A tribute to Le Corbusier

Alissa Ugolini—homify UK Alissa Ugolini—homify UK
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October 6, 2014 marks the anniversary of the birth of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known under the pseudonym Le Corbusier. On this same day, it is also the International Day of Architecture: a coincidence that could not be put aside! We wanted to pay tribute to this talented architect by presenting some of his most important creations, like we did few weeks to celebrate the birthday of the Italian architect Renzo Piano .

Indeed, the contribution of Le Corbusier to modern and contemporary architecture is colossal. He is probably the most influential architect of the twentieth century. With his modernist colleagues and schools, he has completely changed the way of thinking about, perceiving and experiencing design, architecture and urban space. He is known for his designs of unique and innovative buildings, but also for work as an urban planner and industrial and furniture designer. The signature style of Le Corbusier was simple, strong lines, which inspired his theoretical writings. We are going to take a look at some of his most notable projects and pay homage to the legacy of he left behind.

(Creative Commons attribution : Susleriel)

Villa Savoye (Poissy, 1928-1931)

(Creative Commons attribution : Rory Hyde)

We begin this tribute with one of the most famous masterpieces of Le Corbusier. It is also one of his first projects, and it began the wave of white villas that he would come to design. This unique home was actually commissioned by the wealthy Savoye family, who wanted a villa in the countryside in order to get away from the chaos of the city on the weekend. The building has been designed in the middle of a green meadow in the town of Poissy, west of the Parisian metropolitan core, creating a modern mirage of a pristine white box floating in the middle of an untouched natural area.

In addition to its elegant living spaces that blur the boundaries between inside and outside lines, the house is famous because it is built as a summary of the basic lessons of modern design, which were written by Le Corbusier himself. Known as the five points of a new architecture, the study reveals the following: First, the use of pillars to open the living spaces, avoiding damp, dark rooms and, where appropriate, allowing a comfortable space to park the family car. Then, a rooftop terrace, connected to parts of the house, which also creates unique living spaces, combining warm sunshine and lush vegetation. Then an open plan, made possible by his structural design plan of beams, slabs and columns, which opens the various spaces in the home, and creates a more fluid interior. Similarly, it provides for a free façade, independent of its structural system. Finally, the fifth point suggests the use of horizontal bands of windows that frame the panoramic landscape in dynamic way.

Chaise longue LC4 (Paris, 1929)

(Creative Commons attribution : Roberto Sena)

As mentioned earlier, Le Corbusier is famous not only for his exceptional buildings, but also for his furniture collections that became design icons of the twentieth century. Since the early 1920s, he produced a variety of chairs, tables and storage units to furnish his own projects. Le Corbusier sought to change the function of furniture by moving away from an object that was solely for decoration and concentrating on the actual function of the piece. His most recognised piece is the LC4 chaise chair, where a simple chrome base supports an ergonomically shaped seat.

Unité d'habitation/Radiant City (Marseille, 1946-1952)

(Creative Commons attribution : Vincent Desjardins)

If there is one thing you should know about the work of Le Corbusier, it is his influence on contemporary living arrangements, more specifically, on social and community housing. The Unité d'habitation, known also as Radiant City, is an urban infill building in the French suburbs of Marseilles. This building was a response to the critical need for quality social housing following the aftermath of the Second World War. The design, while not the favourite of some, serves its purpose. It is 137 metres long, by 56 metres high, and accommodates 337 individual units.

The genius of this building is apparent in the layout; the rooms are arranged in such a fashion that they have access to generous amounts of natural light. Using the five points of architecture we mentioned earlier, this particular building is elevated in such a way that the surrounding vegetation can crawl underneath the structure. It also houses a large roof top garden, nursery and gymnasium, all of which which are accessible to all who live in the building. It truly is a vertical city.

Chapelle Nodre-Dame-du-Haut (Ronchamp, 1950-1955)

(Creative Commons attribution : senhormario)

Stepping away from societal demands, this project, which is actually a Catholic chapel, highlights the visual talents of this master of architecture. Located at the top of Bourlémont hill in Haute-Saone, at first glance, we see strong curved forms, an impressive roof and a bold use of concrete and render. Our eyes are then drawn to the sporadically placed windows, which create a veritable constellation of natural light in the interior of the chapel. 

On a deeper level of analysis, this project is in fact made of up many conflicting characteristics that have been cleverly disguised and tricked into working alongside one another. The chapel is geometric, yet organic, simple, yet decorated. Above all, it has a strong structural facade yet is light filled and airy. This game of contradictions creates a strong spiritual impression, which can be truly appreciated once the different formal, spatial and light compositions are viewed in the flesh. 

Palais des Assemblés du Pendjab (Chandigarh, 1955)

(Creative Commons attribution : duncid)

In 1951, Le Corbusier, already recognised worldwide for his talent and creativity, was called by the Indian prime minister at the time to complete the design of the urban plan and the main institutional buildings in Chandigarh, which became the new capital of Punjab, following the separation of territory between India and Pakistan.

The Palace of Justice, the Secretariat and the Palace of the Assemblies (as seen in the photograph) represent the highest concentration of projects by Le Corbusier in one place. Moreover, these buildings and their impressive sculptural forms were designed completely in poured concrete with superhuman dimensions. These would come to inspire the architects of the Brutalist movement, which saw the opportunity to create a new aesthetic and emotional connection. It is true that from this point of view, the reflection of the project in the large pool creates a strong link between a man-made structure and nature.

Pavillon Philips (Bruxelles, 1958)

(Creative Commons attribution :  Wouter Hagens)

We conclude this overview with a mythical project of which remain only traces of photographs and graphics. It was a temporary building, built for the electronics appliance company, Philips, for the occasion of the World Expo 1958 in Brussels, Belgium. The pavilion is made of reinforced concrete parabolic surfaces, a unique innovation for its time, which give the building a futuristic appearance, halfway between a powerful formal expression and an amazing feature that borrows from organic forms, a little like the Chapel of Ronchamp project. For this project, Le Corbusier worked with an assistant at the time, Greek musician and architect Iannis Xenakis, who would become famous for his later projects that combine space and music. This collaboration allows us also to mention the influence of Le Corbusier on the work of his contemporaries and successors. Indeed, many famous architects mention the work of Le Corbusier as one of the main inspirations for their practice, even today. This includes, for example, the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and American architecture Richard Meier, both recipients of the prestigious Pritzker Prize for excellence in architecture.

In conclusion, the work of Le Corbusier is not only impressive, but it helped to answer the call of societal demands. Although he is no longer with us, the fact remains that the works of this French-Swiss architect still influence all facets of design and architecture today.

Whitton Drive:  Terrace house by GK Architects Ltd

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