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Saturday, 8 December 2012

84) Honouring Charles Edourd Jaenneret popularly known as Le Corbusier (1887-1965): The Architect who designed the Modern Indian city of Chandigarh: A Ten Franc Banknote issued by the Swiss National Bank:

84)  Honouring Charles Edourd Jaenneret popularly known as Le Corbusier (1887-1965):
The Architect who designed the Modern Indian city of Chandigarh: A Ten Franc Banknote issued by the Swiss National Bank:

About Le Corbusier:

He was born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, (more popularly as Le Corbusier a pseudonym which he adopted in the 1920s, deriving it in part from the name of his maternal grandfather “Lecorbesier”, in keeping with his belief that anyone could reinvent himself.) on 06/10/1887 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a small city in “Neuchatel” canton in North-western Switzerland, in the Jura mountains close to the French border. He became a French citizen in 1930 and is famous for being one of the pioneers of “modern Architecture”.

He was an architect, town planner, urbanist, painter and theoretician whose creative energies gave Society several marvels which stand to his credit even today. His pioneering concepts of residential design and urban planning in modern architecture are feted even today and provided better living conditions for people residing in crowded cities.

 He used skeleton construction and pre-fabrication techniques in an innovative approach to building for ex., the Government complex in Chandigarh (formerly a Union Territory and present day Capital of the States of Punjab and Haryana, India). 

In addition, he influenced modern design and gained International recognition as a designer of furniture as well as places of worship viz., the pilgrim Church of Notre-Dame-du-Haut in Ronchamp.

His career spanned about five decades, during which he is credited with having designed and built several buildings throughout America, Europe,  and India.

The early formative years:

While studying at the La-Chaux-de-Fonds Art School, the influence of his Architecture teachers formed the basis of his initial approach to his buildings towards the beginning of his career.

In 1907, he worked with Auguste Perret in Paris, the French Pioneer of reinforced concrete.

In 1908, he studied Architecture in Vienna with Josef Hoffman.

In 1910-1911 he worked near Berlin for the well-known Architect Peter Brehens. The experience gained here held him in good stead in his later career.

Again, in 1911, he visited the Balkans, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey absorbing the styles of Architecture he saw there. His famous sketches of the “Parthenon” (which later found a mention in his book translated into English as “Towards an Architecture”, were made during this journey).

From 1918 to 1922, he concentrated on Purist theory and painting. Also, in 1922, he opened a studio in Paris with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret. 

Between 1922 and 1927, they designed several private houses which were the precursors to the designs and concepts for which he gained immense popularity and International recognition.

In “Boulogne-sur-Seine” and Paris they designed and built the “Villa Lipschitz”, Maison Cook, Maison Planeix and the Maison La Roche which now houses the Fondation Le Corbusier (a museum to his memory).

His styles of architecture:
a)  Five Points of architecture:

He developed the “five Points of Architecture” in his buildings viz:

1)   He lifted the bulk of the structure off the ground, supporting it by “pilotis” (or “reinforced concrete stilts”).

2)   A free facade (or “non-supporting walls that could be designed as the Architect planned).

3)   An open floor plan (or “keeping the floor space free to be configured into rooms without concern for supporting walls).

4)   An unencumbered view of the surrounding yard.

5)   A roof garden (to compensate for the green area taken up by the building and replacing it on the roof).

He styled his “Villa Savoye” keeping in mind these basic principles. In addition, placed a ramp rising from the ground level to the third floor roof terrace which allowed for an architectural promenade through the structure.

b)  The Modular:

He used the golden ratio in his Modular System for the scale of Architectural proportion. He saw this system as a continuation of the long tradition of “Vitruvius; Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man”, the work of Battista Alberti and others who used the proportions of the human body to improve the appearance and function of Architecture. Thus, in addition to the “golden ratio”, he based his system on “human measurements”, “Fibonacci numbers” and the “double unit”.

He sectioned his model human body’s height at the navel with the two sections in golden ratio, then subdivided those sections in the golden ratio at the knees and throat. With these golden ratio proportions, he worked on his Modular system. Thus, he placed systems of harmony and proportion at the centre of his design philosophy.

