MODERNISM - Le Corbusier

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, (better known as Le Corbusier - October 6, 1887 – August 27, 1965), was an architect, designer, urbanist, and writer, famous for being one of the pioneers of what is now called modern architecture.
He was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in 1930.
His career spanned five decades, with his buildings constructed throughout Europe, India and America.
He was a pioneer in studies of modern design.
Le Corbusier adopted his pseudonym in the 1920s, allegedly deriving it in part from the name of a distant ancestor, "Lecorbésier."

Early life and Education, 1887–1913

He was born as Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a small city in Neuchâtel canton in north-western Switzerland, in the Jura mountains, just 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) across the border from France. He attended a kindergarten that used Fröbelian methods.
Young Jeanneret was attracted to the visual arts, and studied at the La-Chaux-de-Fonds Art School under Charles L'Eplattenier, who had studied in Budapest and Paris.
His architecture teacher in the Art School was the architect René Chapallaz, who had a large influence on Le Corbusier's earliest houses.
In his early years he would frequently escape the somewhat provincial atmosphere of his home-town by travelling around Europe.

Peter Behrens
Auguste Perret
About 1907, he travelled to Paris, where he found work in the office of Auguste Perret, the French pioneer of reinforced concrete.
In 1908, he studied architecture in Vienna with Josef Hoffmann.
Between October 1910 and March 1911, he worked near Berlin for the renowned architect Peter Behrens, where he might have met Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius. He became fluent in German. Both of these experiences would prove influential in his later career.
Later in 1911, he journeyed to the Balkans and visited Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, filling sketchbooks with renderings of what he saw, including many famous sketches of the Parthenon, whose forms he would later praise in his work 'Vers une Architecture' (1923) (Towards an Architecture).

Early Career: the Villas, 1914–1930

Le Corbusier taught at his old school in La-Chaux-de-Fonds during World War I, not returning to Paris until the war was over.
During these four years in Switzerland, he worked on theoretical architectural studies using 'modern' techniques.

'Domino House' (1914–1915)
Among these was his project for the 'Domino House' (1914–1915).
This model proposed an open floor plan consisting of concrete slabs supported by a minimal number of thin, reinforced concrete columns around the edges, with a stairway providing access to each level on one side of the floor plan.
This design became the foundation for most of his architecture for the next ten years.

Pierre Jeanneret
Soon he would begin his own architectural practice with his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret (1896–1967), a partnership that would last until the 1950s, with an interruption in the WWII years, due to Le Corbusier's ambivalent position towards the Vichy regime.
In 1918, Le Corbusier met the Cubist painter Amédée Ozenfant, in whom he recognised a kindred spirit. Ozenfant encouraged him to paint, and the two began a period of collaboration.
Rejecting Cubism as irrational and "romantic," (?) the pair jointly published their manifesto, 'Après le Cubisme' and established a new artistic movement, 'Purism'.
Ozenfant and Le Corbusier established the Purist journal 'L'Esprit Nouveau'.
He was good friends with the Cubist artist Fernand Léger.

Pseudonym adopted, 1920

In the first issue of the journal, in 1920, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret adopted 'Le Corbusier', an altered form of his maternal grandfather's name, "Lecorbésier", as a pseudonym, reflecting his belief that anyone could reinvent himself.
Adopting a single name to identify oneself was in vogue by artists in many fields during that era, especially among those in Paris.
Between 1918 and 1922, Le Corbusier built nothing, concentrating his efforts on Purist theory and painting.
In 1922, Le Corbusier and his cousin Jeanneret opened a studio in Paris at 35 rue de Sèvres.
His theoretical studies soon advanced into several different single-family house models. Among these was the Maison "Citrohan", a pun on the name of the French Citroën auto-maker,  for the modern industrial methods and materials Le Corbusier advocated using for the house.
Here, Le Corbusier proposed a three-floor structure, with a double-height living room, bedrooms on the second floor, and a kitchen on the third floor.
The roof would be occupied by a sun terrace.
On the exterior Le Corbusier installed a stairway to provide second-floor access from ground level.
Here, as in other projects from this period, he also designed the façades to include large expanses of uninterrupted banks of windows.
The house used a rectangular plan, with exterior walls that were not filled by windows, left as white, stuccoed spaces.
Le Corbusier and Jeanneret left the interior aesthetically spare, with any movable furniture made of tubular metal frames.
Light fixtures usually comprised single, bare bulbs. Interior walls also were left Ripolin white.

