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« Beyraja: from 1947 to 1971 and beyond..(Omar Ali) | Main | Zoos and zoo-people (prasad) »

January 05, 2012


Hate the pun in the last sentence. Hate it. And the Joni Mitchell quip is gratuitous. But otherwise, amen. When I visited Marseille in '84 or '87, I made a pilgrimage to Le Corbusier's Unite d'Habitation. It was run down and decidedly non-monumental as compared to its iconic status in architectural history texts, indeed an eyesore, as the article notes. But he was on to something, and to this day I much prefer stacked concrete shoe boxes as living quarters to houses on lots with coiffed shrubs and lawns and picket fences. (Not that I actually dwell in one.)

Yeah the pun is pretty bad but the reference to Joni Mitchell is okay.

As for Le Corbusier's creations, one of the best examples is this Indian city. The Wiki link shows the official buildings. The residential areas (divided into sectors) are also concrete and planned. I remember how much hue and cry arose regarding the "ugly, soulless" habitat when it was first built. Some 50+ years later, Chandigarh remains one of the least chaotic (and not very ugly) cities in terms of both concrete jungles as well as traffic patterns whereas cities like Delhi, Calcutta, Mumbai and their suburbs are a nightmare on both counts.

By the way, did you recoginze the author? I had once before written a post on his idea of utility and happiness.

Chandigarh is quintessential Corbu, even if the chapel at Ronchamps is perhaps his most famous, certainly his most elegantly beautiful work.

I didn't recognize the author, but I might have caught his famous father's name.

The Rothko Chapel in Houston: Not Corbu and not half as elegant although I daresay that due the obelisk, the outside is a bit more enjoyable than the interior.

In India, Chandigarh is very famous for obvious reasons. The Chapel @ Ronchamps is famous for good reasons. It is simple, functional, elegant and in a way reminiscent of the ancient ascetic baked earth monasteries in the deserts of the middle east.

Here is a Delhi suburb which has seen extreme rapid development in the last thirty years as a residential / industrial / corporate town carved out of the bucolic outskirts of my childhood. The government and the builders promoted "growth" (lots of money changed hands) without any attention to planning. The place is nightmarish despite its super modern, amenities filled gated communities. With Chandigarh nearby, I fail to understand why the Delhi-Haryana governments did not follow the lead of Corbusier before they hatched the city of Gurgaon. It could have been very well organized because its sprawl is not organic like those of the older cities whose histories go back centuries and in the case of Delhi, millennia. Gurgaon was created as a modern day city from scratch within a very short period of time, just like Chandigarh. Gurgaon vs Chandigarh: a perfect example of concrete jungle vs concrete common sense.

From the Wikipedia article: "There are over 40 malls in Gurgaon city." You said it, Ruchira: concrete jungle.

Morton Feldman musically memorialized the Rothko Chapel.

I've always talked about my hometown Trivandrum (or Thiruvananthapuram, for purists) as the town trying to grown into a city. 3 years later, I can report. It is no longer a town, but a city. Not on the scale of Chennai or Mumbai, perhaps, but the roads have grown wider and better lit, without too much damage to the greenery, or perhaps the substitute plantings have grown rapidly in the tropical rainforest climate. Some bottlenecks still remain, but not that many. Complaints of power outages and water problems seem to have reduced, but the garbage disposal still remains a problem, since the municipality that used to host a disposal plant has gone on the warpath and locked the doors of the plant, leaving the city locals to their own (not too sanitary, burning piles of trash) devices.
One remarkable change is that the people seem happier, less stressed or apt to jump at you in the blink of an eye. They are even helpful as the occasion requires (this from a notoriously parochial, unfriendly part of Kerala), instead of holding back and watching the 'tamasha'.
Must be the increasing affluence and reduction of road rage ;)
It's quite simple, the closer you bring a population towards affluence and development, the more people are willing to behave compassionately towards others.
Or to paraphrase (rather badly) a couplet from a 2000 year old Tamil book, 'Riches beget charity.'

Cast concrete does not have to be ugly -- much of Modernism in architecture is about using utilitarian, cheap materials well, for people who need housing. "Good design" is supposed to provide beauty and interest and livability, but nowhere are luxurious materials a must-have. The difficulty comes from choosing cheap materials and slipshod methods to execute poor design for poor people -- a difficulty that is omnipresent. Tom White, the legendary Boston philanthropist who gave a vast self-made fortune away, keeping only a typical middle class retirement for himself, said that you might not be able to fix poverty, for all your money, but that there was such a thing as "decent poverty" -- a hallmark of which was concrete floors.

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