His “Villa Stein” in Garches was built on this concept. The villa’s rectangular ground plan, elevation and inner structure closely approximate golden rectangles.

c)   The Open Hand:

The Open Hand is seen in many places, designed by Le Corbusier. For him it stood as a symbol of “peace and reconciliation – Open to give and open to receive”. The best example of this concept is a 28 metre high monument in Chandigarh, India.

d)  Furniture:

He experimented with furniture design, sometimes collaborating with other architects. The first designs to come up were three chrome-plated tubular steel chairs designed for two of his projects – the “Maison la Roche in Paris and a pavilion for “Barbara and Henry Church”. Some more of his famous chairs are LC-1(“Basculant”), LC-2 (“Fauteuil grand confort, petit modele”), LC-3 (“Fauteuil grand confort, grand modele”) and LC-4 ( “Chaise Longue”), with LC being the abbreviation for “Long Chair”.

Urban Planning and design:
1)  Parisian slums:

He tackled the perennial squalor and problems of the Parisian slums, by implementing efficient programmes to house a large number of people through his modern architectural forms, which were designed to raise the quality of life for the lower classes. His “Immeubles Villas” in 1922 was a project which had large blocks of cell-like individual apartments built one on top of the other, with plans that included a living room, bedrooms and kitchen as well as a garden terrace.

2)  Planning a “Contemporary City”:

·  Again, in 1922, he put forward a scheme for a “Contemporary City” (“Ville Contemporaine”) which could accommodate three million residents. The city would have a group of sixty-storey, cruciform skyscrapers, steel-framed office buildings encased in huge curtain walls of glass. The sky-scrapers were set within large, rectangular park-like green spaces.  At the centre was a huge transportation hub, having buses, trains as well as an Airport and pedestrian pathways.

· He lobbied for his concept, which met with serious criticism, with his dictum “Architecture or Revolution” (meaning if forward planning was not done for planning cities of the future, there would be Revolution from the desperate citizenry looking for a comfortable existence/way of life).

·  In 1923, he persisted with his plan termed “Plan Voisin” where he proposed to bull-doze most of Central Paris and replace it with his version of a Contemporary City, which again met with criticism.

· By 1935, he had replaced his plan for a “Contemporary City” with plans for a “Radiant City” (La Ville Radieuse) with the basic difference between the two concepts being allocation of Housing being done on the basis of family size instead of a person’s economic position but again found few takers.

3)  Part implementation of Le Corbusier’s concept of a “Radiant City” in Marseilles (France) and Chandigarh (India):

·  His concepts met with several reverses in Paris (France), Stockholm (Switzerland), Algiers and several other countries, but found favour on a smaller scale in Marseilles (France) and the Union Territory of Chandigarh (India). In Marseilles, (1946-1952) he constructed a series of “unites” (the housing block unit of the Radiant City).

·  On the other hand, in Chandigarh, he designed the first planned city in India. He designed several Administrative buildings including a court-house, Parliament Building and a University. He also designed the general layout of the city dividing it into several sectors.

4)   The Museum and Art Gallery at Chandigarh (A classic example of Le Corbusier’s Architectural concepts):

During a trip to Manali, Simla and Dharamshala in 2011, we stayed for a couple of days at Chandigarh and among other places, saw the Government Museum and Art Gallery there which itself was established in 1947 and designed by Le Corbusier. The Museum and Art Gallery contain the following sections:

v  The National History Museum

v  The National Gallery of Portraits (we picked up a couple of Nicholas Roerich reprints – he was the husband of Devika Rani a legendary Cine-Star of yester-years. Later, we visited the “International Roerich Memorial Institute” at Naagar, some distance away from Manali).

v  The Chandigarh Architecture Museum ( which showcases Architectural Maps/designs of Le Corbusier and some of his competitors who lost out in the race for building/planning the beautiful city of Chandigarh among other historical stuff).

The Building of this museum itself is an extension of Le Corbusier’s philosophy where he conceived its building as ever-growing and ever-expanding. 

The museum is designed to provide architectural harmony in its interior by the use of colour as well as by means of structure with spaces flowing into one another, allowing long and deep uninterrupted views.

 This building is in itself a unique example in designing of Art Galleries as an architectural monument.