Ripolin is a French paint company which began production in 1881. It is most notable because of the use of its products by Picasso and Le Corbusier. The latter's argument against ornamentation and the promotion of the use of white enamel ripolin was famously documented in his 'Law of Ripolin'.

Between 1922 and 1927, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret designed many of these private houses for clients around Paris.
In Boulogne-sur-Seine and the 16th arrondissement of Paris, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret designed and built the Villa Lipschitz, Maison Cook (see William Edwards Cook), Maison Planeix, and the Maison La Roche/Albert Jeanneret, which now houses the Fondation Le Corbusier.

Personal Relationships

While returning in 1929 from South America to Europe, Le Corbusier met entertainer and actress Josephine Baker on board the ocean liner Lutétia.
Le Corbusier made several nude sketches of Baker.
Soon after his return to France, Le Corbusier married Yvonne Gallis, a dressmaker and fashion model.
She died in 1957.
Le Corbusier also had a long extramarital affair with Swedish-American heiress Marguerite Tjader Harris.
Le Corbusier took French citizenship in 1930.


For a number of years French officials had been unsuccessful in dealing with the squalor of the growing Parisian slums, and Le Corbusier sought efficient ways to house large numbers of people in response to the urban housing crisis.
He believed that his new, modern architectural forms would provide a new organizational solution that would raise the quality of life for the 'lower classes'.
His 'Immeubles Villas' (1922) was such a project that called for large blocks of cell-like individual apartments stacked one on top of the other, with plans that included a living room, bedrooms and kitchen, as well as a garden terrace.
Not merely content with designs for a few housing blocks, soon Le Corbusier moved into studies for entire cities.
In 1922, he presented his scheme for a "Contemporary City" for three million inhabitants (Ville Contemporaine).
The centrepiece of this plan was the group of sixty-story, cruciform skyscrapers; steel-framed office buildings encased in huge curtain walls of glass.
These skyscrapers were set within large, rectangular park-like green spaces.
At the centre was a huge transportation hub, that on different levels included depots for buses and trains, as well as highway intersections, and at the top, an airport.
He had the fanciful notion that commercial airliners would land between the huge skyscrapers.
Le Corbusier segregated pedestrian circulation paths from the roadways and glorified the use of the auto-mobile as a means of transportation.
As one moved out from the central skyscrapers, smaller low-story, zigzag apartment blocks (set far back from the street amid green space), housed the inhabitants.
Le Corbusier hoped that politically-minded industrialists in France would lead the way with their efficient Taylorist and Fordist strategies adopted from American industrial models to reorganize society.
The proposed city appeared to some an audacious and compelling vision of a brave new world, and to others a frigid megalomaniacally scaled negation of the familiar urban ambient.
In this new industrial spirit, Le Corbusier contributed to a new journal called 'L'Esprit Nouveau' that advocated the use of modern industrial techniques and strategies to transform society into a more efficient environment with a higher standard of living on all socio-economic levels.
He forcefully argued that this transformation was necessary to avoid the spectre of revolution that would otherwise shake society.
His dictum, "Architecture or Revolution," developed in his articles in this journal, became his rallying cry for the book 'Vers une Architecture' (Toward an Architecture), which comprised selected articles he contributed to 'L'Esprit Nouveau' between 1920 and 1923.
In this book, Le Corbusier followed the influence of Walter Gropius and reprinted several photographs of North American factories and grain elevators.
Theoretical urban schemes continued to occupy Le Corbusier.
