History of architecture in India – Charles-Edouard Jeanneret Gris, Popularly known as Le Corbusier, was an internationally reclaimed architect, urban planner, painter, and writer. Born in La Chaux-de Fonds, Switzerland in 1887, Le Corbusier was a self-taught architect, whose architectural influence is apparent in Europe, Japan, India, and North and South America. He had a keen interest in painting and was an aesthetic doctrine of purism, an art formulated from cubism. Purism represented robust, simplified, and elementary forms devoid of details, which embraced technology and machine.
Le Corbusier was invited to India by then Prime Minister Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru for commissioning the work of the new capital city of Punjab, Chandigarh. Corbusier is extensively known as the town planner of Chandigarh in the history of architecture in India.
Le Corbusier’s style of work was new and different for India. His interaction with space and time was intrigued and exceptional. Le Corbusier was a prominent bearer of modernism. He bought the trend of brutalistic, exposed concrete buildings in India. Indian architecture had always been boastful and reflected grandeur and richness, while his buildings reflected rawness, industrial spirit, and monumentality with a touch of minimalism.
He brought a newness to the rectilinear build forms. The facades were without any ornamentation, paint, or plaster, just exposed concrete and structural frame. Le Corbusier’s style had a strong influence on the architecture of India. He changed the way public buildings were perceived earlier.
The unconventional use of primary colors to bring aesthetic and a little shift from raw concrete was an unconventional approach to smokescreen the monotony. Corbusier was a disciple of Bauhaus style that reflected in his work. Modernism was synonymous with minimalism and low-cost, which was the need for independent India. The use of vibrant colors is evident at the entrance foyer of the High Court Building in Chandigarh. A monumental door at the Palace of Assembly, Chandigarh is adorned with vibrant colors to depict modern India. Another great paradigm introduced by him was the incorporation of rigorous geometric forms in the buildings. The monumental ramps and external staircase became the key identity of public buildings. The Mill Owners Association Building in Ahmedabad is a fine example of a modern building with a simplistic façade and angular forms in interiors.
Le Corbusier was far from being a purveyor of concrete blocks. He emphasized space, light, and greenery. His buildings were designed to bear the harsh climate of Ahmedabad and Chandigarh. His buildings seemed to have no relation with surroundings and Indian context and were often called foreign, yet his designs flawlessly agglomerated with nature. He introduced modern ways for air to flow through his buildings. He introduced sun-shielding features such as sunshades, brise-soleil, and curved overhanging roofs that blended into the façade seamlessly. The facades were simple, unadorned, and unpolished. A large band of windows was provided to catch the prevailing winds. B.V. Doshi once said, “Le Corbusier could create a soft light that makes people’s faces glow.”
The 5 Points of Architecture by Le Corbusier can be seen in many modern buildings in India. The Sanskar Kendra, designed by Corbusier in Ahmedabad, rests on the signature pilotis, vacating ground space for exhibitions. The roof was designed as a terrace garden, which is now a common feature in Indian houses. Large Ribbon windows in the façade were yet another key element that can be seen even today.
Rectilinear forms with free and open interiors were a new concept of architecture in India then. Le Corbusier emphasized circulation within the building. He introduced high ceilings, narrow columns, ramps in place of a staircase to reflect the expansion of space and fluidity in movement.
Villa Shodhan, a private residence is a classic example of Le Corbusier’s domestic architecture. The house is built around the landscape to allow sun, wind, and views in all areas of the property. Villa Shodhan is the finest representation of modernism, the five principles of architecture by Le Corbusier, and response to the Indian climate.
Le Corbusier redefined the definition of a metropolitan city. When all the developed cities were symbolic of harshness, paved surfaces, and no greenery, Le Corbusier redefined city planning theories and principles in India. Large Boulevard, tree-lined avenues, sector planning, V7 road classification, major administrative buildings, green areas are a few features of Chandigarh. Open public spaces and plazas was a new concept in Indian town planning and is still appreciated.
Le Corbusier can be credited for the formulation of social housing blocks. Although he never designed any housing project, his style and conception greatly influenced the apartment culture in India. Architects like Raj Rewal, B.V. Doshi, Charles Correa, J.K. Choudhry later tried to infuse Le Corbusier’s styles in their work. The major examples include Akbar Hotel in Delhi by Ar.Shiv Nath Prasad, Hall of Nations at Pragati Maidan by Raj Rewal and IIT Delhi campus by J.K. Choudhary. Even today a lot of architects show interest in the modernist architecture established by him. Le Corbusier has been in many controversies for his work even after his death. Chandigarh’s functionality is still questioned and criticized. It is many-a-times regarded as an alienated city, aloof of Indian culture and vibrancy. Le Corbusier has given India a great heritage to preserve and a vast canvas for architects to explore and learn. His buildings and the city of Chandigarh continue to be iconic examples of creativity are great tourist attractions.