The basic plan of the Museum building is based on a grid system of columns and beams and is in the shape of a square. The main building is divided vertically into three levels. Communication is through the centre of the Square by means of a ramp. 

The Museum uses daylight for lighting inside. Light is admitted from the North East and South West sides through the sky-light openings louvered to prevent the direct sun rays from penetrating into the Galleries. 

In addition, a system of top lighting is provided along the length of the building from North East to South West. This provides the right intensity of light for the correct illumination of various objects of Art.

Death and Legacy:

He passed away when he had gone for a swim in the Mediterranean Sea at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France on 27/08/1965.His death rights were carried out at the Louvre Palace on 01/09/1965 under the direction of Andre Malraux, the French Minister of Culture, who was a writer and thinker in his own right. Le Corbusier was buried at Roquebrune alongside his wife’s grave.

Homages were paid to him from Leaders, Artists, Architects etc. from all over the World and he left behind a cultural and architectural legacy for all time through his innovative concepts and designs far beyond his times. 

He is credited with having designed and built several buildings in Argentina, Belgium, France, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, USA, USSR and India (Chandigarh – 1952-1959 viz: Palace of Justice, Museum and Gallery of Art, Secretariat Building, Governor’s Palace, Palace of Assembly, Villa Shodhan , Government College of Art and the Chandigarh College of Architecture. In Ahmedabad, he built the Museum in 1956).

He became a legend in his lifetime and for young architects of his time he was a kind of prophet who envisioned the shape of things to come. 

Yet, he had his fair share of detractors with views ranging from “his technical incompetence as an Architect and ill-judged designs” and “absurd solutions” to his Machiavellian ways in creating a myth around himself to garner important projects to having his Public Housing Projects criticised for “having the effect of isolating poor communities in monolithic high-rises and breaking the social ties integral to a community’s development”. 

But then, as time passes by and new thinking comes into play even the criticism gets outdated and subjected to further review by later generations. However, no one can detract from the fact that he was a Titan in his time and gave to society several structures and town planning concepts for future generations to ponder and improve upon.

His writings:

He is credited with several major written works some of which translated into English are:  “After Cubism”, “Towards an Architecture”, “Urbanism”, “Modern Painting”, “The Decorative arts of Today”, “First Colour Keyboard”, “Aircraft”, “The Radiant City”, “The three Human Establishments”, “The Modular”, “The Modular 2” “The Poem of the Right angle”, “The voyage to the East” etc.


Among several awards honouring his contributions to Society, through his modern architectural and urban planning innovations, two prominent ones are – the “Frank P.Brown Medal” and the “AIA Gold Medal” in 1961.


·         Some of the memorials and museums in his honour are:

a)   Place Le Corbusier, Paris.

b) Le Corbusier Boulevard, Laval, Quebec, Canada.

c)   Le Corbusier Street in “Le Village Parisien” of Brossard, Quebec, Canada.

d)  Le Corbusier Street in the “partido” of “Malvinas Argentinas”, Buenos Aires Province, Argentina.

e)   Place Le Corbusier in his hometown La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland.

f)    Le Corbusier Museum, Sector-8, Chandigarh, India.

g)   Le Corbusier Promenade, along the waterfront at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.

h)   The “Fondation Le Corbusier” in Paris honours his work and manages a museum the “Maison La Roche”. The museum showcases over 8000 of Le Corbusier’s original drawings, studies and plans in addition to his 450 paintings, enamels and other works.

i)     Several postage stamps were brought out by France  commemorating Le Corbusier and his works viz: "Chapelle de Notre-Dame Du Haut –Ronchamp" (1963 and 1965), Birth Centenary of Le Corbusier featuring “Modular”(1987). 

Monaco also honoured him on his birth Centenary in 1987 by bringing out a Stamp featuring “Chapelle de Ronchamp" with Le Corbusier in the foreground. 

The United Nations Organisation (UNO) where he designed the Palace of the League of Nations (geneva) and the planning of the permanent buildings of the UNO in New York City honoured him with a $2 stamp in 1991 showing the UN Headquarters, New York and engraved with one of his masterpieces “Czeslaw Slania”.

