LeCorbusier and the Pursuit of Perfection
Daniella on Design
… I visited “An Atlas of Modern Landscapes” at MoMA. This exhibition tells the story of a legend, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret. He called himself Le Corbusier, and he changed the course of architecture.
Born in Switzerland in 1887, Le Corbusier began his career as a painter, and remained an artist for the entire scope of his career. He was an artist when designing interiors, furniture, and villas; he was an artist when building residential towers, and when planning cities across the globe. Le Corbusier demonstrated that simplicity does not indicate lack, but rather a sophisticated, stylish, and intelligent choice. He is widely considered among the most influential architects of our time, not just in the west, but throughout the world. He believed in the power of architecture to elevate humanity.
At the core of the Modern Movement was the idea of liberating architecture from 19th-century historicism, but Le Corbusier took it further than most of his contemporaries. Aided by unconventional ideas, new materials, and abstract language, he formulated an innovative model for domestic architecture in the form of white, cubist houses. He built sleek villas in the 1920’s for clients of progressive taste, and called them “machines for living in.” His villas embody clarity, rationality, and simplicity, outstripping traditional formulas. Clean, spare, hygienic, and healthy; they echo sculpture in elegance and intent. Perhaps his most spectacular creation from this period is the Villa Savoye, the culmination of his signature. In the flush of success, he reinvented his approach and built the organic Ronchamp Chapel, among the singular religious buildings of modern times.
Later in Le Corbusier’s career, he stirred controversy by proposing widely spaced residential skyscrapers in Paris, and tried to convince the city to demolish the historic district of La Marais and replace it with his towers. Instead, the cities of his vision took shape far from Paris. It was in Chandigarh, a northern metropolis of India, that Le Corbusier fulfilled his revolutionary urban plan.
MoMa’s exhibition documents a unique 20th century legacy. But it neglects to reveal the tragedy of a Le Corbusier, whose troubled relationship with his mother twisted the course of his career, and whose life was beset with scandals. On the committee to plan the United Nations, he was upstaged by his young colleague Oscar Niemyer. Le Corbusier foiled Niemyer’s stunning plans by among other things, eliminating plazas. In 1965, he left Le Cabanon, a small wooden house he built as a summer retreat on the breathtaking Cote d’Azur, and against doctor’s orders, he went for a swim in the Mediterranean. His subsequent death remains a mystery.