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History of Architecture (AP313) | Term Paper | 2013

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INFLUENCE OF LOUIS KHAN AND LE CORBUSIER ON
ARCHITECTURE IN INDIA
Term Paper for History of Architecture (AP131)


Rashi Chugh
Roll Number: 36
Sushant School of Art and Architecture

Louis Kahn, the American architect known for combining Modernism with the weight and dignity of
ancient monuments, was born 113 years ago today. Kahn might be categorized as a late Modernist, and
a hugely influential one at that.(1)
In a nutshell the work of Louis Isadore Kahn (born Itze-Leib Schmuilowsky) was widely known as one of
the most influential architects in the world. There was something starkly original and intellectually
stimulating about his work. His buildings were like mathematical theorems, well-realised to the last brick
but came with a great emotional sweep. Linear perfection. Monastic lines. Reductionist volumes.
Unadorned surfaces. Geometric harmony.
Kahn believed architecture was not just about function but intention, not just purpose but inspiration
and emotional connection.
Yes, he wanted to build modern buildings with evolved techniques but he wanted to make spaces
breathe, and he wanted them to communicate with the shifting light of night and day, and to be
relevant and timeless. (2)
For Kahn, form did not necessarily follow function; nor did his projects celebrate all the new possibilities
of industrial materials. Created from monolithic masonry, and drawing on primary geometries with great
circles, semi-circles and triangles sliced out of their weighty walls, his buildings exude a timeless and
sometimes sinister presence. They look like the hastily vacated remnants of a future cosmic civilisation.
Louis Kahn used to tell his students: if you are ever stuck for inspiration, ask your materials for advice.
"You say to a brick, 'What do you want, brick?' And brick says to you, 'I like an arch.' And you say to
brick, 'Look, I want one, too, but arches are expensive and I can use a concrete lintel.' And then you say:
'What do you think of that, brick?' Brick says: 'I like an arch.' He was known as Louis Kahn: the brick
whisperer. (3)
At first glance, Kahns work appears simplistic in its form and program. Upon closer investigation,
however, layers of incredible programmatic complexity and design innovation become apparent.
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He believed strongly that architecture should appeal not only to practical and aesthetic needs but also
to the humanistic needs of the people and communities it serves. He was continually striving to create
spaces that evoked a sense of spirituality, a sense he felt was lacking in the built environment of that
time. With every project, Kahns starting place was the same. Whether he was designing a place of
worship, a school, a private residence, or an art museum, he always asked himself questions, trying to
define and articulate the unique qualities embodied by that institution.
Kahn was inspired by the work of many modern architects, including Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright,
and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and was equally drawn to classical and ancient forms of building. He
synthesized old and new building styles by designing monumental forms that spoke of the past but
employed current construction and design solutions. (4)

