Le Modulor: A Mix of Old and New

Published: 13th October 2014 06:01 AM  |   Last Updated: 13th October 2014 06:01 AM   |  A+A-

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CHENNAI: World renowned Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier, the master planner  of city of Chandigarh, devised and patented an anthropometric scale of proportions called Le Modulor. Created in 1945, Le Modulor was an interesting method of scaling the proportions of architecture to the human body, and a significant tool to bridge the gap between the imperial and the metric scales. The imperial scale still had its connection to human proportions but the metric system had none, and with the onset of the machine age, it became  imperative that we all spoke a common universal language worldwide.

Le Modulor was intended to be that language of standardisation, a visual scale which could have myriad expressions but still be tied to mathematical proportions and the human body. Le Corbusier demonstrated the use of Le Modulor in the design of his remarkable works — Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles, Church of Sainte Marie de La Tourette, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, and also the Ronchomp Chapel. He believed that Le Modulor would find application not just in architecture, but every piece of art, furniture, and even urban design. His 20 years of research and invention of Le Modulor earned him an honorary doctorate in philosophy and mathematics from the University of Zurich. Le Corbusier published Le Modulor in 1948, followed by Modulor 2 in 1955.

Le Modulor was inspired by Vitruvius’s Vitruvian Man, Fibonnaci series, double unit, and the Golden Section, and was supposed to provide ‘a harmonic measure to the human scale, applicable to architecture and mechanics’. The challenge came from positioning of the human form within three inter-connected squares, which Corbusier solved by using the relationship of φ and the introduction of a right angle.

A six-foot  man, with his arm upraised (to a height of 7’5”), was inserted into a square . The ratio of the height of the man (6’) to the height of his navel (at the mid-point of 3’8.5”) was taken precisely in a Golden Ratio. The total height (from the feet to the raised arm) was also divided in a Golden ratio at the level of the wrist of a downward-hanging arm. The two ratios (113/70) and (140/86) were further subdivided into smaller dimensions according to the Fibonacci series.

In Corbusier’s own words, “I drew a man of a height of 1.75 m engaged at four points — 0, 108, 175, 216. Then the red strip on the left, the blue on the right, the series of φ going towards 0 below, and that progressing towards infinity above.”

Corbusier’s Le Modulor is a very intriguing turning point in architectural history. But while on one hand, it is a magnificent attempt to take the best of mathematics to evolve a common architectural design, on the other hand it fails to adhere to rigorous mathematical principles and hence exposes its limitations. Nevertheless, as Corbusier had stated that ‘near’ Modulor designs are as appealing as ‘precise’ modular designs, and ultimately advises that ‘your eyes are your judges.’

“Rhythms apparent to the eye and clear in their relations with one another are at the very root of human activities. They resound in man by an organic inevitability, the same fine inevitability which causes the tracing out of the Golden Section by children, old men, savages, and the learned.”

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