Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Influence of Fry and Drew Conference Participation

Claire Louise Staunton and James Price will present Inheritance Projects research at the Transnational Architecture Group's 2013 Conference 'The Influence of Fry and Drew'. Convened by Jessica Holland and Iain Jackson, the conference aims are set out as follows:

"For over fifty years, E. Maxwell Fry (1899–1987) and Jane B. Drew (1911–96) were integral members of the English architectural avant-garde. The Fry and Drew partnership – in its various incarnations – was a magnet for architects and architectural students from all over the world, giving the practice a distinctly international outlook. Their built works, from the 1920s to the 1980s, cross the globe from Europe to South-east Asia.

 This conference seeks to investigate the themes and movements of twentieth century architecture and town planning that have been influenced by the work of Fry and Drew, and vice versa. What is the context of Fry and Drew’s architecture? Is it possible to identify a FryDrew strand of Modernism or a house style? What is their architectural legacy?"

Claire Louise Staunton will present new research on Chandigarh, developed as part of the New Cities Project, under the working title 'Subverting Modernism through autonomous urbanism'. Alongside this presentation there will be a screening of James Price' short film Corrections and Omissions (2013) produced during our research trip to India at the end of 2012.

A draft programme for the conference is available here

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Jane Drew (and IHP) in Harlow

Le Corbusier, Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry in Chandigarh. Image from Fondation Le Corbusier.
Continuing research began in Chandigarh late last year, Inheritance Projects headed to Harlow to visit two connecting housing estates designed by Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry. Drew and Fry, who collaborated on many architectural projects throughout their careers, were instrumental in the development of the Chandigarh. As Charles Correa wrote in a testimonial on the occasion of Drew's 75th birthday: 'if it hadn't been for [Drew], there would not have been Chandigarh. There would have been a city of that name but not the heroic venture - the venture which became a catalyst of such crucial importance to all of us'.1

Inheritance Projects in Harlow: Photograph shows housing by Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry. Image by James Price.
1Charles Correa in Jane B Drew Architect: A Tribute from Colleagues and Friends for her 75th Birthday 24th March 1986 (Bristol: Bristol Centre for the Advancement of Architecture, 1986).

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Model Town - Lahore

Model Town - Lahore

Model Town, established in 1921, was the fruition of Dewan Khem Chand’s lifelong dream to see the establishment of a “Garden Town”. Advocate Khem Chand’s unshakeable belief in the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity are the values of cooperation upon which the principles of co-operative societies are founded and also the reason why Model Town was established as and still is a co-operative society (from Wikipedia of course)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Vers Une Architecture: From the Bildungsroman to the Manifesto

A pallid sky, above the world that ends from decrepitude, will perhaps depart with the clouds: the tatters of the worn-out purple of sunsets fade in a river sleeping to the horizon submerged in rays and water. The trees are bored and, under their whited leaves (from the dust of time rather than of roadways), rises the canvas house of the Showman of Things Past.

So begins Stephane Mallarmé's prose poem 'The Future Phenomenon', where crowds have gathered in this post-apocalyptic scene, confronted with some anonymous female figure of the past: 
When all have contemplated the noble creature, vestige of some epoch already accursed, some indifferent, for they have not had the strength to comprehend, but others broken and their eyelids moist with resigned tears will look at each other; while the poets of those times, feeling rekindled, their extinguished eyes, will head for their lamp, their brains drunk a moment with a confused glory, haunted by a rhythm and in forgetfulness of existing in an epoch that survives beauty.

This prose poem, according to the renowned Le Corbusier scholar Jean-Louis Cohen, was the inspiration for one of the more oblique references in the Swiss artist/ architect's iconic publication Vers Une Architecture a title that would later be translated, to the detriment of the original, as Towards a New Architecture (An earlier title that Le Corbusier later rejected, was 'Architecture or Revolution').

In a lecture given at the Getty Research Institute in 2008 (entitled 'Vers Une Architecture: From the Bildungsroman to the Manifesto') Cohen explains how the motif of the aeroplane, that appears in the book with the mysterious caption 'Eyes that do not see...airplanes', was inspired by Mallarmé's prose poem, and seems to grasp at the sensation of an old world being confronted with the new.  

This would seem to be an inverse of Mallarmé's prose poem, where the sighting of 'things past' enduces a drunkenness of 'confused glory' in the poets of from a time that has seemingly outlived beauty. What Le Corbuiser is in fact celebrating here is the role of the engineer, as designer and artist. Perhaps the Mallarmé quote also reflects the writer's own feelings at the time, whilst studying the buildings of ancient Rome. Did he too feel like he was looking back at the past from a distant present; from a time that had outlived beauty?

