The Philips Pavilion was a World's Fair pavilion designed for Expo 1958 in Brussels by the office of Le Corbusier. Commissioned by electronics manufacturer Philips, 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 and was influenced in the design by his composition Metastaseis.
In his first sketches for the Philips Pavilion, Le Corbusier was thinking primarily of something organic; the ground plan drawings more precisely resemble a stomach. But Le Corbusier had another reference in mind as well, a more mechanical one, when we remember how he praised the organisation of slaughterhouses and factories: “It should appear as though you are about to enter a slaughter house.
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.
After the Expo, the pavilion was destructed. Therefore, the pavilion became more known for its revolutionary shape, defined by an intriguing play with hyperbolic paralleloid surfaces, and exceptional construction of prestressed concrete that was only 5 centimetres thick, than for what it really was supposed to be: the first immersive electronic multimedia environment that largely relied on computers.
The Composition/ Music
Le Corbusier's vision was a Poème électronique (The 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. It 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. Iannis Xenakis also composed a piece for the installation, which was played as an interlude when the audience entered and exited the pavilion enitled Concrèt PH as a composition of manipulations of a recording of burning charcoal.
In Varèse’s music, silence was to prevail for a moment at the exact middle of the Poème, while the space filled with a hard white light. Accordingly, though today the film is usually shown with the music, it is incomplete without the coloured ambiences that were only reconstructed in a digital version in 1998 by Willem Hering and Hank Onrust, based on the watercolours in Le Corbusiers original minutage. The image sequences consisted primarily of black‐and‐white photos with a strong sign‐like character, following one another in rapid succession and alternating with short strips of black‐and‐white film. Together, the images told the story of humanity using art from all parts of the world, technological accomplishments and war scenes (nuclear explosions in the fifth sequence), culminating in a series of images showing people in poverty, numerous babies and examples from the architecture of Le Corbusier as an opening to the future. The relation between image and colour projections were to resemble Le Corbusier’s last paintings, in which the drawing, as the basis for the work, together with the colour function as an independent system of forms obeying its own laws and interacting with the lines.
Architecture and Sound
The plan of the pavilion was conceived as a stomach: visitors would enter through a curved corridor, stand in a central chamber for the eight-minute presentation, and exit out the other side. Intended as a showcase for Philips' engineering prowess, 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.
The music by Varèse, a mixture of electronic sounds, recorded noises, and shreds of music produced in a studio specially equipped for this purpose in Eindhoven, likewise bathed the public in sound. For this purpose, over 300 loudspeakers were mounted on the walls of the Philips Pavilion. The spatial orchestration of the sound was probably the most revolutionary aspect of the pavilion. Not only could any fragment of music be played from any corner of the building, the sound could also wander along so‐ called ‘routes du son’. 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. Arseniusz Romanowicz's Warszawa Ochota train station in Poland is supposedly inspired by the Philips Pavilion. As a reference check the Virtual Electronic Poem Project, a site about a virtual reconstruction of the Philips Pavilion with extensive information about the original site.