Term Paper: Le Corbusier

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Le Corbusier

Charles Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, was born on October 6, 1887 in Switzerland in the small town of La Chaux-de-Fonds. (Le Corbusie: Wikipedia) He later became known under the pseudonym Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier was one the creators of the International style in architecture and also designed furniture. He was an innovator and, with other architects such as Walter Gropius and Theo van Doesburg, was responsible for the style and philosophy of modernist architecture that still influences us today. "He was an early and influential exponent of the Modern Movement and one of the most innovative of 20th-century architects." (Le Corbusier (1887-1965))

Le Corbusier was attracted to the visual arts from an early age. The earliest houses that he designed were reminiscent of the indigenous mountainous vernacular architectural styles popular in the Alps. (ibid) Later he expanded his artistic horizons and traveled to Europe where he was employed in the offices of the pioneer of reinforced concrete, Auguste Perret. Between October 1910 and March 1911 he worked for the renowned architect Peter Behrens near Berlin. (ibid) All of these influences were to have an impact on the development of his style and architectural philosophy.

After the First World War Le Corbusier returned to Paris and with Charles Dermee and the painter Amedee Ozenfant he founded the avant-garde magazine 'L'Esprit Nouveau. This was more than a publication dealing with architecture but was concerned with the principle that "all the arts had their place, and also the sciences, sociology, psychology and biology."

Choay p.11) This attests to the vision of Le Corbusier and others, that architecture was part of the larger artistic modernist movement which included elements of sculpture and other fine arts.

Possibly Le Corbusier's greatest influence was in the area of urban planning.

He was a founding member of the Congres Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne. He was also the first to understand how the automobile would change the way people lived and congregated and the way in which cities were to be designed around traffic routes. He saw that this and other technological developments would have a profound effect on modern architecture. "Le Corbusier described the city of the future as consisting of large apartment buildings isolated in a park-like setting... Le Corbusier's theories were most completely adopted by the builders of public housing in the United States." (Le Corbusier: Wikipedia) the influence of technology and innovative modern styles and industrial process were to have a profound effect on his architectural vision.

Today Le Corbusier is thought of by many as the "Picasso of architecture"; (ibid) he became famous for his creations and designs such as the famous Punjab capitol buildings in Chandigarh India, the "Unite d'habitation" residential complex in Marseilles and the Notre Dame du Haut chapel in Roncamp France, as well as the Carpenter Visual Arts Center at Harvard University. However, many criticize his work as having originated a de-humanized style of architecture. Throughout his career, Le Corbusier was to align himself with the creative spirit of his age, taking into account the technical developments of the century. His architectural vision was a complete aesthetic that he developed; a philosophy which was a reaction to the age in which he lived. Many ascribe his genius to his incorporation of the possibilities that the modern era offered.

His goal was to combine the unconscious aesthetic of the engineers with the revolutionary discoveries of Western art from the time of Cezanne to Picasso. The result would be a new, modern environment as responsive to man's wishes as the airplanes, ocean liners, and automobiles that technology has made his everyday companions.

Jones 31)

2. Le Corbusier and Modernism

In order to fully understand the influence and significance of Le Corbusier's artistic imagination and designs one has firstly to understand the milieu of modernism which affected his style of architecture. The term modernism refers to a specific period of western cultural, artistic and sociological history. This period covers the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries - including the devastating effects of the First Word War on European consciousness. Coupled with events like the two world wars, were discoveries in science and other disciplines which overturned centuries of belief and convention. One needs only think of Einstein's theory of relativity and Freud's theory of the unconscious, in this regard. Freud's theory of the unconscious opened up a new world of previously unimagined human experience and led to a new perception of the self as well as new art and art forms. Karl Jung continued this idea and developed the theory of archetypes that suggests that all humanity, across cultural and racial barriers, share a common memory. There were many other historical, philosophical and scientific changes during this period. The common factor here is that all these events led to a deep and radical questioning of the status quo. The world and the view of reality that had been generally dominant in western society for centuries were questioned and overturned. New disciplines and particularly new art forms emerged as a reaction to the old ways of seeing things. This was also the case with regard to architecture, with Le Corbusier as one of the major innovators in this field.

The pre-First War period of the century was a peak period of innovation in all the arts and sciences. The modern movement in painting and sculpture was paralleled by music and literature. It was the age of powered flight, of the motor vehicle. Of wireless telegraphy and telephony and of fundamental discoveries in atomic physics... architecture, too, shared this heroic phase of creativity

Myers. B. And Copplestone T. (ed) p. 284)

It is against this backdrop that the ideas and innovations put forward by Le Corbusier should be seen. He was concerned that architecture should also have a social and moral component. In this he was greatly influenced by the problems he saw developing in the industrial city and sought an architectural solution to the social problems that the modern city engendered. "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."(Le_Corbusier: Wikipedia)

It is important to understand that the architectural philosophy created by Le Corbusier and others was strongly aligned and influenced by the conditions in society and especially by the attraction of new technologies that could shape better living conditions for humanity.

The Philosophical origins of modern architecture lay in the idea of social reform... The notion had developed in the 19th century... that man is biologically, socially and even spiritually a product of his environment. Leaders of the modern movement argued that, if this is so, the, especially in a man-made industrialized age, by changing the environment we can change both the individual and society. They said that...the architect must lead the way out. (Myers. B and Copplestone T. (ed) p. 284)

The modernist appeal for architecture lay in the new possibilities that modern science and technological innovation offered.

The Middle Ages aspired toward the City of God, and the Renaissance evoked a more worldly ideal, the great age of classic Rome. The twentieth century too has had its great vision, which is no less poetic because it invokes science and technology. It is that of a new society founded on the machine's gigantic powers of production and man's ability to mold his own environment in the light of his own vision.

Jones 31)

3. Society and the 'house as machine'

Le Corbusier was therefore in search of new means of architectural expression within the context of modernism. He was in favor of artistic and abstract expression above tradition and history and was particularly concerned with progress towards a better society through the use of technology. He saw the modern house or home as a "machine" for living. This concept related not only to modern technological developments but also to the Utopian vision that formed an important part of his architectural idealism. The idea of the "house as machine" also relates to the idea of functionality above petty aesthetic values. "I had given the house its fundamental importance, calling it a machine to live in."

Choay 14) Le Corbusier wrote that "We must create the mass production spirit; the spirit of constructing mass produced houses; the spirit of living in mass-production houses; the spirit of conceiving mass-production houses,"

Jones 34)

His concept of architectural functionalism can be seen in his town planning proposals created in the 1920's. These proposals advocate "vertical garden cities with zoning of living and working areas and traffic separation as solutions to urban growth and chaos." (Le Corbusier (1887-1965) Later this combination of design and functionally was also seen in his designs for multi-storey villas such as Unite d'habitation, Marseilles, 1947-52. (ibid) These villas were designed using a modular system which was mathematically calculated in relation to the proportions of the human figure. These "machines for the living" were also designed to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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