Xenakis arrived in France in November 1947. With the help of several Greek friends (among them the architect Georges Candilis), he was almost immediately hired as an engineer in the team of Le Corbusier, where for several years he dealt with calculations and the design of structural elements of the Housing Units of Marseilles and Nantes. Later, for the Nantes Unit, he designed the façades of the kindergarten on the roof-terrace, where one can recognize the “neumes” (elements for the notation of Gregorian chant), as well as a “stochastic” distribution of the prefabricated windows, calculated from the Modulor.
At the same time he was working as an advisory engineer on the projects for Chandigarh, the new city that Le Corbusier began building in 1951 in India. Xenakis worked on the structure of the Supreme Court and the hyperbolic tower of the Assembly, which houses the Parliament. It was during construction of the Secretariat (housing all Ministries) that he came up with the idea of his celebrated “undulating glass panels”. In order to avoid a monotonous repetition of standard elements in the immense façade of the building, Le Corbusier asked Xenakis to develop a principle for windows that he had caught sight of during the Chandigarh construction. For reasons of economy, the “raw” glass panels of the windows are placed directly into concrete, and their initial width is retained. The resulting window configurations are very vivid. Xenakis developed the dimensions of the glass panels according to the blue and red series of the Modulor. Thanks to the resulting effect of dilatation and contraction, the façade seems to become a dynamic membrane.
The principle finds its most virtuoso application in the Tourette monastery, a project that Xenakis worked on as of 1954, with the western façade conceived as a great architectural counterpoint (ill. 1). Here he transforms the traditional Dominican structure (a rectangle around an interior garden, closed on one side by a church) into a sophisticated unit of circulation and remarkable plays of light. In this project, almost all the “free” forms were drawn by Xenakis: the chapel, shaped like a grand piano with its “light canons”; the “machine-guns” in the chapels; the stilts shaped like a comb over the western wing; the helicoidal stairs.
It was during this period that he met Olivier Messiaen and Hermann Scherchen, who were to be strong influences on the young composer and architect; he was putting the finishing touches to his first great composition, Metastasis.