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.
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.