Corbusier, Le.

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Corbusier, Le. Pseudonym from 1920 of the Swiss-born French architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (1887–1965), who was probably the most influential figure in C20 architecture. He built (with René Chapallaz (1881–1976) ) his first house, the Villa Fallet, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland (1906–7), strongly influenced by the Arts-and-Crafts movement and by vernacular architecture, before setting off on one of a series of educational journeys. In 1907 his visit to Italy took him to the medieval Carthusian monastery (Certosa di Val d'Ema) which greatly impressed him as an example of how repetitive living-quarters could be organized within one monumental composition. In the winter of 1907–8 he appears to have met certain leading figures of the architectural world in Vienna, including Hoffmann, and designed more villas for La Chaux-de-Fonds, the Jacquemet and the Stotzer (both 1907–8). In 1908–9 he worked briefly with Perret in Paris before returning home. In 1910 he made a study-visit to Germany, worked in Behrens's office in Berlin (November 1910–April 1911), and met leading German figures in the Arts-and-Crafts movement and in the Deutscher Werkbund, including Muthesius and Tessenow. At that time he absorbed the works of Viollet-le-Duc, Sitte, and Choisy, and wrote a report on the decorative art movement in Germany, pub-lished in 1912, in which his admiration for German organization was expressed. Also in 1911 he travelled down the Danube to Istanbul, returning through Greece and Italy, which profoundly affected his perceptions, and made him more aware of the power of the primitive, the rugged, and the ruined, while awakening his appreciation of the qualities of the southern light. At the end of 1911 he returned to Switzerland, was involved in teaching and in the Swiss equivalent of the Werkbund, but, more especially, designed several buildings, including the Villas Jeanneret (1911–12), Favre-Jacot (1912–13), and Schwob (1916–17). This last was one of his first rein-forced-concrete houses, clearly influenced by Perret and Behrens in its stripped Neo-Classical form: it gained him recognition, and was published. During this period at La Chaux-de-Fonds he evolved the low-cost Maison Dom-Ino of 1914–15, the name of which evolved from the Latin domus (house) and the innovative reinforced-concrete column-grid that suggested the patterns of a domino-piece. Essentially the columns supported floor-slabs, and the design offered a prototype for industrialized living-units, giving freedom in matters of room-arrangement and elevational treatment: non-structural partitions could be placed where desired, and the elevations filled with any design of glazing and solid uninhibited by structural requirements because the columns were not placed around the edges of the slabs, but back from the perimeters.

Jeanneret-Gris settled in Paris in 1916, where he developed his skills as a self-publicist. Through Perret he met the painter Amedée Ozenfant, and, having absorbed Cubism and Futurism, together they invented Purism, where the primacy of the objects was insisted upon, disposed on the canvas using a proportioning device based on the Golden Section, and depicted by means of a limited range of pure colours. Purism was promulgated in the manifesto Après le Cubisme (1918) and L'Esprit Nouveau (1920–5), a journal edited by Jeanneret-Gris and Ozenfant which also contained ideas on architecture, published under the pseudonym ‘Le Corbusier’: those contributions were collected in Vers une architecture (1923), translated as Towards a New Architecture (1927), and became influential texts. Their heady brew of the latest technology, messianic slogans proclaiming the supposed moral and hygienic virtues of the architectural language, and claims that the ideas derived from Antiquity found many devotees. In his writings Le Corbusier defined architecture as a play of masses brought together in light, and advocated that buildings should be as practically constructed as a modern machine (an idea perhaps derived from Alberti), with rational planning, and capable of being erected using mass-produced components.

Another study-visit to Italy in 1922 was followed by the exhibition of his Maison Citrohan which he had begun to evolve in 1919: it started as a box-like form with the structural walls along the long sides, but evolved with the introduction of pilotis or columns to raise the building from the ground. The name suggests the Citroën motor-car, with its connotations of mass-production and industrialization, logical evolution, economy, and efficiency. From 1921 Le Corbusier collaborated with his cousin, A. -A. -P. Jeanneret-Gris, and their Paris office attracted many architects, for from it flowed Modernist polemics and designs for experimental housing in which simple forms and smooth surfaces were expressed. The Citrohan houses were published in L'Esprit Nouveau and Vers une architecture, and were the precedents for the realized designs at the Villa Besnus, Vaucresson (1922–3), followed by many more, including the influential Villa Stein at Garches (1927), two houses at the Weissenhofsiedlung, Stuttgart (1927), and the Villa Savoie, Poissy (1928–31). The last was the definitive exemplar of the famous Five Points for a New Architecture, and, with its formal architectural language, pilotis, linkage of external and internal spaces, long strip-windows, and crisp, uncompromising lines, became a powerful paradigm for C20 Rationalism in architecture. The cinq points, with other ideas, were expounded in Alfred Roth's Zwei Wohnhäuser von Le Corbusier und Pierre Jeanneret (Two Houses by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret—1927): they were, in essence, the use of pilotis as structural elements, lifting the building and leaving a space under it; columnar-and-slab construction enabling floor-plans to be left as free and adaptable as possible, partitions (if required) not being structural; the creation of a roof-garden at the top, affording better light and air than on the ground; the mode of construction facilitating long continuous strips of windows; and complete freedom of façade-design.

