Monday, May 16, 2011


Le Corbusier came to India on invitation by Jawaharlal Nehru to design Chandigarh, the new capital of Punjab. Along with this he was invited to Ahmedabad and was commissioned to build 5 buildings. One of this was the new headquarters for the Ahmedabad Mill Owner’s Association. The textile industry in Ahmedabad was the one that brought Ahmedabad economic prosperity and political prominence. The new building was to be an ode to this. The building is located on the Ashram Road, overlooking the river Sabarmati.
Learn about Corbusier's ideas in 'Towards a new architecture'

One enters the building through the long ramp in front, which creates a linear axis as a connection into the building facade. The ramp leads to the triple height entrance area on the first floor where you notice no tangible demarcated rooms as such. The interiors are a play of volumes in light and shadow. Corbusier has manipulated the spaces through height differences, changes in orientation to lead one through the interiors, exploring different areas and also segregating the public areas from the private areas.
The east and the west facades of the building are composed entirely of deep trellis screens which act as sun breakers – brise-soleil, keeping the direct sun out. Corbusier came up with these deep screens to keep out the harsh Indian sun, while at the same time maintaining visual transparency and also permitting good air circulation.

As you follow a curved wall, you come before a massive wooden pivoted door on a double height wall in a 2m wide corridor. As you move through this narrow double height corridor, pass through the pivoted door and turn, you are suddenly inside a massive auditorium – a space which is empty, yet so powerful, one that impacts you so much. It is almost like you are inside a womb. It is one of the best examples for the definition of an architectural space. The voluminous cavern like space reminds one of the Ronchamp Cathedral by Corbusier. You feel that you are in the presence of Corbusier’s genius. It is almost spiritual. The auditorium is a huge volume with a curved ceiling that rises up steeply to the outer wall with the massive glass window. The curved walls are finished in teak giving a luxurious feel to the space. It is dark inside this huge space. Corbusier brilliantly lets light diffuse and simmer through the face of this curved ceiling to create a surreal atmosphere. Your mind is focussed and your attention is drawn to the centre of the informal stage. This is one of the spaces where you realise the power of architecture – the power of space, the significance of volumes and light and shadow.

First Floor plan

On the first floor as you move forward, you come to the massive sun breaker trellis on the other side, facing the Sabarmati river. There is a small garden on the lower level next to the river. Corbusier uses free standing walls and staircases to loosely define spaces. There are slender circular columns supporting the slabs above. The marks of the wood shuttering planks are still visible on the surfaces.
There is an amazing free standing staircase leading up to the mezzanine, where the landing is totally unsupported on any walls or columns and is hanging in the air. This is a work of structural ingenuity and shows us that it is possible to push the frontiers of design if there is a will. The entire building is of exposed concrete, with a few elements in wood and steel painted in bright colours to add contrast.
The Mill Owners building has reinforced my belief that a building is much more than its facade – that the articulation of space is one of the primary challenges for an architect.

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