When I first read John Adams by David McCullough a few years ago I could not decide if I liked Mr. Adams for Mr. Adams or if I liked him for Mr. McCullough’s writing. After viewing Iwan Baan’s newest book, Living with Modernity, I have the same ambiguous feeling about Brasilia and Chandigarh. Baan’s photography of these controversial cities is both subtle and disarming. “[The photographs in this book] do not show how Le Corbusier and Niemeyer thought their cities would look; they show what the cities look like now, fifty to sixty years later.” Without arguing any particular point, Baan documents “what happens when the chilly, impersonal drawing from the past is populated by real, live human beings.” Some discomforting images are reminiscent of what happens when a child places his Tonka Trunk in the middle of an anthill; life follows in and out of structures that relate very little to the realities of daily life. Spaces are simply co-opted for purposes that stand in stark contrast to the intended purpose of the structures. At the same time Baan captures fascinating and brilliant moments of beauty that Niemeyer and Le Corbusier never could have planned for–or the did. As difficult as it is to put stunning photography into words, the short accompanying essay by Cees Nooteboom certainly comes close and is well worth a read. The book closes with a succinct but informative piece by Martino Stierli. Stierli gives the background, historical context, and controversy surrounding the two cities. In the end, I am still ambivalent on whether or not I admire such a ambitious/hubris top-down approach to design, but after seeing the cities in Baan’s book I am certainly fascinated by them—perhaps enough so that I will travel there some day in the future.
Publisher: Lars Muller Publisher