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‘Le Corbusier was first and foremost an artist’

Gautam Bhatia, Delhi-based architect and sculptor, compares two contemporaries—Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn—and lists some of their most interesting works

The Notre-Dame du Haut, a chapel in Ronchamp, France, built in 1955. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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Le Corbusier was first and foremost an artist—that was his real gift. He was unlike other designers, as his work was very spontaneous and instinctive. He had no predetermined way of going about a task. But once he set his mind to it, you knew the outcome was going to be something personal and original. 

To my mind, he was gifted in some of the small works that did, such as the Notre-Dame du Haut, a chapel in Ronchamp, France, built in 1955, the two villas in India—the Shodhan villa and the Sarabhai house. A lot of the interesting–country houses that he created don’t appear in big architectural journals, but the details in some of those were works of an artist. 

Also read: Le Corbusier’s forgotten terrace gardens

In my opinion, some of his larger works fall apart as he tries to promote certain artistic ideas on a monumental scale. In that aspect, he was probably the opposite of Louis Kahn. The latter’s most interesting works were those made on a large-scale such as the Salk Institute in California and the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas. There is a mysterious tension that holds these projects together. But he couldn’t do a decent housing project, which Corbusier could do.

Corbusier was extremely lyrical, and an insular thinker, much like an artist, to really allow his brand of architecture to ever be imitated. That was his reality. His work in Chandigarh didn’t need to respond to other civic structures in the city. It was meant to be isolated and stand as an emblem for a modern urban centre. Having said that, his way of working was monumental.

 

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