He exhibited his "Plan Voisin," sponsored by another famous auto-mobile manufacturer, in 1925.
In it, he proposed to bulldoze most of central Paris north of the Seine, and replace it with his sixty-story cruciform towers from the 'Contemporary City', placed in an orthogonal street grid and park-like green space.
His scheme was met with criticism and scorn from French politicians and industrialists, although they were favourable to the ideas of Taylorism and Fordism underlying Le Corbusier designs.
Nonetheless, it did provoke discussion concerning how to deal with the cramped, dirty conditions that enveloped much of the city.
In the 1930s, Le Corbusier expanded and reformulated his ideas on urbanism, eventually publishing them in 'La Ville Radieuse' (The Radiant City) of 1935.
Perhaps the most significant difference between the 'Contemporary City' and the 'Radiant City' is that the latter abandons the class-based stratification of the former; housing is now assigned according to family size, not economic position.
Some have read dark overtones into 'The Radiant City': from the "astonishingly beautiful assemblage of buildings" that was Stockholm, for example, Le Corbusier saw only “frightening chaos and saddening monotony.”
He dreamed of "cleaning and purging" the city, bringing "a calm and powerful architecture" — referring to steel, plate glass, and reinforced concrete.
Though Le Corbusier's designs for Stockholm did not succeed, later architects took his ideas and partly "destroyed" the city with them.
'La Ville Radieuse' also marks Le Corbusier's increasing dissatisfaction with capitalism and his turn to the right-wing syndicalism of Hubert Lagardelle.
During the Vichy regime, Le Corbusier received a position on a planning committee and made designs for Algiers and other cities.
The central government ultimately rejected his plans, and after 1942 Le Corbusier withdrew from political activity.
After World War II, Le Corbusier attempted to realize his urban planning schemes on a small scale by constructing a series of "unités" (the housing block unit of the 'Radiant City') around France.
The most famous of these was the 'Unité d'Habitation of Marseilles' (1946–1952).
In the 1950s, a unique opportunity to translate the 'Radiant City' on a grand scale presented itself in the construction of the Union Territory Chandigarh, the new capital for the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana and the first planned city in India.
Le Corbusier designed many administration buildings including a courthouse, parliament building and a university.
He also designed the general layout of the city dividing it into sectors
 Le Corbusier was brought on to develop the plan of Albert Mayer.

Corbusier's Five Points of Architecture

It was Le Corbusier's 'Villa Savoye' (1929–1931) that most succinctly summed up his five points of architecture that he had elucidated in the journal 'L'Esprit Nouveau' and his book 'Vers une Architecture', which he had been developing throughout the 1920s.
First, Le Corbusier lifted the bulk of the structure off the ground, supporting it by 'pilotis' – reinforced concrete stilts.
These pilotis, in providing the structural support for the house, allowed him to elucidate his next two points: a free façade, meaning non-supporting walls that could be designed as the architect wished, and an open floor plan, meaning that the floor space was free to be configured into rooms without concern for supporting walls.
The second floor of the Villa Savoye includes long strips of ribbon windows that allow unencumbered views of the large surrounding yard, and which constitute the fourth point of his system.
The fifth point was the roof garden to compensate for the green area consumed by the building and replacing it on the roof.
A ramp rising from ground level to the third floor roof terrace allows for an architectural promenade through the structure.
The white tubular railing recalls the industrial "ocean-liner" aesthetic that Le Corbusier much admired.
As if to put an exclamation mark after Le Corbusier's homage to modern industry, the driveway around the ground floor, with its semicircular path, measures the exact turning radius of a 1927 Citroën automobile.

