New Design

Le Corbusier

Swiss-French Modern Architect, Urban Planner, Designer, Sculptor, Painter, and Writer

Le Corbusier Photo
Born: October 6, 1887
La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland
Died: August 27, 1965
Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France
Main
Space and light and order. Those are things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.
Le Corbusier Signature

Summary of Le Corbusier

Few architects have a schnauzer that they name "Pinceau" ("Paintbrush"). Fewer still use their deceased schnauzer's skin and hair as the binding for a copy of Don Quixote. And there are few architects who can compare with the stature of Le Corbusier. This highly polemical designer hailed from obscurity in the Swiss Jura Mountains to become (arguably) the most influential urban planner and architect of the 20th century. He was one of the key designers who formulated the ideas behind a truly modern, avant-garde architecture during the interwar period. Le Corbusier's ideas about immense, rationalized, zoned, and industrially-constructed cities both shocked and seduced a global audience, and while they never came to fruition as a cohesive vision, his disciples put many of their pieces into place around the world, both during and after his lifetime. Over fifty years after his death, Le Corbusier still manages to exercise influence and arouse hatred for his ideas and buildings. His complex ties to politics and the sociological dimensions of architecture - along with his voluminous records and archives - mean that he will continue to be the subject of debates for decades to come.

Key Ideas

Biography of Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier Photo

Charles Édouard-Jeanneret was born in the fall of 1887 in the small industrial town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, in the section of the Alps called the Jura Mountains, just across the border from France. The city was known for its renowned watchmaking industry. His father was a watch engraver and enameller, and his mother worked as a music teacher. They encouraged their son to study decorative arts in the hope that he would also become an engraver of watchcases. Jeanneret also frequently made trips with his father into the mountains around La-Chaux-de-Fonds, becoming intimately acquainted with nature and the environment.

Important Art by Le Corbusier

Nature morte à la pile d'assiettes [Still Life with a Stack of Plates] (1920)

Nature morte à la pile d'assiettes [Still Life with a Stack of Plates] (1920)

After moving to Paris and meeting French painter Amédée Ozenfant, Le Corbusier (then still known as Charles-Édouard Jeanneret) coined the term Purism as the moniker for their new movement in modern painting. Purism intended to represent objects as pure, simple forms stripped of detail and to provide a timeless quality to industrial subject matter, reflecting the embrace of technology.

One of the best examples of Purism, this painting, as Kenneth Frampton has argued, "encapsulates more succinctly the [movement's] iconic ethos" by showing an ideological celebration of industrial civilization and exhibiting the "ready-made" lexicon of everyday life as an aesthetic discourse. Much like Marcel Duchamp, in 1917, had famously signed his "readymades" to raise ordinary objects to the status of high art, so does Le Corbusier here by depicting those same naked forms in paint - historically the format that promised to elevate its subject matter to a new level of respect worthy of discussion.

The pure, unadorned forms here comprise a critique of Cubism and Futurism, both movements that glorified the fragmentation or destruction of objects, the world, and the field of vision, akin to the modern destruction caused by World War I. Jeanneret and Ozenfant's manifesto-book Après le Cubisme (After Cubism), published in 1918, criticized the Cubists' work as ultimately decorative; indeed, their fragmented forms served no positive ideological purpose besides as an attractive arrangement of shapes and color. By contrast, the solidity and wholeness of the objects chosen here, and the combination of them to create new forms, represents Purism's faith in modernity and its commitment to moving civilization forward.

Pavillon de L'Esprit Nouveau, Paris (1925)

Pavillon de L'Esprit Nouveau, Paris (1925)

The Esprit Nouveau pavilion functioned as a manifesto of Le Corbusier's ideas on modern architecture at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris. It illustrated his belief that industry, through the standardization required for mass-production, could create the buildings necessary for modern living. He aimed to show "the radical transformations and structural liberties reinforced concrete and steel allow us to envisage in urban housing" as well as to demonstrate that the "comfortable and elegant units of habitation, these practical machines for living in, could be agglomerated in long, lofty blocks of villa-flats." These would form the primary housing units in his urban schemes, including the Contemporary City for Three Million Inhabitants and his Plan Voisin for Paris, underwritten, like the rest of the pavilion, by a prominent French automobile manufacturer.

Both of these urban schemes, built around the culture of automobile transport, were on display in an annex attached to the prototypical unit. For Le Corbusier, the ubiquitous employment of mass-production for both automobiles and houses was the germ of the city of the future; as he had explained in Vers une architecture, they functioned as essential modern tools that were logical extensions of the human form. This stood in stark contrast to the goals of the exposition, which fetishized the objects on display as desirable (and yet disposable) accessories, which functioned merely as ends in themselves. Le Corbusier's insistence on the utility of his model, thereby exposing the crass commercialization of the rest of the fair, no doubt contributed heavily to the exposition's directors' attempts to cordon off his pavilion behind a barrier until an injunction from the Ministry of Culture lifted it.

LC4 - Chaise longue (1928)

LC4 - Chaise longue (1928)

Described by Le Corbusier as a "relaxing machine," this chaise longue embodies his approach of placing the human body in the center of design. Indeed, Le Corbusier reportedly quipped that the design was inspired by images of American cowboys reclining with their feet propped up on a table. The chaise was designed with his longtime collaborators Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, who joined Le Corbusier's studio in 1927 and are responsible for most of the furniture designs that are primarily attributed to Le Corbusier.

The chair combines geometric purity with ergonomic needs, making use of the then innovative tubular steel frame, present in most modern furniture from the 1920s and '30s, most famously Marcel Breuer's Wassily Chair of 1926. The strong H-shaped base and the elegant curvature of the thin tubular frame support the padded surface bent twice in order to better accommodate one's body. A cylindrical cushion is placed on one side serving as a head support. The independence between the base and the tubular steel frame allows for multiple degrees of reclining, emphasizing the chair's multifunctionality and thus its ideal degree of utility. Manufactured by the Thonet Freres in Paris, the chaise became an icon of 20th-century design and remains in production today by the Italian company Cassina.

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Content compiled and written by Catarina Flaksman

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Peter Clericuzio

"Le Corbusier Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Catarina Flaksman
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Peter Clericuzio
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First published on 17 Apr 2017. Updated and modified regularly
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