Figure1: India knows him for his work on the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad.
Ref: http://www.newindianexpress.com
While Louis Kahn was designing the National Assembly Building in Bangladesh in 1962, he was
approached by an admiring Indian architect, Balkrishna Doshi, to design the 60 acre campus for the
Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, India. Much like his project in Bangladesh, he was faced
with a culture enamored in tradition, as well as an arid desert climate. For Kahn, the design of the
institute was more than just efficient spatial planning of the classrooms; he began to question the
design of the educational infrastructure where the classroom was just the first phase of learning for the
students.
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It was Balkrishna Doshi that believed Louis Kahn would be able to envision a new, modern school for
Indias best and brightest. Kahns inquisitive and even critical view at the methods of the educational
system influenced his design to no longer singularly focus on the classroom as the center of academic
thought. The classroom was just the formal setting for the beginning of learning; the hallways and
Kahns Plaza became new centers for learning. The conceptual rethinking of the educational practice
transformed a school into an institute, where education was a collaborative, cross-disciplinary effort
occurring in and out of the classroom.
Le Corbusiers work at Chandigarh (1951-63) must have been in Kahns mind. He had visited the new
capital during his first trip to India in November 1962, when he began work on IIM, and later he urged
his students to study it as they began their individual designs for Dhaka. Yet however much he admired
Le Corbusier, he also harbored doubts about Chandigarh. Earlier he had praised his buildings but he had
also claimed that they were out of context and had no position. (5)
In much of the same ways that he approached the design of the National Assembly Building in
Bangladesh, he implemented the same techniques in the Indian Institute of Management such that he
incorporated local materials (brick and concrete) and large geometrical faade extractions as homage to
Indian vernacular architecture. It was Kahns method of blending modern architecture and Indian
tradition into an architecture that could only be applied for the Indian Institute of Management. The
large faade omissions are abstracted patterns found within the Indian culture that were positioned to
act as light wells and a natural cooling system protecting the interior from Indias harsh desert climate.
Even though the porous, geometric faade acts as filters for sunlight and ventilation, the porosity
allowed for the creation of new spaces of gathering for the students and faculty to come together. (6)
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Figure2: local materials, large geometrical faade
Ref: http://www.yatzer.com/louis-kahn-the-power-of-architecture
Always Le Corbusier was deeply involved in pictorialism of Kahns time. For him Le Corbusier was a man
recording what he saw in order to put it in use. Le Corbusiers line drawings made around the
Mediterranean, visually available to kahn, atleast from 1923 onwards (7)
Le Corbusier, French citizen was influential in urban planning, and was a founding
member of the Congrs International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM). Le Corbusier is
one of the most prominent architects in the history of Modern architecture. His impact
on the conceptual, functional, and artistic sides of architecture, as well as on the art
world, are still lasting today.
five points of architecture that he had elucidated in L'Esprit Nouveau and the book
Vers une architecture,
lifted the bulk of the structure off the ground supporting it by pilotis, reinforced
concrete stilts,
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a free facade, meaning non-supporting walls that could be designed as the
architect wished,
an open floor plan, meaning that the floor space was free to be configured into
rooms without concern for supporting walls,
long strips of ribbon windows that allow views of the large surrounding yard,
the roof garden to compensate for the green area consumed by the building and
replacing it on the roof. (8)

Figure3:Five points towards new architecture
Ref:https://www.ucviden.dk/student-
portal/files/14465665/Influence_of_Le_Corbusier_in_modern_architecture.pdf
Three relatively autonomous categories contexts, privacy and publicity and Built Art
single out key themes in le corbusiers work: his fascination for the modern
metropolis, his enthusiasm for the Mediterranean and the orient, his proclivity towards
organic forms in the 1930s, as well as his interest in new technologies and the media.
Only the context of these and further aspects provide a comprehensive understanding
of an curve, which is expressed in an increasingly intense interaction
between architecture, urbanism, painting, design, film and other disciplines. (9)

Le Corbusier was respectful of the geographical, climatic and cultural context of the
subcontinent. Ahmedabad and Chandigarh has basically hot dry monsoon climate.
Although the architect could sense, feel and identify the problems of climate almost
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intuitively, he approached the design in a very methodical and scientific way. Projects
in India for which Le Corbusier is known:

Mill Owners' Association Building - Ahmedabad, India
Villa Sarabhai - Ahmedabad, India
Villa Shodhan - Ahmedabad, India
Sanskar Kendra Museum - Ahmedabad, India
Palace of Justice - Chandigarh, India
Museum and Art Gallery - Chandigarh, India
Secretariat Building - Chandigarh, India
Governor's Palace - Chandigarh, India
Palace of Assembly - Chandigarh, India
In the 1950s, after India gained independence from Britain, Le Corbusier was
commissioned to design an entire city, from all the doorknobs in the High Court to the
stools and desks at the College of Architecture. The capital of Punjab, Chandigarh is Le
Corbusiers masterpiece (7) He translated the Radiant City on a grand scale presented
itself in the construction of the Union Territory Chandigarh, the new capital for the
Indian states of Punjab and Haryana and the first planned city in India. Le Corbusier
designed many administration buildings including a courthouse, parliament building
and a university. He also designed the general layout of the city dividing it into sectors.
Le Corbusier was brought on to develop the plan of Albert Mayer. (11)

