Art: Corbu

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Worthy of Homer. It was 200 ft. long and 18 stories high—a huge filing cabinet in which 337 apartments could be placed like drawers. Part of the way up was an "internal street" of shops, and on the roof was a garden made up, not of plants and trees, but of sculptured shapes surrounded by a parapet that shut out all but the sky and the mountaintops. Corbu called the building a "Radiant City," its garden "a landscape worthy of Homer."

It had its faults. The corridors were bare and forbidding, and the apartments rather wild in scale. A room might be only 12 ft. wide but soar 16 ft. high. Nevertheless, major housing projects all over the world, including Corbu's own at Nantes-Réze and in Berlin, have borrowed from Marseille.

Square Spiral. In the Indian cotton center of Ahmedabad he built two graceful villas, an office building for the Mill-owners Association, and finally the "endless museum" he had thought of 30 years before. Its plan, which was to be repeated in Tokyo, was a sort of square spiral or maze that could be expanded at will. Today he is still working on his biggest commission of all: Chandigarh, the capital of the Punjab. The Indian government hired Corbu for 4,000 rupees ($840; a month to build a whole new city to replace the old Lahore, which had been turned over to Pakistan.

Corbu was all set to go after only one week on the site. He started building with nothing more than half a dozen concrete mixers and one crane. Says British Architect Maxwell Fry, who helped with the job: "We had 20,000 women and children, oxen and donkeys by the thousand. We got the big concrete structures up with a mess of cockeyed scaffolding. We really built it like the Pyramids."

A Ragbag. There are critics who argue that the buildings are so far apart that they lose all relationship to each other. Corbu replies that he designed it with the measure of man in mind. One unit of measurement was the distance that a man can walk in an hour. For the interiors, he used his mystifying modular—a personal improvisation on the ancient Greek Golden Section based on the harmonies of the human body. This is one Corbuism that even his admirers find difficult. Says Editor Banham of the British Architectural Review. "It is a ragbag of ideas of the 18903, represented with such seductive force that for a decade they have seemed as modern as tomorrow's Sputnik."

In time, the buildings will be brought into closer relationship, when the pools, the clumps of trees, the sculptured hills between them are finished. But the buildings will never be Indian, for they were not intended to be. "No idea belonging to folklore or to the history of art," said Corbu, "can 'be taken into consideration in such an enterprise." The city is universal, ancient, and wholly modern; its major buildings are orchestrations of pillars and brises soleil, of soaring archways and intertwining ramps, of random openings and tense façades that dance like notes on a musical score. They are princely and crude at the same time—both beautiful and brutal.

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