LE CORBUSIER’S ADELAIDE
Did a sketch plan of Adelaide play a role in Le Corbusier’s design of Chandigarh? Antony Moulis speculates on the influence of this previously unknown drawing.
Six months before Le Corbusier committed the master plan of Chandigarh to paper, he noted down another seminal city plan, a redrawing of the plan of Adelaide, South Australia. The circumstances surrounding the making of Le Corbusier’s drawing of Adelaide are unusual and, until now, entirely obscure. The drawing, dated 17 September 1950, was made in Bogotá, Colombia, most likely at the Hotel Continental, where the architect stayed while working on his commission for an urban plan for the city. The drawing, clearly marked “Adelaide, Australia”, is made up of several sections. In the central section there is a simple sketch plan of the southern portion of the city, with its grid shown indicatively, including its squares. There is a further set of rectangles drawn outside on the top edge of the grid, showing generically the civic buildings along North Terrace. Forming a rough circle around the grid of South Adelaide is a series of dash marks, indicative of the belt of parklands that encircle the city. Some crisscrossed lines on the right, outside the circle, indicate the position of the Adelaide Hills to the east. Yet key features of the city’s plan are missing, including the angled grid layout of North Adelaide and the Torrens River. The left section of the drawing is a continuation of the central one, identifying features to the west including an industrial zone, waterways and a loose mark representing the Gulf of St Vincent.
Le Corbusier came to make this diagrammatic plan of Adelaide with the assistance of Dr Hugh C. Trumble, a professor of agronomy from the University of Adelaide on secondment to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, who was travelling through South America. It is apparent from the range of information supplied in the drawing that Trumble was more than simply a proud resident of Adelaide – he was also aware of its importance as a planned city.
By any account, Le Corbusier’s Adelaide plan drawing is fortuitously made, and yet its making can be seen as oddly critical to developments in the architect’s career, particularly the development of Le Corbusier’s thinking and work on urban design.
On his return to Paris from this South American trip, Le Corbusier finds a letter from the Indian Embassy inviting him to participate in the design of the city of Chandigarh, which will become the most significant of his career. Le Corbusier’s never-before-seen Adelaide plan drawing makes an intriguing companion to his sketch plans for Chandigarh. Not only are the two plans made according to CIAM methods of annotation, there are also obvious similarities between each in terms of their layout. In both instances the city is drawn as a self-contained rectilinear grid with the major civic buildings located outside it, coincidentally on the northern edge. Both plans feature a city encircled by parks and green space, never to be built upon, and each grid is drawn in relation to a landscape “backdrop” – the hills or mountains against which it is viewed. More broadly, the Adelaide plan drawing is interesting for appearing to mirror Le Corbusier’s ideology on urbanism. Adelaide’s discrete zoning of dwelling, work, transportation and recreation confirms broadly held ideological beliefs about modern urbanism developed by the architect through the CIAM organization, yet here those ideals of planning are represented through the example of a realized contemporary city. Le Corbusier’s overtly rhetorical approach to design would not have admitted the plan of Adelaide – a nineteenth-century British colonial city founded in southern Australia – as a source or influence for the master plan of Chandigarh, yet this drawing provides compelling evidence of a covert connection between the two.
Dr Antony Moulis is Head of Architecture in the School of Geography, Planning and Architecture at the University of Queensland. His longer paper on this drawing, “Transcribing the Contemporary City: Le Corbusier, Adelaide, and Chandigarh”, appears in Stephen Loo and Katharine Bartsch (eds), Panorama to Paradise: Scopic Regimes in Architectural and Urban History and Theory: XXIVth Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, [Available CD-Rom] Adelaide: 2007.
Published online: 1 Jan 2008
Words: Antony Moulis
Architecture Australia, January 2008