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The Philips Pavilion was a World's Fair pavilion designed for Expo '58 in Brussels by the office of Le Corbusier. Commissioned by Philips, an electronics company based in the Netherlands, the pavilion was designed to house a multimedia spectacle that celebrated postwar technological progress. Because Corbusier was busy with the planning of Chandigarh, much of the project management was assigned to Iannis Xenakis, who was also an experimental composer.
The pavilion is a cluster of nine hyperbolic paraboloids, composed asymmetrically to create dynamically-angled contours and constructed out of prestressed concrete. Steel tension cables on the exterior give the pavilion its signature reticulated appearance. According to Xenakis, the idea of using curved surfaces composed of straight lines was inspired by his composition Metastasis, premiered in 1955.
Le Corbusier's vision was a Poème électronique ("electronic poem"), saying he wanted to present a 'poem in a bottle. He asked Edgard Varèse to write an electronic score for the installation, which went on to become one of the seminal works in the genre. Iannis Xenakis also composed a piece for the installation, which was played as an interlude when the audience entered and exited the pavilion. Titled Concrèt PH, Xenakis' composition is a series of manipulations of a recording of burning charcoal.
The plan of the pavilion was conceived as a "stomach": visitors would enter through curved corridor, stand in a central chamber for the eight-minute presentation, and exit out the other side. Intended as a showcase for Phillips' engineering capacity, Corbusier dreamed up an audio-video extravaganza. In addition to the music by Xenakis and Varèse, the visual components consisted of multiple projections, ambient lighting and two physical objects. The objects, hung from the ceilings, were a female mannequin and a mathematical object in the form of a cube. A sequence of photographs were projected as a film onto one of the walls of the pavilion. The timings of the film were used to synchronize all of the various aspects of the installation.
Originally, Corbusier intended for the film to stop at several points in order to have a recording of his voice speaking to the audience. Varèse objected to the idea of anyone speaking over his composition, and the idea was scrapped. In addition to the film, there were three 'windows' where additional still photos were projected, some of which duplicated those seen in the film. The final visual aspect of the installation was the ambient light design. There were 51 different lighting configurations with a broad palette of colors in many combinations.
An estimated 350 speakers were used to project the sound, which was spatialized by sound projectionists using telephone dials. The speakers were set into the walls, which were coated in asbestos, creating a textured look to the walls. Varèse drew up a detailed spatialization scheme for the entire piece which made great use of the physical layout of the pavilion, especially the height of it. The asbestos hardened the walls which created a cavernous acoustic.
The European Union funded a virtual recreation of the Philips Pavilion, which was chaired by Vincenzo Lombardi from the University of Turin.
- Marc Treib, Space Calculated in Seconds: The Philips Pavilion, Le Corbusier, Edgard Varèse, Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996
- James Harley, Xenakis: his life in music, London: Taylor & Francis Books, 2004
- "The Architectural Design of Le Corbusier and Xenakis" in Philips Technical Review v. 20 n. 1 (1958/1959)
- Joe Drew, "Recreating the Philips Pavilion", ANABlog, January 2010.