Progression of Art
Nature morte à la pile d'assiettes [Still Life with a Stack of Plates]
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.
Oil on canvas - Kunstmuseum Basel
Pavillon de L'Esprit Nouveau, Paris
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.
Concrete, glass, steel
LC4 - Chaise longue
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.
Chrome-plated steel, fabric, and leather
The Villa Savoye was commissioned by an upper-class Parisian couple as a weekend house in Poissy, 19 miles away from Paris. Recognized as "one of the icons of modern European architecture," the house influenced the coinage of the term "The International Style" and was prominently displayed in 1932 in MoMA's seminal Modern Architecture: International Exhibition. The last of Le Corbusier's 1920s-style houses, the Villa Savoye, fittingly, is considered the summation of his "Five Points of a New Architecture" elucidated in his treatise Vers une architecture (1923). The pilotis, or thin point-support columns, are arranged in a near-perfect grid that provides the architect almost complete freedom in the designs of both the floor plan and the facades - underscored by the fact that each of the four facades is different. The second floor, the main living space, is characterized by the ribbon windows that provide unencumbered views of the landscape - fostering the strong connection between nature and the constructed structure - and it is crowned by a roof terrace. The expansive lawn has the added effect of placing the building on prime display, as if it was intended to function as a demonstration or summation of the Five Points.
Built entirely out of the industrial materials of steel, concrete, and glass, the Villa Savoye exhibits several links with modern means of transport that fascinated Le Corbusier. The terrace features a sculptural wall whose curved forms echo the smokestacks of ocean liners, a relationship which is underscored by the placement of the house within a large lawn, much like a ship sailing through a vast sea; and in the metal ship-deck railings of the ramps that connect the house's three levels. Meanwhile, the curve of the driveway as it snakes around the first level uses the exact turning radius of a 1929 model Voisin - the automobile manufacturer that had supported Le Corbusier's work throughout the decade. The villa thus represents the way Le Corbusier conceived of a dwelling as "a machine for living."
Concrete, steel, glass - Poissy-sur-Seine, France
The Unité d'Habitation in Marseilles was the first large-scale housing block that Le Corbusier was given the chance to build. Its conception was a long time in the making, and can be traced back at least to the blocks of apartments he developed for his housing schemes of the 1930s, including those for Algiers and Nemours, Algeria. It was conceived to be built in multiple iterations, as part of a much larger urban redevelopment, such as those Le Corbusier hoped would be built for entirely devastated areas such as Saint-Die and La Rochelle after World War II. The single Unité, however, was the only piece of this vision that he would manage to carry out - though in several different locations in Europe.
The Unité represents the most complete realization we have of Le Corbusier's idea of communal housing, often described as a "city within a city." The 337 apartment units in the building are divided into 23 types in order to accommodate different family arrangements - from a bachelor to a family with eight children. Most of the apartments are duplex and include a living room with a double-height ceiling and large windows that allow for a full view of the surrounding landscape. Halfway up the building, along the interior road of floors seven and eight, essential services are provided such as a bakery, butcher, dairy, seafood shop, fruit and vegetable shop, liquor store, drugstore, laundry and cleaning service, barbershop, post office, as well as a hotel and a restaurant. In addition, on the 17th floor inhabitants can find a kindergarten and a nursery. There, a ramp leads to the rooftop, which contains a swimming pool, indoor and outdoor athletic facilities, and a snack bar.
The Unité also shows the evolution of Le Corbusier's work with béton brut (rough concrete), wherein he left the material unfinished, with the imprint of the wood used to cast it clearly visible in its surface. This facet of the building's skin not only connects it to the natural park-like surroundings littered with trees, but it gives the building an arguably more robust character, much like the hulk of a sailing ocean liner, to which it has often been compared (appropriate for Marseilles, France's gateway port to the Mediterranean). Le Corbusier's work with concrete here would influence many architects in the coming decades, culminating in the strand of design with the material called Brutalism, which coalesced in the 1970s.
Concrete, glass, steel - Marseilles, France
In 1950, Le Corbusier was invited to design a new Catholic pilgrimage chapel in Ronchamp, a small French town in the Vosges Mountains near the Swiss border, to replace the one that had been destroyed during World War II. Perched on top of a hill, the church is atypical among Le Corbusier's works; its highly sculptural forms use virtually no right angles and make no references to his usual prismatic clarity. The inclined walls appear almost to be collapsing inwards under the weight of the massive brown concrete roof. Only when the visitor enters the small, darker sanctuary, pierced by small shards of light, does he discover the thickness and solidity of these walls that firmly enfold the space and create a solemn atmosphere imbued with meditative tranquility.
In Notre-Dame-du-Haut one sees how Le Corbusier's work provides architectural critics and historians with a vast array of avenues for analysis in an attempt to decipher his achievement. Scholars have traced his inspirations for the chapel to Mediterranean sources, the Athenian Acropolis, the Hebrew Temple in the wilderness, and Bronze Age crypts. The shape of the roof has been variously compared to a billowing sail, a duck's tail, and a nun's cowl. Thus this mysterious panoply itself invites a kind of intellectual rumination and reflection that undoubtedly mirrors the religious contemplation that Le Corbusier attempts to encourage in the pilgrim. The sense of contemplation is likewise drawn out over the substantial hike one must take up the hill in order to reach the chapel, thereby mirroring the spiritual journey in many religions (not just Christianity) that one makes to achieve enlightenment, or simply the winding adventure of human life with its unexpected twists and turns.
Concrete, stone masonry, glass - Ronchamp, France
In 1951, having seen his plans for numerous cities rejected, Le Corbusier finally received the opportunity to put his ideas into practice. After India gained independence in 1947, the country's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, envisioned a new capital for the Punjab state that would represent India's entry into the modern world. He tapped Le Corbusier for the job after the project's first architect, Matthew Nowicki, was killed in a plane crash. Chandigarh was planned to house 300,000 inhabitants, spread over 47 numbered sectors organized on a grid. Each sector, measuring 800 x 1200 meters, consists of a self-sufficient unit with basic services such as shops, school, health center, and areas for recreation and worship. As in his other projects, Le Corbusier prioritized the automobile, connecting the sectors through wide boulevards. To conform to the modern ideas of functionality and efficiency, the city was zoned according to its different uses: residential buildings, a commercial center, a medical and university complex, and a recreation area, and a central park around a large artificial lake.
Le Corbusier was also responsible for designing the famed Capitol Complex, which included the Secretariat (headquarters of both the Punjab and Haryana governments), the Legislative Assembly, and the High Court buildings. Their impressive scale boldly displays Le Corbusier's affinity for rough cast-concrete, punctuated by long rows of bays articulated by prominent brise-soleil to provide relief from the hot desert sun. Chandigarh's success might be gauged from recent polls that reveal it to be the happiest city of India - most likely due to the calm and order resulting from its unique design; meanwhile, Le Corbusier's Capitol Complex was added to UNESCO's World Heritage list in 2016. Chandigarh's attractiveness, however, has prompted intense growth beyond the city limits planned by Le Corbusier, so that now the city faces the challenge of balancing preservation and development while its leaders discuss a new plan to manage its expansion.
Master plan and Capitol Complex buildings