Famously quoted as saying, ” Architecture is the masterly, correct, and magnificent play of masses brought together in light” Le Corbusier, one of the famous architects of the 20th century, was a versatile genius (Tomas, 2009). Besides being an architect, he was a designer, writer, urban planner, painter and one of the founding fathers of modern architecture. A pioneer in modern high design with his buildings scattered across Europe, America and India, he contributed to better living arrangements for people in crowded cities. Born in a small city in Switzerland in 1887, Le Corbusier’s actual name was Charles Édouard Jeanneret. He adopted the pseudonym Le Corbusier in 1920 to keep in with the fashion trend of keeping a single name as identity that was in vogue in Paris during those days. He held a passionate interest in visual arts. He completed his education at the La-Chaux-de-Fonds Art School and was greatly influenced by his teacher René Chapallaz who taught architecture in the Arts School. He is the father of brutalism in modern architecture and urban city designs. This essay would highlight how his initial trips round Europe contributed to the development of his architectural ideas leading to his creation of five points architectural principles, urbanism, basic design philosophy and his furniture line and how his works have been criticized over the years.
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Early Trips that Formed Le Corbusier’s Architectural Ideology
In the initial years of his life he often would embark on a tour around Europe to get away from the parochial atmosphere of his hometown. He took his first trip outside the perimeter of Switzerland in 1906 at the age of 19 years to magnificent Italy. He went to Paris in 1907 and started working for Auguste Perret who pioneered the use of reinforced concrete. His trip to Italy and his employment under Auguste Perret influenced him to form his own concepts about architecture. Soon he went to Vienna to complete higher education on architecture. He worked nearly about 6 months for a reputed architect Peter Behrens in between 1910 and 1911 and while working there he met Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, two famous German architects considered to be the pioneers of modern architecture. In the later period of 1911, he went on a trip to the Balkans and paid a visit to Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria.
Le Corbusier’s visit to Cartosa del Galluzzo and Its influence
During these travels, he drew paintings and sketches of what he saw in his sketchbook with notes and these trips influenced him to develop his architectural style and his rhetorical modes. It was during his trip to Italy in 1906 that he visited the Carthusian monastery known as Cartosa del Galluzzo in Val d’Ema located in central Italy in suburb of Florence. It was a very wealthy and influential monastery in Europe with hundreds of monks living together in the holy sanctuary. It was at this monastery that Le Corbusier started developing ideas about the creation of new architectural design, a model for modernity. Certosa was formed of an array of buildings and two churches. The first edifice in the monastic complex Le Corbusier encountered was Palazzo Acciaiuoli, a beautiful palace that Niccolò Acciaiuoli, an influential politician built for himself but he couldn’t stay there because by the time he died only a fraction of the palace was built. It was in the middle of 16th century that the palace was completely constructed and attached to the Certosa. The palace composed of three buildings is an architectural wonder. The main church ‘ the Church of St. Laurence’ was situated in the big square with a 19th century bell-tower. The church had its walls and ceilings painted with frescoes and colorful pictures of Jesus and Mary. There was an underground chapel formed in the shape of T with a barrel vaulted ceiling. The chapel carried the tomb of Cardinal Agnolo II Acciaiuoli which is believed to be built by Donatello, a renowned Renaissance Italian sculptor of Florence (Abbeys of Tuscany). The second church was built in Greek style. The most beautiful place in Certosa that Le Corbusier was greatly impressed by was the Cloister. The Church of Saint Lawrence gave access to the cloister built in Renaissance style with a large terracota well designed by two famous Italian pottery artists Andrea and Giovanni della Robbia. The monks lived in cells with an easy access provided to the cloister. Each of their cells consists of separate rooms for praying and sleeping. Each room had an enclosed garden specifically looked after by inhabitant (Abbeys of Tuscany). In addition to the large cloister, there were two other cloisters. One was a medium cloister built in the 16th century and the small cloister is built in Brunelleschi style. The Certosa’s influence on Le Corbusier is found in his five architectural points, the pilotis, the free plan and large windows opening up to a breathtaking vista ahead. The concept of lush garden around every skyscraper he built might also have come from each monk tending to his personal garden in the Certosa monastery.
The Parthenon, the most famous ancient Greek temple, was Le Corbusier’s favorite building. An ageless beauty, the Parthenon combining the typical elements of classical architecture is a perfect creation that etched an indelible impression on his mind. Built at the peak of the highest hill in Athens, the Acropolis, the Parthenon was a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena. It is the most important classical building of Greece that has survived. The decorative sculptures of the Parthenon betray the magnificence of Greek art. The Parthenon is a classic example of Doric peripheral temple comprised of a rectangular floor with an array of low-lying steps around and a row of Doric columns extending along the ambit of the whole structure (Silverman). The Parthenon with its mighty presence inspired Le Corbusier to use piltois in his design of buildings especially exemplified by his wonderful creation of Villa Savoye. Further, his thought that a house should be a machine for living with proper ventilation, sun shields, sun traps during winter and sound insulation was inspired by his view of the Parthenon.
