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Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts - Harvard University - Le Corbusier architecture


Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts - Harvard University - Le CorbusierThe only building built by Le Corbusier in North America, the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard is stands out among the traditional buildings of the surrounding campus."Despite the controversy over the wisdom of placing a building of such modern design in a traditional location, Le Corbusier felt that a building devoted to the visual arts must be an experience of freedom and unbound creativity. A traditional building for the visual arts would have been a contradiction. The Carpenter Center represents Corbusier's attempt to create a "synthesis of the arts," the union of architecture with painting, sculpture, through his innovative design."The five levels of the building function as open and flexible working spaces for painting, drawing, and sculpture, and the ramp through the heart of the building encourages public circulation and provides views into the studios, making the creative process visible through the building design." ( Center for the Visual ArtsHarvard University24 Quincy Street(at Prescott Street)CambridgeMassachusetts02138USALe Corbusier 1963The Carpenter Center is Le Corbusier's only building in North America, and one of the last to be completed during his lifetime. Its wonderful collection of concrete forms bring together many of the design principles and devices from Le Corbusier's earlier works: theondulatoires(windows above left) fromLa Tourette; thebrise soleils(below) originally from the Marseilleunit d'habitationbut angled later in Chandigarh (but here with glass for the Massachusetts climate); and the original Five Points from the 1920s 'accentuated in a new way: as if theVilla Savoyehad been exploded inside out, with ramp and curved partitions extending into the environment.' The ramp and architectural promenade is particularly strong at the Carpenter Center.

'At the heart is a cubic volume from which curved studios pull away from one another on the diagonal. The whole is cut through by an S-shaped ramp which rises from one street and descends towards the other... The layers and levels swing out and back from the grid of concrete pilotis within, making the most of cantilevering to create interpenetrations of exterior and interior, as well as a sequence of spatial events linked by thepromenade architecturaleof the ramp.For the case study of a precedent building, we were given the Carpenter Center in Harvard, Mass. designed byLeCorbusier. This building is used as a mixed art studio containing studio space and exhibition space.The shape of the studio spaces is organic and breaks away from the rigid system of organization set up by the structural columns that run through the height of the building. It contains a 2 story central ramp that divides the building and connects it to the two sides of its site. It was designed as a means of circulation for the students, but is rarely used. Made from cast concrete, the score lines from the molds become a faade design. The building breaks the axis of the street and surrounding buildings by rotating itself, thus creating more public space at ground level.

