Light shines on French drawings of Adelaide city streets

A tale of sketches drawn in a Colombian hotel, a renowned Swiss-French architect called Le Corbusier and the City of Adelaide’s suspected influence in the design of an Indian city is being unearthed in Paris this week.

May 16, 2023, updated May 16, 2023
The statue of Colonel William Light at Montefiore Hill. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

The statue of Colonel William Light at Montefiore Hill. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

There on the 16th arrondissement, Fondation Le Corbusier director Brigitte Bouvier showed South Australia’s Planning Minister Nick Champion a series of sketches of the City of Adelaide drawn by the pioneer of modernist architecture Le Corbusier during a chance encounter in 1950.

It was in the rooms of Columbia’s Bogota Hotel Continental that Waite Institute agronomist Dr Hugh Trumble met Le Corbusier, leading to a detailed discussion and sketches of Colonel Light’s design for Adelaide being created.

Sketches that are believed to have later influenced Le Corbusier’s own design of the city of Chandigarh in India that are now kept as part of a collection held by the foundation.

South Australian author and 2019 Emerging Historian of the Year Stuart Symons wrote a book entitled Modernist Adelaide: 100 Buildings 1940s–1970s where details of the meeting in Colombia emerged.

“In September 1950, the Swiss-French pioneer of modernist architecture, Le Corbusier, sat down at the Hotel Continental in Bogotá, Colombia, and drew a plan of Adelaide,” his book that reveals the state’s contribution to the modernist architectural movement says.

“Adelaide’s city grid layout, its five squares, the North Terrace government and cultural institutions and the ring of parklands are all recognisable in this drawing…”

Planning Minister Nick Champion (right) views the original sketches made by famed modernist architect Le Corbusier in Paris. Photo: supplied

Symons suggests that Le Corbusier’s interest in Adelaide’s planning “may have influenced his celebrated design of the Punjab capital of Chandigarh (India), made only a few months later in February 1951…” (2019, p. 4).

Chandigarh is one of the earliest planned cities in post-independence India and is known for its city plan that was designed by Le Corbusier, and its architecture, including one of Le Corbusier’s UNESCO World Heritage listed buildings, the Chandigarh Capitol Complex.

Le Corbusier was a consultant to the administration of Punjab in planning the new capital city with Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew.

Champion plans to bring home copies of the Adelaide sketches so South Australians can then view the drawings at the Office for Design and Architecture in Leigh Street. The minister also delivered a signed copy of Symons’s book to Bouvier to be added to the French museum’s collection.

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“It’s fantastic to see the South Australian Government celebrate Adelaide’s Corbusian connection, discovered through meticulous research by architectural historian Antony Moulis,” Symons said.

“Le Corbusier wasn’t alone in being inspired by Adelaide’s potential. A new breed of local architects emerged at this time, galvanised by the possibilities of modern design to shape a better society.

“Their legacy of mid-century architecture is an enormous asset to our city that continues to generate significant national and international attention.”

Fondation Le Corbusier is a private foundation that honours the work of Le Corbusier, operating the Maison La Roche museum in the 16th arrondissement at square du Dr Blanche.

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