The Modulor

The Modulor is an anthropometric scale of proportions devised by Le Corbusier (1887–1965).
It was developed as a visual bridge between two incompatible scales, the 'Imperial system' and the 'Metric system'.
It is based on the height of an English man with his arm raised.
It was used as a system to set out a number of Le Corbusier's buildings and was later codified into two books.

 the Golden Ratio
Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man

Le Corbusier developed the Modulor in the long tradition of Vitruvius, Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, and other attempts to discover mathematical proportions in the human body, and then to use that knowledge to improve both the appearance and function of architecture.
The system is based on human measurements, the double unit, the Fibonacci numbers, and the golden ratio.
Le Corbusier described it as a "range of harmonious measurements to suit the human scale, universally applicable to architecture and to mechanical things."

With the Modulor, Le Corbusier sought to introduce a scale of visual measures that would unite two virtually incompatible systems: the Anglo Saxon foot and inch and the French Metric system.
Whilst he was intrigued by ancient civilisations who used measuring systems linked to the human body: elbow (cubit), finger (digit), thumb (inch) etc., he was troubled by the metre as a measure that was a forty-millionth part of the meridian of the earth.
In 1943, in response to the French National Organisation for Standardisation's (AFNOR) requirement for standardising all the objects involved in the construction process, Le Corbusier asked an apprentice to consider a scale based upon a man with his arm raised to 2.20m in height.
The result, in August 1943 was the first graphical representation of the derivation of the scale.
This was refined after a visit to the Dean of the Faculty of Sciences in Sorbonne on 7 February 1945 which resulted in the inclusion of a golden section into the representation.
Whilst initially the Modulor Man's height was based on a French man's height of 1.75 metres (5.7 ft) it was changed to 1.83 m in 1946 because "in English detective novels, the good-looking men, such as policemen, are always six feet tall !"
The dimensions were refined to give round numbers and the overall height of the raised arm was set at 2.262m.

Graphic Representation

The graphic representation of the Modulor, a stylised human figure with one arm raised, stands next to two vertical measurements, a red series based on the figure's navel height (1.08m in the original version, 1.13m in the revised version) then segmented according to Phi, and a blue series based on the figure's entire height, double the navel height (2.16m in the original version, 2.26m in the revised), segmented similarly.
A spiral, graphically developed between the red and blue segments, seems to mimic the volume of the human figure.


Corbusier said: "Chairs are architecture, sofas are bourgeois".
Le Corbusier began experimenting with furniture design in 1928 after inviting the architect, Charlotte Perriand, to join his studio.
His cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, also collaborated on many of the designs.
Before the arrival of Perriand, Le Corbusier relied on ready-made furniture to furnish his projects, such as the simple pieces manufactured by Thonet, the company that manufactured his designs in the 1930s.
In 1928, Le Corbusier and Perriand began to put the expectations for furniture Le Corbusier outlined in his 1925 book L'Art Décoratif d'aujourd'hui into practice.
In the book he defined three different furniture types: type-needs, type-furniture, and human-limb objects.
He defined human-limb objects as: "Extensions of our limbs and adapted to human functions that are type-needs and type-functions, therefore type-objects and type-furniture. The human-limb object is a docile servant. A good servant is discreet and self-effacing in order to leave his master free. Certainly, works of art are tools, beautiful tools. And long live the good taste manifested by choice, subtlety, proportion, and harmony".
The first results of the collaboration were three chrome-plated tubular steel chairs designed for two of his projects, The Maison la Roche in Paris and a pavilion for Barbara and Henry Church.
The line of furniture was expanded for Le Corbusier's 1929 Salon d'Automne installation, 'Equipment for the Home'.
The most famous of these chairs are the now-iconic LC-1, LC-2, LC-3, and LC-4, originally titled "Basculant" (LC-1), "Fauteuil grand confort, petit modèle" (LC-2, "great comfort sofa, small model"), "Fauteuil grand confort, grand modèle" (LC-3, "great comfort sofa, large model"), and "Chaise longue" (LC-4, "Long chair").[11]
The LC-2 and LC-3 are more colloquially referred to as the petit confort and grand confort (abbreviation of full title, and due to respective sizes).


