MUSÉE À CROISSANCE ILLIMITÉE
LE CORBUSIER'S MUSEUMS
for 'UNLIMITED GROWTH'
TAKEO KAMIYA
Tokyo

AHMADABAD, TOKYO, CHANDIGARH


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"The Architectural Work of Le Corbusierh (17 works in 7 countries), in the UNESCO's World Heritage Sites List, includes the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, which was designed based on the concept of the 'Museum for Unlimited Growth' along with the Government Museum of Chandigarh and the Sanskar Kendra Museum in Ahmadabad, which was the first built among the three. I will concisely explain here this concept Le Corbusier created.


The Government Museum of Chandigarh

Although the start of the 'museum for unlimited growth' is often said to have been the megalomaniac scheme of the pyramidal eMuseum for the World Cognitionf in the project of the eMundaneumf (the central facility of a kind of United Nations) by Le Corbusier in 1928, this is a sharply different concept, which gives an impression of a squared eTower of Babelf, painted by Pieter Brueghel, without being based on the theme of egrowthf.

The concept of going up first to the top by elevator or a flight of stairs, and then going down the spiral exhibition rooms is rather close to the case of the later Guggenheim Museum in New York, and its pyramidal figure is monumental, far from eno facadef.
It is possible that Le Corbusier got the idea of its form from ancient Ziggurats (stepped pyramids) in Mesopotamia. It is interesting to compare the plan of the Museum of World Cognition of the Mundaneum to the restoration plan of the Observatory at Khorsabad, Iran, as a Ziggurat, which is inserted in James Fergussonfs gA History of Architctureh.


Left: Roof plan of the Musée Mondial in the Mundaneum Project
(From "Le Corbusier, Oeuvre Complète 1910 -1929", Zurich)
Right: Plan of the Observatory at Khorsabad
(From "A History of Architecture" vol.1, James Fergusson, 1893, London)
Both are Pyramids (Ziggurats) of a spiral form.

The archetype of the eMuseum for Unlimited Growthf was the Contemporary Art Museum in Paris, which was a proposition in the form of an epistle to Christian Zervos, the editor of gCahiers dfArth in 1931, published in Le Corbusierfs chronological gOeuvre Complèteh vol.2 (1929-1934), Zurich.
It is not a proposition of an arbitrary ebuildingf termed museum, but that of a method in order to actualize a museum, imitating an organic growth in the natural world.

Even if there is not enough of a budget in the beginning, one can start with a minimum portion of the building in a field in the suburbs of Paris, successively enlarging it in a spiral order, gradually toward a full-scale museum. One does not care about its temporal figure in the process, having no facade or an invisible facade. How drastic a proposition it is!
The essence of the scheme is that visitors go through an underground passage from the main gate to the center of the museum, and then tour the exhibition rooms, which have been erected with minimal costs and are spirally extendable, and a donor of paintings also sponsor the construction of the room (!), being able to leave his or her name.

Musée d'Art Contemporain
Plan of the amply grown Museum and its Birdfs-eye view
(From "Le Corbusier, Oeuvre Complète 1929-1934", Zurich)

The term eMusée à Croissance Illimitéef (Museum for Unlimited Growth) first came on the stage for eUn Centre d'Esthétique Contemporaine à Parisf (Contemporary Art Center in Paris), as eProject Ce for the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937, which was published in his hOeuvre Complèteh vol.3 (1934-38). In that project he abandoned the approach through an underground passage and instead let visitors normally go to the central hall from the entrance. All exhibition rooms were lifted upstairs, letting visitors go up from the central hall to the 2nd floor through a U-turn ramp, and spirally tour the rooms that were extendable yet still spiraling.

"Un Centre d'Esthétique Contemporaine" à Paris
for eProject Ce in the International Exhibition in Paris, 1937
(From "Le Corbusier, Oeuvre Complète 1934-38", Zurich)

It was in 1939 that Le Corbusier drew up a still clearer project entitled the eMuseum for Unlimited Growthf, which was published in his gOeuvre Complèteh vol.4 (1938-46) with an explanation about its principle and photographs of its model. It was to be constructed in Philippeville in Algeria but was not materialized.
In current Skikda, having been called Philppeville (the town of Louis Philippe) in colonial times, Le Corbusier designed the town hall (1932) and the central railway station (1937) in collaboration with Charles de Montalant, though not in a modern style but in a traditional style. He might have proposed the museum to the government in relation with those edifices.

"Musée a Croissance Illimitée" pour la ville de Philippeville
schematic drawings of spiral growth like a conch
(From "Le Corbusier, Oeuvre Complète 1938-46", Zurich)

@ The Museum of Philippeville was lifted on ePilotif (pillars), and visitors go up through a ramp from the central hall to the upstairs spirally arranged exhibition rooms, almost the same composition and form with the later three emuseums for unlimited growthf. As he left its well-made model, he must have elaborated its design.
However, even when it is really extended, it might be by only one or two circles of the spiral at most, therefore the term eunlimitedf is Le Corbusierfs journalistic exaggerated catchphrase. I think it might be better to call it simply egrowing museumf or eextendable museumf.

Museum scheme for Philippeville, Algeria, 1939

While this Museum for Philippeville was not built, eventually the next three extendable museums have been actualized: in Ahmadabad, Tokyo, and Chandigarh.

Sanskar Kendra Museum in Ahmadabad, 1957

The reason for the facades of these museums not being formative and lacking plasticity as Le Corbusierfs works is his intent to make eno facadef since those front walls would be concealed by new exhibition rooms and become simple partitions when the museums would be spirally extended.

National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, 1959


Government Museum of Chandigarh, 1968

As the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo had been cramped, a new wing was erected in 1979 to augment exhibition space, but it was not the spiral extension but an independent annex in the rear, northern side. The museum has not yet grown spirally even up to now, which indicates the complete denial of the idea of eMuseum for Unlimited Growthf by Le Corbusier as the architect, that is, the recognition of this museum as a cardinal failure.

It is quite strange to inscribe this museum in such a state to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a piece of eLe Corbusierfs Architectural Workf. Were the purpose of the organization and people, who had carried on the campaign for its registration, not to honor the spirit and art of Le Corbusier but merely inscribe it to the celebrated UNESCO World Heritage List to augment revenue from tourism?

Heaps of earth with trees planted upon them seem excessive in the front garden. It should be recovered to its original square-like state, as inscribed to UNESCO as an architectural work of Le Corbusier. It is also better to move the museum shop to the annex or underground hall.

( 01/08/2017 )


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© Takeo Kamiya
E-mail to: kamiya@t.email.ne.jp