Planning and construction
In his 1928 proposal for the Soviet Central Union building, Le Corbusier invoked his much-vaunted principle of pilotis. As a postscript to his 1930 Precisions on the Present State of Architecture and City Planning:
Since we no longer have to lay foundations in the ground for the carrying walls; since on the contrary all we need is posts covering only .5% of the surface built upon and furthermore, since it is our duty to make the house more healthful by raising its bottom-most floor above the ground, we will take advantage of this situation by adopting the principle of “pilotis” or stilts.
What is the point of using pilotis? To make houses more healthful and at the same time allow the use of insulating materials which are often fragile or liable to decay and so should be placed far from the ground and possible shocks.
But most of all: behold, they are available to work a thorough transformation in the system of traffic on the ground. This is as true of the skyscraper as of the office building, of the minimum houses as of the streets. One will no longer be “in front of” a house or “in back of” it, but “underneath” it.
We have to reckon with cars, which we will strive to channel into a sort of river with regular banks; we need to park these cars without, at the same time, blocking up the river bed. When we leave our cars we must not paralyze traffic all along the river and when we come out of our buildings, we must not obstruct the areas reserved for movement.
The President of the Work Soviet in Moscow, during the discussions prior to the adoption of our plans for the Tsentrosoiuz, concluded in these terms: “We will build the Tsentrosoiuz on pilotis because one day we would like to urbanize greater Moscow and solve the traffic problems.”
After all, let’s empty the bag of Sachlichkeit completely. Its equivocal basis rests on the postulate that is as affirmative as it is doubtful: “that which is useful is beautiful” — that same old refrain. (You will not contradict me if I reveal to any uninformed readers that such is one of the supreme rules of the neue Sachlichkeit.)
Last year, upon completion of the drawings of the Mundaneum project (which I will discuss further on), there was a minor revolt in our studio. The younger members of the group criticized the pyramid (which is one of the elements of the project). On other drawing boards, the drawings of the Tsentrosoiuz for Moscow were just being finished and had received everyone’s approval. They were reassuring because that scheme was clearly a rational problem of an office building. Nevertheless, the Mundaneum and the Tsentrosoiuz both emerged from our heads during the same month of June.
Tsentrosoiuz over the years
Here’s Jean-Louis Cohen’s article on Corbusier’s Tsentrosoiuz building: