“Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.” *
The family proudly traced its ancestry to the Cathars, who fled to the Jura Mountains during the Albigensian Wars of the twelfth century, and the French Huguenots, who migrated to Switzerland following the Edict of Nantes (1598). La Chaux-de-Fonds' tradition of offering refuge includes both Rousseau and Bakunin. His family's Calvinism, love of the arts, and enthusiasm for the Jura Mountains, were all formative influences on the young Le Corbusier; Charles L'Eplattenier, a teacher at the local art school, dominated his education.errct, a musician and piano teacher.
The family proudly traced its ancestry to the Cathars, who fled to the Jura Mountains during the Albigensian Wars of the twelfth century, and the French Huguenots, who migrated to Switzerland following the Edict of Nantes (1598). La Chaux-de-Fonds' tradition of offering refuge includes both Rousseau and Bakunin. His family's Calvinism, love of the arts, and enthusiasm for the Jura Mountains, were all formative influences on the young Le Corbusier; Charles L'Eplattenier, a teacher at the local art school, dominated his education.
L'Eplattenier, whom Le Corbusier called "My Master," combined into a National Romanticism many strains of late-nineteenth-century thought, from Ruskin to Hermann Muthesius. He involved his students in his search for a new kind of ornament expressive of the Jura landscape and able to sustain the local craft industry. Apprenticed at thirteen to a watch engraver, Le Corbusier abandoned matchmaking in part because of his delicate eyesight, and continued his studies in art and decoration, with the intention of becoming a painter. L'Eplattenier insisted that the young man also study architecture and arranged for his first commissions.
After completing his first house, Villa Pallet, in 1907, Le Corbusier set out on a series of travels that lasted until 1912, when Le Corbusier returned to La Chaux-de-Fonds to teach beside L'Eplattenier and to begin his own practice. These travels took him first to Italy, then to Vienna, Munich, and Paris. They included a period of apprenticeship to architects with philosophies at odds with L'Eplattenier's teachings,most significantly the structural rationalism of Auguste Perret, a father of reinforced concrete construction, and the Werkbund perspective of Peter Behrens. They concluded with a "Journey to the East" by way of the Balkans and Eastern Europe, culminating in a visit to the Acropolis.
Back in Switzerland, Le Corbusier designed a series of villas and embarked on a more theoretical study for a structural frame of reinforced concrete Le Corbusier called the Maison Dom-ino (a pun on the Latin word for house, domus, and on the playing pieces from the game). Le Corbusier envisaged it as an affordable, prefabricated system for the construction of new housing in the wake of World War I's destruction. Developed with the help of Max Dubois and Perret, the system differed from the then standard Hennibique frame in its idealization of floors as flat slabs without exposed beams. Its columns were perfectly straight posts without capitals, set in from the edge of the slab. This system freed both exterior and interior walls from all structural constraints.
At the end of the war Le Corbusier moved to Paris. There Le Corbusier worked on concrete structures under government contracts and ran a small brick manufacture, but Le Corbusier dedicated most of his efforts to the more influential, and lucrative, discipline of painting. First in a book entitled Apres le cubisme, and subsequently in an art show at Galerie Thomas, Le Corbusier and A. Ozenfant began a movement called Purism, which called for the restoration of the integrity of the object in art. As their style developed, it drew closer to Synthetic Cubism's structure of overlapping planes, but retained a distinct attitude toward the mass-produced "tools" of industrial culture, from laboratory flasks to cafe chairs, which they called objets-types.
The emerging spirit of industrialized culture in all its aspects became the theme of the journal I'Esprit Nouveau, founded in 1919 by Le Corbusier, Ozenfant, and the poet Paul Dermee, and published until 1925. Le Corbusier collected essays from the journal in the book Vers une architecture. In the essays Le Corbusier proposed an architecture that would satisfy both the demands of industry and the timeless concerns of architectural form as defined in antiquity. His proposals included his first city plan, the Contemporary City. Le Corbusier also proposed two housing types, which were the basis for much of his architecture throughout his life: the vaulted Maison Monol and the Maison Citrohan, a "shoebox" volume with a double-height salon (the salon was modeled on, among other sources, the bistro Legendre, rue Godot-de-Mauroy, where the architect lunched daily).
In order to distinguish their work as painters from their work as critics and theorists, Ozenfant and Jeanneret took pseudonyms. Ozenfant adopted his mother's family name, Saugnier. Jean-neret took the name of a cousin, Lecor-bezier. Separating the Le out, the name sounded suitably like an objet-type; it also suggested the architect's profile, which resembled a crow's (corbeau). Le Corbusier 's self-invention continued with the encouragement of the elder, more self-assured Ozenfant. Adopting a costume of bow-tie, starched collar, and bowler hat, and a rhetorical literary style combining discipline, enthusiasm, ironic wit, and moral outrage, Le Corbusier became what he considered to be the perfect standard for the times.
