Georges Candilis, 1913-1995

Social Tapestries

François Chaslin 

Georges Candilis continues to be the most celebrated member of the trio of architects – Candilis, Josic and Woods – who, working in Paris in the 1950s and 1960s, constituted the French branch of the Team X movement, although ‘French branch’ is a misnomer: Candilis was eastern Greek, Alexis Josic (1921-2011) a Serb from the Voivodina whose mother was Russian, and Shadrach Woods (1923-1973) an American whose mother was Irish.

His cosmopolitanism (Candilis spoke a curious Pidgin language) was due to the political history of Eastern Europe. Part of his family was from Trabzon (Turkey) and another was from Rostov-on-Don (Russia). His father, at 14, tried his luck in Azerbaijan and moved to Baku, recently taken by the oil rush. During the Russian Revolution he was arrested and eventually sent on a Soviet commercial mission to Tehran. The family finally managed to return to Greece on a ship of immigrants. Some banker cousins took them in but Georges, disturbed by the accusations of speculation that had sent his father to prison, was drawn more to communism than to finances, and he enrolled at the Polytechnic of Athens, where he discovered architecture. This was 1931. Prominent among his teachers was Dimitris Pikionis (1887-1968), divided between a love of the vernacular, a search for Byzantine identity and the new international modernity. One day, as Candilis wrote in his memoirs, the school was “invaded by some two hundred architects”. It was the summer of 1933 and the architects were the participants of the fourth CIAM congress, newly arrived in packet boats from Marseille, among them Siegfried Giedrion, Cornelis van Eesteren, Pierre Chareau, José Luis Sert, Otto Neurath, Giuseppe Terragni, Ernesto Rogers, and above all Le Corbusier who, as Candilis recalled, “was omnipresent and dominated everyone”. The exhibition ‘The Functional Villa’ opened on 3rd August at the school, presenting the maps of 34 cities in 18 countries. It was a turning point for Candilis...

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