At the Exposition International des Arts-Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris (1924–5), Le Corbusier and Jeanneret-Gris presented their Pavillon de l'Esprit Nouveau. A white box derived from an L-shaped variant of the Citrohan type, it contained a model of the so-called Plan Voisin for Paris, an architectural and town-planning time-bomb, proposing the complete destruction of part of Paris east of the Louvre, between Montmartre and the Seine, and its replacement with eighteen gigantic skyscrapers. Earlier, in 1910, Le Corbusier had prepared La Construction des Villes, much influenced by Sitte, in which he analysed town-planning taking into account the existing historic cores, but this approach was to be wholly repudiated by 1925 when Urbanisme came out (translated as The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning, 1929). The Ville Contemporaine, a design for a city of 3 million inhabitants (1922), and the Plan Voisin provided the imagery for redevelopment and new towns that was to be almost universally adopted (largely through the influence of CIAM, with which Le Corbusier and Jeanneret-Gris were to be intimately connected from its beginnings in 1928) after the 1939–45 war with such disastrous results for countless towns and cities.

His book La Ville Radieuse (The Radiant City) of 1935 contains proposals for a Utopian city in which buildings conforming to his aesthetic would be erected. In the 1930s, indeed, he was able to build paradigmatic structures in Paris, including the Pavillon Suisse, Cité Universitaire (1930–3), and the Cité de Refuge (Salvation Army Hostel—1929–33). These slab-blocks of framed construction were designed with large areas of glass (the curtain-wall) that caused problems of solar-heat gain and glare as well as heat-loss, yet were to be the models for countless slab-blocks there-after. Such facts can only be explained by the preoccupation with glass (perhaps derived from the slogans of Taut) as an indicator of ‘modernity’, ‘progressiveness’, and ‘cleanliness’.

Large-scale projects also occupied Le Corbusier from the late 1920s, including the competition designs for the League of Nations Palace, Geneva (1927), and the Palace of the Soviets, Moscow (1931). From 1929 to 1934 he built the Centrosoyus Building, Moscow, and prepared other designs, including the Ministry of Education and Health, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (executed by Costa, Niemeyer, and Reidy, 1936–43), and a preliminary project for the United Nations Building, NYC (final design and execution by Harrison and Abramovitz, 1947–50).

For the Exposition Internationale in Paris (1937) Le Corbusier built the Pavillon des Temps Nouveaux of steel, with a tent-like canvas roof, the whole derived from an image of the Jewish Tabernacle in the Wilderness mixed with elements of aeroplane structures. The slogan over the rostrum evoked the Popular Front (a union of Communist, Socialist, and Radical parties), and inside, like the Ten Commandments, were CIAM principles, some of which would be incorporated in the Athens Charter. Thus, politically, Le Corbusier's brand of Modernism appeared to be overtly allied with the Left in 1937, but his position throughout the 1930s was ambivalent, for he was also involved with the Syndicalists (who had affiliations with Fascism), and sympathized with the Vichy régime.

After 1945 Le Corbusier turned away from the smooth images with which he had been associated, and produced a series of aggressive, massively constructed, and sculptural buildings beginning with the huge Unité d'Habitation (Housing Unit), Marseilles (1946–52). Originally a steel frame had been proposed, but shortages led to the use of reinforced concrete, with massive board-marked béton-brut, much use of the brise-soleil, and a system of proportions based on Le Corbusier's Modulor, derived from the Golden Section. The Unité was conceived as a huge structure for autonomous living, partly inspired by the Utopian theories of Charles Fourier (1772–1837), with a shopping-street, hotel, gymnasium, crèche, community services, and running-track. Other Unités were built at Nantes-Rezé (1952–7), Berlin (1956–8), Meaux (1957–9), Briey-en-Fôret (1957–60), and Firminy-Vert (1962–8): apartments within them were two-storey living-units with double-height living-space. The images of the Unités were copied in a ludicrously scaled-down form at Roehampton Park by the London County Council's Department of Architecture (1952–5), but the immediate international influence was in the use of raw, unfaced concrete in countless buildings, giving rise to the style known as New Brutalism. Powerful, chunky forms of béton-brut recurred at the Dominican Monastery of Ste-Marie-de-la-Tourette at Eveux-sur-Arbresle, near Lyons (1953–9).

Le Corbusier's Pilgrimage Church of Notre-Dame-du-Haut at Ronchamp (1950–4), with its battered walls filled with rubble and sprayed with Gunnite (a patent rough-cast finish), silolike tower, windows of many shapes and sizes piercing the walls at random, and distorted boat-like roof apparently floating over the walls, seemed to suggest a complete shift towards anti-Rationalism (and caused consternation in CIAM). At the Maisons Jaoul, Neuilly-sur-Seine (1952–6), coarsely laid brickwork, oversized concrete beams, and segmental vaults influenced architects such as Spence and Stirling.

In the 1950s Le Corbusier, with Drew, Fry, and others, laid out Chandigarh as the administrative capital of the Punjab, India, and built several gigantic public buildings (using excessively heavy, over-sized, chunky, raw concrete) that have been influential, notably in Japan, and were (like the Unités) attempts to create monumentality. Le Corbusier had many British and American architectural disciples who espoused Ville Radieuse principles and countless designs inspired by his work were realized. One of his last significant buildings was the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA (1960–3).


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P. Baker (1996, 1996a);
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Boesiger (ed.) (1966–70, 1972);
H. Brooks (ed.) (1982, 1987, 1987a);
Choay (1960);
Wi.Cu (1995a);
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Etlin (1994);
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Franclieu (ed.) (1981–2);
D. Gans (2000);
Jeanneret-Gris (1964, 1968, 1973, 1973–7);
Jeanneret-Gris & and Jeanneret (1999);
Jencks (1973, 2000);
Jenger (1996);
Lucan (ed.) (1987);
Moos (1979);
Ozenfant & and Jeanneret-Gris (1975);
Placzek (ed.) (1982);
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T&DC (1986);
Tzonis (2001);
Walden (ed.) (1977)

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Corbusier, Le.

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