I had read about Corbusier and I have seen people admire him like crazy. But I never really understood their excitement or their passion. It is rightly said, to understand some things, you have to experience it yourself.
We visited France, Switzerland & Germany as part of our international educational tour and the three countries gave me a different perspective to the same person’s work which I took some time to understand. The one thing that remained constant was the simple outcome of the complicated thought processes of Corbusier. By the end of the trip I started grasping the essence and noticing the subtle difference.
When we visited the first building, the Le Corbusier Foundation, I was lost. I admired the play of natural light and having a ramp inside the house but I did not know what significance it actually had. I was lucky that I had much experienced people around me who guided me throughout the journey. I had never imagined that a window can be designed especially for a chair. Or the fact that ramps are used because they don’t need much attention to walk on and thus the person can concentrate on something else. But the trip was not only about Corbusier and his designs.
By visiting Pompidou, I realized that complex structures can be as engaging as simple ones. The colored pipes, the escalator which gave us a chance to interact with the outside world and let the world get a glimpse inside. But my favorite part was the signage and the posters. The Europe trip set some standards for me. From abstract to literal, I saw all kinds of posters. From vertical to horizontal, the signage varied. And most of them fulfilled their purpose of attracting and guiding the visitors. It really made me wonder, where we had got left behind.
Paris was a great deal about culture. They continued from where the previous generation had left. They respected the art and instilled it in their future designs. After some intense discussions while commuting in a bus or the metro, I realized that India is not that different. And would probably do as well if people just understood what their culture means. The advantage of having people from different backgrounds and fields showed us different points of view. Though the discussion was never ending, the points that came up made me think about common spaces, environment factors, role of government, western influence and many others.
Another of my favorite buildings was the Arab World Institute. Being interested in photography, I was delighted to see the whole facade of a building made up of lenses. I could not contain my excitement about the concept. It was such an innovative way of controlling the light entering the building. One could see layers of the building, because of the use of glass. For me, it was not only about the visual aspect of these building but also about the thought process behind it.
La Villa Savoy has a beautiful landscape being on the outskirts of the city. It is a customized house for the owners. With a customized driveway, Corbusier had made an impact on the way the world thinks about the helpers and yet keeps them at bay. He just moved them from the attic to the ground floor, gave them a different path to move around the house so that they don’t clash with the owners and gave them a staircase to move up and down instead of a ramp. It is difficult to understand this by reading or hearing about it. But standing in that space and looking from the place where the owners would stand and where the servants would stand, I realized that he gave the former a view of the world, a view from inside their own home, while the servants could see only ere walls. And that is when it dawned on me that EVEN ARCHITECTURE HAS GRAPHIC DESIGN AND THAT PLACING THE STAIRS IN THE HOUSE WAS JUST LAY-OUTING THE HOUSE. And this was the moment when my perception of architecture changed. When I understood how I can actually look at buildings and spaces and learn through them.
Lyon was an absolutely different experience. It had structures which I could not even imagine. It had places that I was lucky to spend the night in. Calatrava gave me one such experience. The structure was as interesting as the sentence. Having a structure of a bird, in such a literal way was unimaginable. The feeling of standing inside the skeleton of a bird was unique. Even the signage was designed to give a feeling of a flying bird. The atmosphere, the view of the sky, the massive winged structure, made Calatrava distinct and unique.
La Tourette was even better. It redid the picture of a monastery in my mind. The building was as inspiring as the quiet and peace that we found there. It was as grand as it was down to earth. It was a challenging place for the monks and made a beautiful impact on the visitors. The chapel had windows for natural light to come in. But these windows were of different shapes and colors, delivering a simple message that the blessings can come in any form. The windows were on eye level to test the discipline of the monks. The walls let sound be heard by allowing it to pass through, which forced us to maintain silence. La Tourette was all concrete but the splash of the primary colors brought the place to life. The quite was actually scary at one point. Walking around the place in darkness excited some and scared some. But to me it was as divine as it was meant to be.
I never knew that two churches could be so different in style and approach. Notre-dame Ronchamp was striking in its own way. The floor had wooden cubes in the sitting area; the openings for light made one feel as though it was being amplified. There were so many other small features which made the place distinct from the previous one. But then they were designed by the same person.
I can say that diversity was best placed together at the Vitra Design Museum. That is the one place which showed me the initial journey taken by some renowned names in the design and architecture field – the first building of Tadao Ando outside Japan & the first building of Zaha Hadid ever. There I came to know how a product designer made her first building, which turned out to be so successful. Vitra was not only about buildings. It also aroused my interest for objects. It made me realize the immense value of the chairs that we see every day in front of our eyes. Things that we might not understand the importance of, but have a lot of thought put behind them. Looking at the initial stages of prototypes of these chairs, I understood the importance of carrying forward a project and the importance of completing the process.
After covering so many aspects of design, we reached Stuttgart. To see the evolution of cars and the way buildings were made for their display. Though cars are not my area of interest, but seeing their step by step evolution, looking at the time taking process of reaching the destination, I could appreciate the vision and how small changes helped in the process. The Mercedes & Porsche Museums create the perfect environment inside the building to display these cars. And no matter how much time we had, it was always a little less in very place to feel and absorb the immense knowledge we gained out of them.
The hour we spent inside the Digital Museum in Paris was so varied from the rest of the trip. The planning of the space, the animations, and the atmosphere of the place- all fit in perfectly together. And to stand there and experience it myself is what I cherished most because no camera can capture the emotions it evoked inside us.
But there was more to this trip, the various happy moments. The ‘on the way’ lunch , the running to catch the train, the long distances, the aching legs , the heavy luggage , the urge to shop were all part of the experience and probably what made all of us feel so connected. Being in an assorted group of strangers and getting along were tough things but we managed well. At one time we were a group of fourteen travelling by bus to go to the railway station which would connect us to the airport and getting lost on the way. There was another time when we were dancing on the Switzerland -Germany border. It was interesting to see the route we took. Just like it’s known that the journey is also as important. I gained a lot from the architectural tour of Europe and I’m still trying to grasp many things and to learn from the things that I had seen. Every place has a story and when I start talking about it, it seems like an endless list. This document has not even covered half the places that we visited, which means that only half of my excitement for the trip can be conveyed.
The saying “not all classrooms have four walls” fits perfectly in describing this trip.