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January 11, 2014
The visionary French architects gallivanting the Third World of the 1950’s in their quest to seed Western Modernism, have left legacies whose relevance comes of age in one of our most contemporary concerns: how to be urban in a good way.
“These were almost anthropological studies,” says Tom Avermaete of Casablanca, “Écochard was in fact a trained archeologist – his interest in uncovering the authentic state of things, as opposed to an idealized or derogatory notion of them was so avant-garde that he was later appointed director of urban planning for the entire country. Planning that arises from indigenous conditions is dynamic by nature, it will inevitably be appropriate over time”.
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Tim Georgeson
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Michel Écochard on his motorcycle, Casablanca, 1949.
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Tim Georgeson
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The maquettes of Casablanca illustrate how the cell grid reproduced the courthouse model, which echoed tradition but allowed for evolution – both horizontal, and vertical. They were also innovative in their creation of ‘centralities’, a closely-knit collection of shops, mosques, schools and homes that integrated life by good design.
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Tim Georgeson
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“In Chandigarh, Le Corbusier and Jeanneret re-cast the Mughal Garden as a living space around which they designed an urban structure along the river, a central backbone running through what Le Corbusier called La Vallée de Loisir, The Valley of Leisure. They were interested in circulation as a way to reflect the care of the body and spirit. It was totally visionary,” says Maristella Casciato.
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Tim Georgeson
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“The maquettes of Chandigarh demonstrate the indoor/outdoor lifestyle of Indians, and incorporated roof design to allow for expansion. In the hot months, Indians like to sleep outdoors – so these roofs became an extended room,” explains Casciato.
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Tim Georgeson
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(UN room) The experiment of responding to local environments rather than colonizing them has created a unique legacy, where city planners, designers and architects can turn to non-Western urban models, as inspirations in the West. Cities where population growth and a kaleidoscope of survival challenges really test design, serve as examples to now re-apply to Western infrastructure.
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Tim Georgeson
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Chandigarh survey close-up: measuring the emotional and spiritual, as well as rational, reactions of the local population.
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Tim Georgeson
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Two photographers, Yto Barrada and Takashi Homma, were engaged to visit today’s Casablanca and Chandigarh for contemporary visuals that interweave the exhibition and accompanying publication. Their photographs of everyday life demonstrate how the Modernist city in each case has been appropriated completely, and evolved, along with its inhabitants, into a bustling metropolis allowing change, adaptation and transformation within urbanities that * Photos 8 and 9: Two photographers, Yto Barrada and Takashi Homma, were engaged to visit today’s Casablanca and Chandigarh for contemporary visuals that interweave the exhibition and accompanying publication. Their photographs of everyday life demonstrate how the Modernist city in each case has been appropriated completely, and evolved, along with its inhabitants, into a bustling metropolis allowing change, adaptation and transformation within urbanities that locals call ‘flexible and beautiful to live in’.
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Image Courtesy of CCA
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1 casablanca surveys
“These were almost anthropological studies,” says Tom Avermaete of Casablanca, “Écochard was in fact a trained archeologist – his interest in uncovering the authentic state of things, as opposed to an idealized or derogatory notion of them was so avant-garde that he was later appointed director of urban planning for the entire country. Planning that arises from indigenous conditions is dynamic by nature, it will inevitably be appropriate over time”.

Casablanca Chandigarh, on at the CCA in Montreal, exhibits a titillating take on two of the most fascinating Modernist studies from this point of view. Introduced by a round table room devoted to United Nations social, religious, migrational, medical and political inquiries into areas of India and Africa in the 1960’s, the idea of exporting Western knowledge is reformulated as a humanist model in this exhibition, whose message of practicing visionary, integrative architecture continues spiritedly throughout.

Among surveys, maquettes and hand-plotted strategy maps, Michel Écochard’s relationship to Casablanca is presented as a kind of love affair. Images include black and white reproductions of his romantic escapades on motorbike and in self-piloted propeller planes across the landscape to survey the myriad local realities. These surveys are so inclusive in their desire to see local truths and incorporate them in the urban design – that, we are told, they shocked the Western architects in their time.

Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret in the Indian capital of Chandigarh perform similar avant-garde investigations. In the adjoining rooms, charts that go so far as to measure the emotional and spiritual responses of locals to their living conditions, and to Western interventions, are shown. These are mounted beside Le Corbusier’s hand drawings elucidating his Urban Masterplan: the city as the capital complex, layed out like a human body, with the political head leading into the pulsating core – where his signature béton brut is de rigueur.

Co-curated by Tom Avermaete of The Netherlands and the Maristella Casciato of Italy, both scholars in Third World Modernism, this exposé is enlightening in pointing to Modernism’s forethought, and its use as a way of anticipating the future in order to build cities that grow into their futurism organically.

Casablanca Chandigarh is on at CCA, the Canadian Center for Architecture, Montreal, through April 2014.

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