CORB DAY - Destination 4: City Museum
Trip Start Nov 14, 2007
92Trip End Apr 20, 2009
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It is with some disappointment that at the end of a long day of such extraordinary experiences we found ourselves at Le Corbusier's City Museum. It has to be said that this is an unremarkable building in a pretty sorry state. Where the Sarabhai House and Mill Association are buildings of pleasure the City Museum has all the pathos of sandpaper.
The building is a cube lifted on pillotise with a void at its centre bringing light to the undercroft. If you could imagine what a doughnut mounted on a grid of toothpicks would look like if it was thrust into the film-world of "Tron" then you're halfway there.
The building surface is a homogenic stacked red brick skin between two wafers of concrete and the occasional punctuation of glazing clad in iron grills. It is an unforgiving aspect which not-so-subtley suggests that you get inside the building quickly before something nasty 'happens' to you, such as: an attack by a stray pack of wolves; a discrete meteor shower; or a run-in with a man clutching an iron-bar (How do we know Wilson Tuckey isn't here selling wheat or, God forbid, lecturing in History?)
Either way it is best to do the right thing and get the bloody hell inside.
Corb ramps you up into the building from a central inner courtyard at the base of the void rather than through a forecourt as in the case of the Mill Association Building (also completed in 1954). Perhaps he didn't want to come across as a one trick pony to his new Indian benefactors and so presented a scheme clearly dichotomous to the Mill Association Building. In any case, for such an open site this introversion is a strange manouvre.
Before passing the impressive maritime-themed door it is hard not to notice four Corbusien water spouts hanging like giant probisci over the internal courtyard from the roof edges. The sight of these spouts, sneezing over the courtyard in the monsoon and filling the courtyards substantial pond would be interesting.
Inside, despite the best efforts of the curators, it is still a bleak proposition. The space is big and dumb- like most gallery spaces. An occasional light-scoop in the corners of the ceiling and a modest mezzanine is the only break in an otherwise modest space. Even the pillotise, somehow dwarfed in the space, offer no encouragement.
"Perhaps the roof top will be enlightening" I suggest hopefully.
To the rooftop, we take a grimy staircase cocooned in concrete walls covered in the ochre stains of spat pan- A monstrosity of Jackson Pollock style, depth and proportions. With that now all too familiar, unmistakable odour of piss the enclosure of the stair case provokes desperation and I begin to fantasise a sumptuous fifth fašade of ramps, steps, nooks and ponds which must surely terminate at those impressive drain spouts I had seen from the inner court.
Instead, the roof top is a barren concrete tarmac (What was I thinking?!) and it seemed never ending. In all directions an arid plain fanned out into Ahmedabad and distinguishing the edge of the roof from the city was like finding the line between the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts.
In need of an oasis, we gravitate to the centre to gaze down on the inner courtyard through the central void- A dusty pond stares back at us laughing. Then we notice the spouts 'properly' for the first time, that is, we see them in all their functional glory, those great gargoyles to the parched, a full metre in length, commencing at a drain a clear foot above the level of the roof surface and the bottom of the staircase door. In other words: Useless.
Corb made a demon.