Ozenfant and Le Corbusier parted in 1924, with much acrimony over who deserved credit for their joint efforts. In 1922, Le Corbusier formed an architectural partnership with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret; Jeanneret was to play the quieter role, developing plans and details and dealing with clients. They set up an office in the corridor of a former Jesuit monastery at 35, rue de Sevres. It remained Le Corbusier 's office for the rest of his life.
During the 1920s Le Corbusier realized his first mature architecture in a series of villas for artists, their patrons, and a few industrialists. The absence of a state program for public housing in France contributed to Le Corbusier 's inability to realize his ideas on a larger scale and for a more varied clientele. The one exception was a complex of workers* housing in Pessac, built for an industrialist. For the 1927 Deutsches Werkbund exhibition in Stuttgart, Le Corbusier built the Citrohan prototype in a rather pure form. In a booklet for the exhibition Le Corbusier codified his principles as (he Five Points of Modem Architecture, derived from the potentials of the concrete frame. They are the roof garden on top of the house, the consequence of a flat roof; the pilotis, or columns, that raise the house above the ground; the free plan, unencumbered by structural partitions ; the similarly free facade; and the strip (continuous, horizontal) windows, which provide maximum illumination to the house. Eventually, Le Corbusier categorized the spatial organizations derived from these points as the Four ompositions, illustrating each one with a house built during the 1920s.
By the end of the decade, Le Corbusier and Jeanneret had achieved a status and skill that seemed about to earn them their first public commission: the League of Nations (1927). Their eventual elimination (ostensibly for the illegal use of China ink) after winning numerous rounds of the competition was seen as the triumph in the architectural world of academicism over the modem. It instigated the formation of CIAM (Congres Intemationaux d'Architecture Modeme), whose charter members included S. Giedion, W. Gropius, and Le Corbusier, and whose principal areas of concern were architecture's relation to economic and political spheres. Their 1933 meeting on a boat headed to the Acropolis produced the Athens Charter, a document on urbanism published by Le Corbusier in 1943; it served as bible for much city planning in the following two decades. Eventually, Le Corbusier and Jeanneret did obtain two large public commissions: the Soviet Centrosoyus (begun in 1929) and the Cite de Refuge for the Salvation Army(1930).
Even as Le Corbusier completed the ultimate purist house. Villa Savoye (1931), and implemented his first glass curtain walls at the Centrosoyus and City de Refuge, a shift in the direction of his work and life became apparent. The female figure and other natural forms emerged in his painting as objects "a reaction poetique" (objects of poetic reaction) to be distinguished from the objets-types of his earlier compositions. Natural materials in a rough state appeared in his rural dwellings, then, coupled with more sophisticated technology, in his urban works, such as the Pavilion Suisse (1932).
This revived interest in the natural, from a new perspective. was a consequence of his experience with the real limits of modem construction technology and also of a set of inspiring travels to tropical landscapes: Brazil (1928) and Algiers (1929). His nights with Antoine de Saint-Exupery over the coast of Rio instigated a series of plans for sinuous viaduct cities. Similarly, his journey to the Soviet Union was in part responsible for the revision of his first Contemporary City as the Radiant City (1931).Besides this second bout of travel, the event most significant to Le Col-busier's life in this period was his marriage in 1930 to Yvonne Gallis, a model and couturier from Monaco. Le Corbusier subsequently adopted French citizenship.
With the worsening economic situation throughout Europe and the strenuous opposition to his ideas evident in some circles, Le Corbusier failed to secure any further large commissions and turned increasingly to urban planning and writing. Le Corbusier produced plans for almost every city in which Le Corbusier lectured or built: Geneva, Antwerp, and Stockholm in 1933, Hellocourt, Zlin, and Paris in 1935. This ongoing investigation of urban form produced plans for a "linear city." In 1935. at the invitation of the Museum of Modem Art, Le Corbusier traveled to the United States for the first time. America, especially New York City, aroused both his enthusiasm and his disgust. There the skyscraper existed, but without the guidance of a plan, thus, witout satisfyingthe "fundamental needs of the human heart."
Many of Le Corbusier 's writings of the period stemmed from his involvement with the Syndicalists, a politically ambiguous group who held that the means of production should be owned and managed by independent groups of workers (syndicats). Le Corbusier became an active contributor to the syndicalist journals Plan and Prelude. Through the membership of its editorial board. Prelude had a connection to the Italian fascist movement. Le Corbusier 's own connection with Italian fascism was fleeting, lasting only as long as Mussolini was interested in his ideas of the Radiant City.
