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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Le Corbusier

He was born in 1887, Swiss by nationality; and early on, he was an abstract painter. His name was Charles Edouard Jeanneret. Eventually he turned to sculpture. His imagination was such that it demanded bigger things, broader scope, and more monumental endeavors. He turned to architecture, then beyond that to city planning. His designs were supremely rational, yet revolutionary in their radical departure from accepted and expected norms. He is said to have embraced reinforced concrete like some men embrace their wives, like architects of the past had embraced wood, brick, and stone. He carved it, shaped it, and sculpted it like clay. His famous Five Points of New Architecture, published in 1925, served as the basis for all that has come since to be known as modern architecture.  He provided free and open spaces and left it to others to adapt these spaces for their immediate needs, while designing them to be just as functional as those needs changed and changed again. In the process he also changed his named. Today, we know him by his chosen French name, Le Corbusier.

Villa Savoy, Poissy, 1929-31, Le Corbusier
Before the Second World War, Le Corbusier (pronounced LAY Cor-BOOS-ee-yay) was more writer than builder. His work between the wars was limited mostly to domestic homes. Oh, but what homes they were. His Villa Savoy (right) at Poissy, built between 1929 and 1931 appears to be futuristic even by today's standards. The lower level is a rectangular open area ringed with concrete pylons. It contains parking space, an entry foyer, and service utilities. The second level of the concrete structure is a square layout with living and bedroom areas free-flowing in a "U" shape around a terrace. A band of windows like a ribbon stretch horizontally along each identical facade. A continuous ramp leads from the ground level clear up to a curvilinear solarium and garden on the roof. During the 1950s, In part because of the considerable reconstruction in France as a result of WW II, as well as the functional simplicity of his designs, and the economies afforded by his devotion to reinforced concrete, Le Corbusier was able to move up to bigger and better things.

Unite d'Habituation , 1952, Le Corbusier
In 1952, the architect applied the same five principles as seen in the Villa Savoy to an entire apartment complex known as Unite d'Habituation (left) near Marseilles. Some fifteen stories tall, supported on massive, inverted conical pylons, the structure has somewhat the appearance of a modern style chest of drawers. To some degree, that's exactly what it is. Le Corbusier was the first architect to pioneer the use of prefabricated, concrete living units, fashioned like giant, bi-level drawers. Each elongated unit has a balcony on either end and extends clear through the width of the structure.  Every other floor had a "street" running the length of the structure with communal areas, shopping, and laundry facilities occupying the seventh and eight floors while the rooftop garden contains a swimming pool, running track, and other recreational facilities. Various apartment units were designed to house families of from two to ten people. And as revolutionary as this structure might seem, his pilgrimage chapel, Notre Dame du Haut (below) at Ronchamp, with it's soaring roof line, sloping walls, and irregularly sized and spaced windows, is downright extra terrestrial. It makes one wonder if more painters ought to give up their brushes in favor of architecture.
Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, 1955, Le Corbusier

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