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Serving as an homage to Le Corbusier's belief in the skillful play of volumes, a new book depicts the Indian city of Chandigarh.

How does one design a city out of a void and invent spaces to function for the present and future dwellers? Cities are heaps of history through which rays of light and poetry emerge. However, people are what define the spaces of each building. Their movement and actions transform the spaces into a stage. The dilemma is one of sensation versus reasoning. Le Corbusier developed a plan, but the use can only be dictated and witnessed truthfully over time.

A blank sheet of paper is not an ideal starting point for a city. Takamasa Yoshizaka recalled the construction process at Chandigarh: holes were dug and the piles became a pay scale indicator for each unit of work. Le Corbusier said a pile of earth is nothing without intent, and intent is what brings a spirit to stir man’s emotion. People with 6,000 years of history working the Punjab turned piles of earth into poetry.

Geometric manipulation is an intellectual sculpture, according to Le Corbusier, and architecture is the skillful, correct, and magnificent play of volumes assembled in light. But architecture needs eyes and hearts and flesh and routine.The human body feels the divine proportion of these spaces, as they do not exist only for themselves. When the severe roofline of the Palace of Assembly delineates the blue sky or when the washing of saris is watched through the organic voids in supporting columns, we are witnesses to grace and to the sublime.

Walking and movement through space defines architecture. Movement reveals the composition of the volumes and spaces. It is like drawing, and each unique path is an act of creation. The elements of time and place turn this act into poetry. A building’s elements function with a preordained use, but Le Corbusier keeps the potential of invention open. Corners of Chandigarh may fill with bundles of books and discarded chairs or a hustle of notary men working in plazas, due to the architecture’s open possibilities. But play and laughter may also occur, and discourse and inspiration and art. For example, a ramp moves the user to a subsequent floor, but really it is a process of elevating perspective, a change in looking. It is a transformation of the viewer and the visual. Sensation ascension. A harmony with universal law.

We exist by putting one foot in front of the other, drawing our own line through a kind of walking history. If simplicity is a sign of mastery, it is because simplicity allows for the infinite. The only critic is the past, and the only judge is posterity.

This photo essay is an excerpt from the book The City Beautiful by Martien Mulder.

Dutch-born Martien Mulder combines portraiture, fashion, landscape and still life photography. She lives and works in New York.

  • Photography:
    Martien Mulder
  • Words:
    Michael Jefferson

The City Beautiful by Martien Mulder is available now at selected bookstores across the globe, distributed by Dashwood Books.

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