Despite his varying fortune, in the thirties Le Corbusier established a fulfilling pattern of life and work. Mornings Le Corbusier would paint in his studio at Porte Molitor. His wife, a gourmet cook, would prepare lunch for them. Afternoons Le Corbusier would spend in his office on rue de Sevres, working with tits young, international employees on architectural projects. At least one evening a week, Le Corbusier and Jeanneret would join a fierce game of basketball in the dance studio/gym of his brother Albert. Periodically Le Corbusier vacationed on the Mediterranean, near Cap Martin, where Le Corbusier would take olympian swims.
With the onset of World War II, Le Corbusier left with Jeanneret for Ozon, in the Pyrenees. Their partnership ended in 1940, when Jeanneret left for Switzerland and joined the Resistance, while Le Corbusier approached his Syndicalist friends in power at Vichy in hopes of finding there an authority to implement his ideas for reconstruction. For eighteen months Le Corbusier attempted to make his way in Vichy circles, first as part of a commission to study housing, and then as an increasingly annoying advocate of his own plan for Algiers. Le Corbusier left Vichy in 1943, after Algerian authorities had denounced him as a Bolshevik.
After Liberation, Le Corbusier was able to take part in the reconstruction of France. Under the auspices of the Ministry of Reconstruction, Le Corbusier began plans for the port of Marseille, which culminated in the construction of his first Unite d'habitation. Le Corbusier prepared plans for the towns of St-Die and La Rochelle. Le Corbusier was selected as French delegate to the architectural commission of the United Nations. For a moment it seemed that many years of somewhat self-imposed martyrdom had borne fruit. Le Corbusier told an interviewer in New York, "For thirty years Fd been a consultant talking in a desert. Since 1945, I've led the architectural movement in France. I have arrived at a stage where things in my life flower, like a tree in season."
By 1950, this moment had passed; no city had accepted his plans. The U.N. disappointed him by making Wallace Harrison chief architect in the execution of a design Le Corbusier considered his own. The United States delegation to UNESCO refused to accept him on the design team. Despite this litany of official rejection and the bitterness it engendered, Le Corbusier entered on a productive period marked by the emergence of a well-defined aesthetic based on the plastic use of exposed concrete. Projects for several Unites, the chapel at Ronchamp (1954), the convent at LaTourette (1957), and the city plan and state architecture for Chandigarh, India, filled the decade.
Le Corbusier brought to bear on the Unite and all his subsequent architecture the research Le Corbusier had conducted during the war on the Modulor, a rule of proportion that applies the geometric properties of quadrature and the Golden Section to the measure of the human body. Le Corbusier had previously used these geometric properties, in the spirit of Auguste Choisy, as traces regulcueurs (regulating lines) for proportioning designs. Now Le Corbusier developed a system of measure in relation to man. Through the ladder of Golden Sections called the Fibonacci Series, Le Corbusier extended his intial Modulor to infinitely large and small dimensions. Le Corbusier asserted both its aesthetic value and utility as a standardized scale. Le Corbusier understood the Modulor as part of a great tradition extending back to Renaissance anthropometries, to Vitruvius and Pythagoras.
In his "Poem to the Right Angle" (1947-1953). Le Corbusier engaged in another exploration of man's relation to the cosmos, one belonging less to the rational humanist tradition of the Modulor and more to a personal spiritualism rooted in his attachment to nature and, perhaps, to the dualistic conceptions of spirit and matter from his Catharist heritage. The poem's images, such as the open hand and the bull, appear in the form of emblemata painted or engraved on his late buildings and in his dramatic use of natural elements, such as light, shadow, and water.
Toward the end of the 1950s, Le Corbusier withdrew more from social life and spent increasing periods of time at his cabin in Cap Martin. His wife had died in 1957, a blow from which some say Le Corbusier never totally recovered. Despite this partial retirement, Le Corbusier had as many architectural commissions as ever. Although these late works do not fall easily into a single category, many retreat from the primitivism of his Indian architecture toward a refined handling of materials, including steel; in them Le Corbusier reexamined his earlier vocabulary. Le Corbusier was at work on a project that promised to be of major significance in terms of his own development, the Venice Hospital, when, in 1965, Le Corbusier died of a heart attack while swimming in the Mediterranean.
“A hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe and 50 times: It is a beautiful catastrophe.”
“Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light.”
“A house is a machine for living in.”
“I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies.”
“The home should be the treasure chest of living.”
“To create architecture is to put in order. Put what in order? Function and objects.”