Vers Une Architecture was an opportunity for Le Corbusier to legitimate his own position as aspiring architect by grounding his thoughts in historical narrative. To understand what architecture is, he believed, one must learn from the lessons of Rome (the young Le Corbusier's identification with Michelangelo was profound). All these details and much more are discussed by Jean-Louis Cohen in this lecture. Perhaps most interesting and impressive is Cohen's description of Vers une Architecture as a 'complex printed object', and his page-by-page explanation of Le Corbusier's visual and rhetorical strategies; his choice of images, his manipulation of them (using proto Photoshop techniques), and his sophisticated understanding of page layouts to commuicate ideas. Vers une Architecture is a fine example of what Paul Valery referred to in Le Physique du livre.

Another prolific commentator on Le Corbusier, Charles Correa (who I will return to in a later post) has reflected on the architect's legacy, particularly in India. 'Especially in his buildings in India', writes Correa, 'Corb has become more and more absorbed in his visual language; and however masterful this language may become, it is still only one aspect of any great architecture.' After referring to the Secretariat in Chandigarh as 'a magnificent façade, like a stage set,' Correa asks, 'Did not the earlier Corb promise something less skin-deep, something more conceptual?'
Cohen's presentation at the Getty Institute (itself a summary of his introduction to the new 2007 translation published by Getty, with the 'New' erased from the title) reveals how 'Corb' was in fact absorbed in the formulation of his own visual language even in these early formative years of his career. Vers une Architecture is, Cohen explains, even something of a rumination on his insecurities and failures as an architect and businessman up until this point. The publication of this collection of essays would change Le Corbusier's circumstances dramatically; in effect it would prove to be a unique marketing tool for him.

Cohen concludes with some comments on the book's legacy and the problems of translation. He refers to Edwin Lutyen's response to Towards a New Architecture (another European architect prolific in India's cities, having been responsible for the development of New Delhi). In what was published as 'The Robotism of Architecture', Lutyens remarks that the buildings seemingly promised by Le Corbusier here can only be made for robots: 'robots without eyes – for eyes that have no vision cannot be educated to see.' Cohen chalks this scathing review up to the English translation, which was a 'complete betrayal of Le Corbusier's intentions.' But Lutyen's remarks seem to be also punning on Le Corbusier's description in the book (after Mallarmé) of 'eyes that do not see ... airplanes'

There appear to be two arguments: on the one hand (with Lutyens) the new architecture has lumbered us with eyes that have no vision, whereas on the other (Le Corbusier) our eyes are simply 'not yet able to discern' the style of an era as such that is so fixed in the present moment.

Monday, April 15, 2013

New Old Town

During World War II, German forces razed more than 80% of Warsaw.  After Soviet troops took over, much of the city was rebuilt. The Soviets built apartment blocks; this was communist ideology in architectural form. Roman Mars' 99% Invisible, a unique podcast dedicated to design, recently presented this feature on the New Old Town in Warsaw.  In it Amy Drozdowska and Dave McGuire, speak with Warsaw-born anthropologist Michał Murawski about Warsaw’s complicated post-war history. They explain how the New Old Town in Warsaw is a replica; a carefully constructed re-imagining of what the city was. It is believed that Stalin thought a new, communist Poland would be more easily achieved if the former capital city was completely obliterated. What's more the idea of the Old Town was to be more valuable to the new Soviet powers than the former town itself.

The New Old Town is in effect a facade, a stage-set intended to create a certain ideological atmosphere. This was built by Stalin's forces to mask the reality that Poland was being taken over by foreign powers, and to ward off public nostalgia for a pre-Communist Poland, by manipulating the public into believing that they have not lost their past, their traditions, their former identities (not just through architecture but "history paintings"—the major inspiration for the rebuilding of the city were the paintings of an 18th Century Italian artist named Bernardo Bellotto). In doing this the new powers gave the impression that they had respect for the "old" ways of life.

Nostalgia has been considered a melancholy disease that produces erroneous representations of something that is lost (see Svetlana Boym's The Future of Nostalgia). In this case, the old town needed to be rebuilt, in order to be forgotten. If not, the public might long for what they were missing (or at least what they thought they were missing) and therefore make enemies of the new communist powers that brought in the new buildings and ideologies.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Le Corbusier's Peace Hand Drawings, Chandigarh

The Peace Hand in Chandigarh was based on drawings and observations that Le Corbusier made of his own hand. This drawing hangs in the architect's old office building in the city. The building is now a museum for his contribution to the conception of Chandigarh. After many years of being out of bounds to the public, the Peace Hand is now accessible to all who visit, passing the sandbags and armed guards on their way.

 Upon our visit the 'contemplation pit' was starkly empty, and the hand, as ever, towered over it, swaying in the breeze. We stayed for a while, talked, sat and experimented with the acoustics in the pit that had been designed for public discussion and debate. Throughout this the hand still felt a rather imposing presence. What was this hand presiding over?