In 2002, Switzerland issued a set of 3 stamps showing classical Swiss design and one of which depicted Le Corbusier’s armchair “Le Fauteuil Grand Confort”. (this chair is still a popular design in Living Room furniture).

Brief history of development of Currency Notes in Switzerland:

During 1825, “Caisse de Depot” issued the first Bank Notes in Switzerland. During the nineteenth century, the Cantons had the powers to issue Banknotes. 

However, with the enactment of a Law on 8th March 1881, the exclusive rights to issue Banknotes in Switzerland lie with the Swiss National Bank.

The Swiss National Bank has since 1907 issued eight Series of Swiss franc notes, six of which have been released for general circulation (the Fourth and the Seventh Series was printed as Reserve Series and not issued for circulation). Notes issued under the First, Second, Third and Fifth series have since been demonetised on designated dates while the Sixth and Eighth Series are presently in circulation). 

A Ninth Series was proposed to be introduced in 2012, but its production was postponed due to technical reasons in the printing of the approved designs.

Swiss National Bank honours Le Corbusier with a ten Franc Note in 1995:

(The scans/ images for this ten franc Note have been taken from the collection of Jayant Biswas. The other day we were talking about our trip to Chandigarh last year and he happened to mention that he had this Note in his collection.)

In 1995, under the 8th Series of Swiss Banknotes, Le Corbusier was honoured by the release of a ten franc banknote details as under:

Basic colour: Yellow
Size             : 126 x 74 mm
Year of issue: 1995 (The year of issue is indicated in the Serial number of the Note which starts with "95")
Issuing Bank: Bank Nationale Suisse (Swiss National Bank).

The front of the 10 franc banknote (when viewed vertically) shows Charles Edourd Jaenneret, more famously known as Le Corbusier, who was one of the most outstanding masters of modern design.


The back of the 10 franc Banknote shows the Ground Plan of the Government district of the Indian city of Chandigarh. When viewed vertically, the Note shows: 
·         The Palace of Justice at Chandigarh: The foyer of the Palace of Justice is based on three design principles, one, a three-dimensional design, two, a predilection for ramps to connect the floors and the third is the dynamic relationship between the interior and the exterior.

·         The facade of the Secretariat at Chandigarh: The central element shows the facade of the Secretariat. Here, Le Corbusier’s superior and innovative architectural designs are visible through the use of “Modular” scale of measures, the revealing of spatial cells across the entire facade and the use of the “brise-soleil” are seen which make a three dimensional statement. (A “brise-soleil” means a “sun-breaker” in French. In architecture it refers to a variety of sun-shading structures ranging from the simple patterned concrete walls popularised by Le Corbusier to the elaborate wing-like structures designed by Santiago Calatrava for the “Milwaukee Art Museum” or the mechanical pattern-creating devices designed by Jean Nouvel for the “Institut du Monde Arabe”.)

·         The Modular: The “Modular” is based on the golden section and the proportions of the human body which is Le Corbusier’s own universal measuring system. It puts man as the measure of all things in the centre of architectural design.

·         The Secretarial building at Chandigarh: This is the largest building designed by Le Corbusier. It employs the key elements of new architecture viz., the use of unfinished concrete as the universal building material to achieve specific design effects, a freely structured facade, “brise-soleil” and the roof terrace.

There has been some criticism that the Swiss National Bank should have honoured Le Corbusier on a Note of a higher denomination because of his immense contributions World-wide. However, as I understand it, the person who is most popular figures on currency note/coin denominations of lesser value because the Note/coin circulates through a larger number of people, hence the person being honoured gets to be seen by more number of users than those figuring on higher denomination notes/coins. Remember that Abraham Lincoln figures on the “lowly” penny but gets the highest visibility!! 

Links to posts on the Swiss "Flora Alpina" Series:

1) Alpine Edelweiss: "Flora Alpina" Series: The first coin in the Series issued in January 2016

2) Alpine Gentian: "Flora Alpine" Series: The Second Coin in the Series issued in January 2017 

Other posts on Swiss Banknotes:

1) A 10 Franc Banknote honouring Charles Edourd Jaenneret popularly known as Le Corbusier who designed the Modern Indian city of Chandigarh