Abstract. Alessandra Capanna examines the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels Word Fair, the first of Le Corbusier's architectural works to connect the evolution of his mathematical thought on harmonic series and modular coordination with the idea of three-dimensional continuity.

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Conoids and Hyperbolic Paraboloids in Le Corbusier's Philips Pavilion

Alessandra Capanna
Laboratorio Multimediale di Architettura
Università di Roma "La Sapienza"
Via Antonio Gramsci, 53 - 00197 Rome, Italy

The Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair is the first of Le Corbusier's architectural works to connect the evolution of his mathematical thought on harmonic series and modular coordination with the idea of three-dimensional continuity. This propitious circumstance was the consequece of his collaboration with Iannis Xenakis, the famous contemporary musician working at that time as engineer in Rue de Sèvres. Xenakis' very deep interest in mathematical structures was improved on his becaming acquainted with the Modulor, while at the same time Le Corbusier encountered double ruled quadric surfaces.

At the beginning of 1956, Louis Kalff, the art director of Philips industries, proposed to Le Corbusier a new kind of participation in the World's Fair: their intension was not to expose their products, but rather they wanted a bold show of sound and light effects, to illustrate what Philips' technical progress was able to lead to. "I won't design a pavilion with façades, I'll give to you a Poème Électronic and the bottle containing it!", answered Le Corbusier. He designed a building that represented a real synthesis of arts: coloured lights, contemporary music, the projection of enormous warped images in a space without architectonical quality. It could be, at the minimum, even a scaffold.

The idea of a container without an aesthetic claim allowed Le Corbusier to think only about the show; in the meantime he entrusted Xenakis with a "mathematical translation" of his sketches, which represented the volume of a rounded bottle with a stomach-shaped plan.

In the Poème Électronic the correspondence between music and architecture is not only a matter of geometry. It was projected by Le Corbusier as if it were an orchestral work in which lights, loudspeakers, film projections on curved surfaces, spectators' shadows and their expression of wonder, objects hanging from the ceiling and the containing space itself were all virtual instruments. Architecture played, at the same time, the role of orchestral instrument and of sound box, container and contents.

ILLUSTRATION: Sketch by Iannis Xenakis for the second design for the Philips Pavilion for the World's Fair, Brussels, 1956.

Alessandra Capanna
is an Italian Architect living and working in Rome. She has taken her degree in Architecture at University of Rome 'La Sapienza', from which she also received her Ph.D, discussing a thesis entitled "Strutture Matematiche della Composizione", concerning the logical paradigms in music and in architecture. She is the author of Le Corbusier. Padiglione Philips, Bruxelles (Universale di Architettura 67, January 2000), on the correspondence between the geometry of hyperbolic paraboloids and technical and acoustic needs, and its final and aesthetics consequences. Among her published articles on mathematical principles both in music and in architecture are "Una struttura matematica della composizione", remarking the idea of self-similarity in composition; "Musica e Architettura. Tra ispirazione e metodo", about three architectures by Steven Holl, Peter Cook and Daniel Libeskind; and "Iannis Xenakis. Combinazioni compositive senza limiti", taken from a lecture given at the Dipartimento di Progettazione Architettonica e Urbana at the University of Rome.

 The correct citation for this article is:
Alessandra Capanna, "Conoids and Hyperbolic Paraboloids in Le Corbusier's Philips Pavilion", pp. 35-44 in Nexus III: Architecture and Mathematics, ed. Kim Williams, Pisa: Pacini Editore, 2000. http://www.nexusjournal.com/conferences/N2000-Capanna.html

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