Despite being one of the most prominent buildings on campus, the Carpenter Center is also one of the least well understood. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the need for Harvard to build another Carpenter Center, a building that would get people thinking about architectureits relevance and its context. Along those lines, I feel that a brief background of the building and self-guided tour of sorts is in order.First, the Carpenter Center was designed by the Frenchman Le Corbusier, one of the most famous architects of the 20th century. Completed in 1963, it was his only building in North America and one of the last of his career (too old to travel at age 75, Le Corbusier never got a chance to see the final product). Le Corbusier saw the Carpenter Center as a means of indoctrinating the United States with his version of Modernism. As a result, the Carpenter Center is a compilation of the concrete forms and design principles that Le Corbusier established over the course of his career.From Quincy Street there are two possible approaches to the building: up the ramp or down to the main gallery entrance. The ramp was intended to be the centerpiece of the building, taking people directly to its center. Le Corbusier envisioned the ramp as becoming a major campus pathway, with students constantly flowing between Quincy and Prescott Streets. Unfortunately, Le Corbusier did not understand that few students have any need to travel this route (not to mention that they are lazy and would never walk up an inclined ramp just to walk down the other side). The University has done a commendable job in adding the Sert Caf and revitalizing the Sert Gallery, giving people a reason to use the ramp more often. Regardless, the ramp provides an impressive experience; a sequence of spatial events defines what Le Corbusier called thepromenade architecturale. Try walking up the ramp on a bright day; the dark underside of the building at the top of the ramp provides a beautiful frame for the sunlit buildings that lay beyond.Walking from the Fogg along Quincy Street, look left at the narrow vertical windows along the curved bay of the second-floor sculpture studio. These windows are calledondulatoires, and have an almost religious feel to them; Le Corbusier used them in a monastery near Lyon, France. Standing at the top of the ramp, look up at thebrises soleils, angled baffles intended to obscure direct sun while admitting natural light into the building. Le Corbusier was extremely concerned with the path of the sun and studied its angles at different times of day to great length. As a result, you should revisit the building at different times of day to experience the different types of light that Le Corbusier essentially designed into the building.One marked facet of Le Corbusiers design is the use of concretepilotisto elevate the building above the ground. The pilotis allow the landscape to extend beneath the building; they also interact with the landscape directly. When a site plan was being drawn up, Le Corbusier asked that all the tree locations be marked with a high level of precision. In the final design, he aligned some of the pilotis with the existing trees. The best example of this can be found near the entrance to main gallery and film archive. Looking back toward the faculty club, one can see two pilotis in perfect alignment with an eerily column-like tree. The pilotis vary in diameter throughout the building, depending on the load they are forced to carry, and in many places are designed to give the building a feeling of freedom. This is most marked at the rear of the building, where 30-foot columns support the large, curved studio bay. The building at this point looks precarious, and indeed it is. According to William LeMessurier, a famous Cambridge structural engineer, if a large truck were to drive through one of the columns, that portion of the building would likely fall to the ground.The Carpenter Center was not built in its distinct modernist style to simply be different. Instead, Le Corbusier had a philosophical belief that a visual arts building should demonstrate innovation and creativity. A traditional neo-Georgian style visual arts building would almost have been a contradiction. There is a definite relationship between the brick of the surrounding buildings and the concrete and glass of the Carpenter Center. Unlike brick, the light-colored concrete reflects morning sun and captures afternoon shadows, from trees and other elements. The curved surfaces of the concrete compress or elongate these shadows, giving them visual life as the angle of the sun changes.The building can almost be seen as having an inside-out plan, with interpenetrations of exterior and interior through both the design and the use of glassboth clear, as in the numerous large windows, and distorted, as in the glass blocks of the stairwell. At the center of the building is a cubic volume from which the curved studios spaces are hung on a diagonal axis. There is extensive cantilevering and a reliance on reinforced concrete to create large areas of open space. Unlike traditional structures, which rely on load-bearing walls, the Carpenter Center relies on a grid of load-bearing columns. As a result, each of the five levels of the building is designed to be configurable through movable partitions that extend well short of the expansive ceiling.Undoubtedly, many students have walked past the Carpenter Center numerous times without giving it a seconds notice. They are probably unaware that people travel from around the world just to see the building because of its architectural significance and position in Le Corbusiers oeuvre. Every time I walk past the building, up its ramp, or down into its lower sections, I take a close look at it. Every time I see something new. HOME SELECTED WORKS AD SOFTWARE BOOKS & MAGAZINES AD CLASSICS INTERVIEWS BUILDING OF THE YEAR 2010 ADVERTISE CONTACT / SUBMIT WORKS ABOUTWelcome, Guest!SIGN IN REGISTER

AD Classics: Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts / Le Corbusier13MAR 2011ByAndrew Kroll Filed under:AD Architecture Classics,Educational,Cambridge,Concrete,Harvard,MassachusettsFavorite 32Share share by email

emily geoffThe first and only building in the United States designed by the 20th Century master architectLe Corbusiersits among some of the oldest buildings that date back to before the United States was organized. Completed in 1963, the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts is located onHarvardUniversitys campus. Designed in conjunction with Chilean architectGuillermo Jullian de la FuentesandJosep Lluis Sert dean ofHarvards GSD at the time, the Carpenter Center stands out among the traditional architectural styles ofHarvardYard as a combination of Le Corbusier


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