Figure 4: Mill Owners' Association Building - Ahmedabad, India
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Ref: http://www.archdaily.com/464142/ad-classics-mill-owners-association-building-le-
corbusier/
The building is a physical manifesto representing Le Corbusiers proposal for a modern
Indian architecture. Constructed in 1954, the Mill Owners Association Building is
considered the first of four completed commissions in Ahmedabad. He took cues from
Indias vernacular architecture, emulating the deep reveals, overhanging ledges, shade
screens, and grand, pillared halls .He introduced brises-soleil, designed to prevent sun
from penetrating the facade, and employed these in combination with thickened
facades and unfinished concrete in many of his later projects. Surrounded by ample
open space, the Mill Owners Association Building was not forced to contend with an
existing urban fabric, allowing the architect to propose a distinctly modern aesthetic.
(12)
Le Corbusiers description of the building stresses the importance of view: The
situation of the building in a garden dominating the furnishes a picturesque spectacle
of cloth dyers washing such a panorama was an invitation to frame views from
each floor of the building the building faade is a screen to frame views within
which a series of door frames are nested. (13)

Figure5: Villa Sarabhai - Ahmedabad, India
Ref:http://themodernhouseblog.net/2013/05/01/house-of-the-week-villa-de-madame-
manorama-sarabhai-ahmedabad-india/
The Sarabhai Villa resembles very much to another Le Corbusier house from the fifties,
Maisons Jaul in Neuilly, where the space is composed by a structural system made by
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series of vaults that support the terrace roof. Le Corbusier probably developed this
idea from his early 1919 Maisons Monol, a project that he had presented in his first
book "Vers Une Architecture". In the Monol project the vaults were made in corrugated
steel panels, in Jaul and Sarabhai they were covered by bricks.
The only thing that separates between the interiors and the exterior is bamboo blinds
that allow the breeze to pass through the house and control the sunlight. This point is
even more striking given the fact that all the walls were covered by one of the most
impressive art collection I had ever seen (Chagalls, Lichtensteins, Le Corbusiers), and
along the simple, rough flowing spaces were scattered nonchalantly precious and
personal objects, and beautiful modernist and Indian furniture.

The main ideas from Le Corbusier:
From a new poetics of architecture, midway between classical harmony and
functionality requiring modern times, Le Corbusier made form of his ideas and
represent them on buildings, essays and paintings.Trends as functionalism of Adolf
Loos, futurism, german and french masters and new materials gave to Le
Corbusier an industrial conception. As well as an adoption of simple shapes that do
survive aesthetic values over time or unadorned forms, concept. (11)
It is one thing to design a ground breaking work of architecture. It is another to find
somebody to build it. Certainly he was fortunate in his ability to find intrepid builders
who were prepared to take the risk of working with his novel methods of construction.
Indeed, it seems that many of the details of hids buildings evolved on-site in
discussion with the contractor and his team. (12)

Both the architects had similar approach towards architecture. They had similar style of
work, worked with geometry, experimented with materials, monumental look of
building, and gave new style to architecture.
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Le Corbusiers Parliament building at Chandigarh (1953-630); Louis Kahns Parliament
at Dacca(1962-70). Both buildings are rich in institutional and cosmological meanings,
both possess archaic character, and both stem from a stage in modern architecture
which had long since rejected a wholly mechanistic utopia. Both are works of maturity
resting on clearly formulated architectural principles and languages, and both are
stepped in Eastern and Western monumental tradition. (14)

BIBLOGRAPHY:
1. http://www.archdaily.com/tag/louis-kahn/. [Online]
2. http://www.newindianexpress.com/education/student/Louis-Kahn-Building-a-Deep-Human-
Experience/2013/12/23/article1960426.ece#.UycLLvmSyHM. [Online]
3. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/feb/26/louis-kahn-brick-whisperer-architect.
[Online]
4. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/public/page/lessons/Kahn. [Online]
5. David B. Brownlee, David G. De Long. Kahn.
6. http://www.archdaily.com/83697/ad-classics-indian-institute-of-management-louis-kahn/. [Online]
7. http://distinctbuild.ca/le_corbusier_architecture.php. [Online]
8. Le Corbusier-the art of architecture.
9. http://www.designtripper.com/2011/03/goodtripper-le-corbusiers-chandigarh/. [Online]
10. http://www.saylor.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Le-Corbusier.pdf. [Online]
11. http://www.archdaily.com/464142/ad-classics-mill-owners-association-building-le-corbusier/.
[Online]
12. https://www.ucviden.dk/student-
portal/files/14465665/Influence_of_Le_Corbusier_in_modern_architecture.pdf. [Online]
13. Samuel, Flora. Le Corbusier in detail.
14. j.r.curtis, william. perspecta. 1983.

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