Le Corbusier excelled in the visual and the plastic. He was a painter, sculptor, furniture designer and, above all, an architect of the highest order, perhaps the greatest of the 20th century, a colossus who in his prodigiously fecund invention and protean versatility was the peer of his friend Pablo Picasso.
[Le Corbusier] was a man who seldom practised what he preached—he was the least Corbusian of architects, and his houses are anything but the “habitable machines” he wrote of. They are quirky, ingenious, highly crafted, handmade, cosily homely. They favour high art over sheer function. At Ronchamp near Belfort, this non-believer created a spiritually transcendent chapel. At l’Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, he conjured a roofscape that seemingly encapsulates the mythic history of the Mediterranean
At the start of the twentieth century, visionaries like Fritz Lang imagined a world of increasingly vertical cities with streets darkened by the shadows of immense towers. Brilliant architects, like William Van Alen, designed great skyscrapers like the Chrysler Building, and others, like Le Corbusier, planned a world built at staggering heights.
Le Corbusier’s ideal of the functional car with its stream lined body and windows are echoed in the structure of the building with its concrete mass, through which there runs a ribbon of windows. Le Corbusier like the later avant-garde took up Taylorist ideas of mass factory line production. Ginsburg and Le Corbusier worked together on the first significant building of the International Style in Russia.
No matter how much education or how high a few would gain rise through the bureaucracy; the place of the working class within the Stalinist system would be the same. And that place would be purely functional; their political role would be subordinated to Stalin’s rule and bureaucratic control. However, the residents of this GOSPROM approved building and of Le Corbusier’s buildings never shared their architect’s ideal of how they should live the functional life or Le Corbusier’s fervor for the Purist ideals of modernist art and culture. Residents did however use paintings and individual touches to counter act the overbearing uniformity of the small cell like living spaces.
“A house is a machine for living in”, said Le Corbusier (1887-1965), Switzerland’s most important 20th-century architect. Famous for his ideological formalism, the architect was a pioneer of the International Style. Along with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, he favoured austere, white-walled villas, free-flowing floor plans, strip windows and ample open space.
Le Corbusier's last building, completed after his death, is this boldly minimalist steel-and-glass house in Zürichhorn park in the Seefeld neighbourhood. Renovated in 2003, the building now contains the Heidi Weber museum, dedicated to Le Corbusier's architecture plans, sculptures, paintings, furniture designs and writings.
In 1955 Le Corbusier built the chapel of Notre-Dame-du-Haut in Ronchamp, a remote site in the Jura Mountains near the Swiss border. The building had curved, roughly plastered concrete walls and a swelling roof that resembled a nun's wimple. These sculptural features challenged the functionalist dogma—to a large extent devised by the architect himself—of the white-shoebox International Style. After Ronchamp modern architecture was never quite the same.
The chief aim of architecture should not be to entertain, titillate, or shock viewers. After the third example of swirling titanium and colliding prisms, the effect begins to wear thin. Le Corbusier understood this, which is why he did not repeat the sculptural effects of Ronchamp in other buildings. Once was enough. Beauty, along with function and structure, has of course always been a concern of architects. But true architectural beauty has a particular nature: calm and considered, standing to one side of fast and furious fashion.
Most of the massive state engineering schemes of the twentieth century have been the work of progressive or revolutionary elites committed to changing existing society but often with no commitment to democracy or civil rights. The prophets of high modernism (and the villains in this book) are Walter Rathenau, Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Le Corbusier, and Julius Nyerere; their worthy opponents are Rosa Luxemburg, Aleksandra Kollontai, Jane Jacobs, and E. F. Schumacher.