Le Corbusier: Philips Pavilion, Brussels, 1958
Located in a small site next to the Dutch section and away from the center of the fair, the pavilion hosted a futuristic multimedia display featuring images, colored lighting and music and sounds called the "Poème Electronique." Some of the greatest artistic minds of the twentieth century were involved in its creation, including the architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) and the composer Edgard Varèse (1883-1965). But most importantly, the Philips Pavilion represented an important artistic phenomenon through its synthesis of architecture, visual media and music.
The purpose of the pavilion was to exhibit the technology of the Philips corporation, a Dutch electronics company specializing in everything from sound production to fluorescent lighting to X-ray technology. Philips' aim was obviously promotional, integrating corporate advertisement into an exhibit much like the pavilions by General Motors and Ford at the Chicago fair of 1933 and the New York fair of 1939. But rather than having a traditional pavilion that would display their products for the visitors to browse through, Philips chose to create an integrated work of modern art that would utilize its wide array of technologies. Therefore, the Philips pavilion had no exhibits per se; rather it was a kind of exhibit in itself; an all-encompassing showcase of what the Philips corporation could offer.
For the execution of this unique undertaking, Philips selected the French architect Le Corbusier, one of the greatest modern designers of the twentieth century. Philips executives approached him in January 1956 to design, in the words of artistic director Louis Kalff, a "spatial-color-light-music production" for the Philips corporation (Treib 2). Le Corbusier was by this time near the end of his career, but also at the height of his powers, as demonstrated by his recently completed masterpieces including the Unit‚ d'Habitation in Marseilles (1946-52) and the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France (1950-54). Philips executives no doubt expected a first-class design from Le Corbusier, but they also expected him to direct the entire concept of the Poème Electronique and all of its images and lighting, in addition to the architecture. In effect, Philips gave Le Corbusier carte blanche to create their pavilion, insisting only that he utilize the various technological media the company was producing.
Le Corbusier's involvement in the Philips Pavilion is often overestimated. In reality, most of the designing was carried out by his collaborator Yannis Xenakis (b.1922), a Greek architect and music composer working in Le Corbusier's office at the time. Xenakis would later become famous for his use of rigorous mathematical concepts and relationships in his music, but at this time was not well known. This may be part of the reason that he receives less recognition for the design than he probably deserves, coupled with Le Corbusier's prestige and...