Le Corbusier was at his most influential in the sphere of urban planning, and was a founding member of the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM).
One of the first to realize how the auto-mobile would change human agglomerations, Le Corbusier described the city of the future as consisting of large apartment buildings isolated in a park-like setting on pilotis.
Le Corbusier's theories were adopted by the builders of public housing in Europe and the United States.
For the design of the buildings themselves, Le Corbusier criticized any effort at ornamentation.
The large spartan structures in cities, but not 'of' cities, have been widely criticized for being boring and unfriendly to pedestrians.
Throughout the years, many architects worked for Le Corbusier in his studio, and a number of them became notable in their own right, including painter-architect Nadir Afonso, who absorbed Le Corbusier's ideas into his own aesthetics theory.
Lúcio Costa's city plan of Brasília and the industrial city of Zlín planned by František Lydie Gahura in the Czech Republic are notable plans based on his ideas, while the architect himself produced the plan for Chandigarh in India.
Le Corbusier's thinking also had profound effects on the philosophy of city planning and architecture in the Soviet Union, particularly in the Constructivist era.
Le Corbusier was heavily influenced by problems he saw in industrial cities at the turn of the 19th to 20th century.
He thought that industrial housing techniques led to crowding, dirtiness, and a lack of a moral landscape (?).
He was a leader of the modernist movement to create better living conditions, and a better society through housing concepts.
Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities of Tomorrow heavily influenced Le Corbusier and his contemporaries.
Le Corbusier also harmonized and lent credence to the idea of space as a set of destinations which mankind moved between, more or less continuously.
He was therefore able to give credence and credibility to the auto-mobile (as a transporter); and most importantly to free-ways in urban spaces.
His philosophies were useful to urban real estate development interests in the American Post World War II period because they justified and lent architectural and intellectual support to the desire to destroy traditional urban space for high density high profit urban concentration, both commercial and residential.
Le Corbusier’s ideas also sanctioned further destruction of traditional urban spaces to build freeways that connected this new urbanism to low density, low cost (and highly profitable), suburban and rural locales which were free to be developed as middle class single-family (dormitory) housing.
Notably missing from this scheme of movement were connectivity between isolated urban villages created for lower-middle and working classes and other destination points in Le Corbusier's plan: suburban and rural areas, and urban commercial centres 
This was because as designed, the free-ways travelled over, at, or beneath grade levels of the living spaces of the urban poor (one modern example: the Cabrini–Green housing project in Chicago).
Such projects and their areas, having no free-way exit ramps, cut-off by free-way rights-of-way, became isolated from jobs and services concentrated at Le Corbusier’s nodal transportation end points.
As jobs increasingly moved to the suburban end points of the free-ways  urban village dwellers found themselves without convenient free-way access points in their communities and without public mass transit connectivity that could economically reach suburban job centres.
Very late in the Post-War period, suburban job centres found this to be such a critical problem (labour shortages) that they, on their own, began sponsoring urban-to-suburban shuttle bus services between urban villages and suburban job centres  to fill working class and lower-middle class jobs which had gone wanting, and which did not normally pay the wages that car ownership required.
Le Corbusier deliberately created a myth about himself, and was revered in his lifetime, and after death, by a generation of followers who believed Le Corbusier was a prophet who could do no wrong.
But in the 1950s the first doubts began to appear, notably in some essays by his greatest admirers such as James Stirling and Colin Rowe, who denounced as catastrophic his ideas on the city.
Later critics revealed his technical incompetence as an architect.
In his book Armée du Salut, Brian Brace Taylor went into great detail about Le Corbusier's Machiavellian activities to create this commission for himself, his many ill-judged design decisions about building technologies, and the sometimes absurd solutions he then proposed.

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