timber industry, as pointed out by Jimmy Stamp in the Smithsonian Magazine article, "Is Timber the Future of Urban Construction?" And these important projects have brought attention to an otherwise niche building trade. Alongside these "Wow!" projects, there is another, less sexy side of the timber revolution that could help to change the way we build in America. New technologies abroad are already making mid-rise construction cheaper and more viable at larger scales. This incremental progress is taking place among manufacturers, architects, engineers, and designers as we speak in places like the nearly 600,000-square-foot Arbora complex in Montreal, Quebec. And companies, such as Nordic Engineered Wood, are expanding in the U.S. market, a place known for innovation that makes things cheaper and more market-ready. Once the market can produce mass timber structures more cheaply than steel and concrete, there could be a seismic shift. And as timber becomes more viable for safety concerns, and more legal through local codes adapting ("The State of the Art of Timber"), we could see timber proliferate at the same rate as the early-20th century saw the Maison Dom-Ino’s system spread across the world over the next 100 years. But of course we are speculating a bit in this issue. The future is not so clear. A fight is brewing in Congress ("What Wood You Do?") over the bipartisan Timber Innovation Act (and along with it, lobbying antics from the steel, concrete, and sand industries). If U.S. governmental agencies and private companies—namely manufacturers—come together, the costs could come down. It is possible that architectural knowledge-research and development could bend the markets so as to impact both economic and environmental resource allocation networks toward a lower-carbon future, as architect and timber expert Alan Organschi told AN in a conversation. The arms race is already on, and the National Forest Service has awarded $250,000 to Boston-based IKD to develop a hardwood-based cross-laminated timber (CLT), which is an important incremental step in the process. This issue speculates on a future where entire blocks might be built with green technologies including mass timber, and whole cities could be filled with beautiful wood buildings layered onto the stone, brick, steel, glass, and concrete urban fabric. How this revolution might play out is unclear, but we are seeing glimpses of what might be to come, such as Framework by LEVER Architecture in Portland, which will be the tallest timber building in the U.S., or the work of Michael Green Architecture in Vancouver, or Gray Organschi Architecture out of New Haven, Connecticut, which has been researching mass timber at the Yale School of Architecture. We also look to Europe and Canada for success stories that might be examples for the future of mass timber in the U.S. As Steele said of his 2014 Maison Dom-Ino, “This initial installation will remind visitors not only of modern architecture's most foundational project, but of an architectural instinct made even more apparent today than it was at the time of its original conception; namely that architecture always operates in the space created by a contrast between architecture as already known, and what it might yet become.” Can we imagine a partially wooden future? This article will be updated with links to other articles from the November timber issue.
On Sunday, UNESCO designated 17 works of Le Corbusier—in Argentina, Belgium, France, Germany, India, Japan, and Switzerland—to be on their World Heritage List. One of the sites included in the designation is the capital complex in the city of Chandigarh in India, for which Le Corbusier designed the master plan and several key buildings such as the courthouse and university. His plans continued the work started by American planner Albert Mayer, who left the project in 1950 when his partner, Matthew Nowicki, died in a plane crash. Chandigarh was completed in 1960 and is still the capital city of the state of Punjab. As a whole, the 17 sites included in the UNESCO designation are a testament to Le Corbusier’s influence on 20th century architecture and urban planning. Also included are the iconic Unite d’Habitation de Marseille and the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. In 2015, the BBC ran an article calling Chandigarh “the perfect city.” A large "Open Hand" sculpture on the site is a testament to the architect's philosophy of peace and unity. However, like most of Le Corbusier’s work, it has had its share of critics. The site also faces preservation issues. The new UNESCO designation will help protect the architect’s work and preserve his legacy for future generations. More details on the new Le Corbusier UNESCO World Heritage Sites can be found here.
Defacing the work of Le Corbusier has become something of a trend of late. However, Paris-based Swiss artist Felice Varini has taken a more elegant approach to the fad. Using optical illusions, Varini's art installation, À Ciel Ouvert (Open Air) is located on top of Le Corbusier's La Cité Radieuse, built in 1952, an iconic modernist structure. “This is the first time that I have exhibited on, in, and with architecture designed by Le Corbusier," said Varini in a press release. "This place is a landmark, a huge influence. It is a true microcosm, designed as a small city with its range of complex volumes, a small city with a view over the large city of Marseille. It is extremely exciting!” Famed for his illusory artwork, Varini has applied his hallmark approach to numerous buildings-turned-canvases over the years. His work ranges from cellars to gothic churches, town squares, and a variety of urban environments. The art, by nature, relies on perspective and orientation. His style features a fragmented geometric aesthetic: circles, triangles and linear forms interact while others fall apart upon the concrete surface of the house. “My concern is what happens outside the vantage point of view,” said Varini in 2008. Speaking of his work on La Cité Radieuse, he added: “I generally scour the venue taking in its architecture, materials, history and function. Based on its varying spatial data, I define a viewpoint around which my initiative takes shape. For me a viewpoint is a point in the space that I choose carefully: it is usually situated at my eye level and preferably located in a key passageway, for example where one room leads to another, a landing, etc. I don’t make a rule of it, as spaces don’t all systematically have an obvious path." "The choice is often arbitrary. The viewpoint will function like a point of interpretation, that is, like a potential starting point to approach the painting and the space. The painted form makes sense when the spectator is in this spot. When the spectator leaves the viewpoint, the work encounters the space generating an infinite number of views of the shape. Therefore I do not see the accomplished work through this first point; this is encompassed in all the views that the spectator may have of it.”