Five Points of Architecture of Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier formulated a set of architectural principles known as 5 Points d’ une architecture nouvelle or the Five Points of a New Architecture in 1926. These five points included “ 1) the pilotis elevating the mass off the ground, 2) the free plan, achieved through the separation of the load-bearing columns from the walls subdividing the space, 3) the free facade, the corollary of the free plan in the vertical plane, 4) the long horizontal sliding window and finally 5) the roof garden, restoring, supposedly, the area of ground covered by the house” (Geocities, 2003). Villa Savoye, built in 1928 and 1931, is a perfect example of an architectural marvel succinctly based on Le Corbusier’s five point architectural principles. He first elevated the base of the structure off the ground, propping it up on pilotis- the poles built of reinforced concrete. The pilotis by holding the structural base of the house in position allowed room for him to implement his next two architectural points – the free facade which are non-supporting walls that could be constructed according to the wish of the architect and free plan which means the floor space could be freely designed into rooms without taking the supporting walls into consideration. The second floor of Villa Savoy fulfills the fourth point of Le Corbusier’s architectural principle with a series of ribbon windows providing unhindered view of the spacious surrounding yard. In order to compensate for the green area the building is standing upon, Le Corbusier designed a roof garden on top of the building and that constitutes the fifth point of his architectural principles. The architectural promenade formed by a ramp ascending from the ground floor to the terrace in third floor is an important aspect of Villa Savoye’s structure.
Urbanism of Le Corbusier
One of the major dreams of le Corbusier was to create an ideal city. He grew up in a European society where the population was increasing rapidly in the urban areas with the large part of the city developing in an unplanned way. Le Corbusier saw that the immense growth of Paris was making the city more dirty, filthy and congested. This probably inspired him to come up with an idea of urban city design. In 1922, Le Corbusier came up with his plan of a city design famously known as “ Ville Contemporaine” or Contemporary City. He built the design for a city with 3 million inhabitants. The basic idea of the design was to create a city that is spick and span with a lush green park surrounding every skyscraper. For example, in the contemporary city design there were multiple skyscrapers around the middle of the city surrounded by greenery and empty spaces. These skyscrapers housed both work spaces and flats. The central most part of the city was the transportation hub. The ground level contained buses and trains and on the top of those was an airport. The city expanded radially and on the outer rims of the city in zigzag blocks were the houses for common people. Roads and pedestrian pathways were separate and automobiles were given as the main mode of transport in that city design. Although the city design theoretically got lot of praise from many corners but it was never implemented anywhere. The main criticism the design faced was that the city design never considered open spaces for human interaction and freedom of movement in the city.
After the failure of implementing his dream of creating a utopian city using his Ville Contemporaine, Le Corbusier started thinking of changing his urban design. During late 1920s he became involved in Syndicalist movement and also got acquainted with the linear city ideas of Russian linear city planner Nikolay Alexandrovich Milyutin. This liner city planning started influencing his ideas. First, in 1924 Le Corbusier came up with a new city idea called Ville Radieuse or Radiant City. This design became associated with syndicalist movement and this design was later published in Athens Charter in 1943. The main difference between these designs with the earlier design was that radiant City design was linear based design. However, Le Corbusier still maintained the skyscrapers, multiple levels of roads and abundant green spaces from the early design. In 1930s he also developed radiant Village and Radiant farm design as well.
Unlike Contemporary City, which never was implemented, Radiant City design attracted few city politicians. Le Corbusier was called to design some part of Algiers and then he also designed some part of Nemours. In 1935, he went to USA and proposed to New York city council that they should demolish the Manhattan skyscrapers because they are too small and close. They should rather build a giant skyscraper which will house both offices and flats as per his design. Needless to say, that idea was never implemented. Finally, in 1945 he was called to build the city of Marseilles based on his Radiant City design. The Nutter’s House in Marseille is one of the most iconic works of Le Corbusier and is designated by the French Government as a historic monument. Le Corbusier also designed many such buildings across Europe in many countries.
Not everyone is impressed profoundly by Le Corbusier’s works. There are critics who view him as the father of a million of bland tower blocks, shopping centers and multi-storied car parks. One architectural writer even labeled him as ‘evil’ (Lichfield, 2013). While on one hand he is admired as the visionary architect, the father figure of modernist masterpieces such as Notre Dame du Haut and the Villa Savoye, on the other hand he is criticized as deranged city planner who proposed to destroy the center of Paris to be rebuilt with towers surrounded by parks. When the German cities were grounded by bombings during WWII, the prospect of Germans to build a new city from the scratch made him jealous. He wanted to put an end to the concept of bylanes and wanted to eliminate side alleys and shops to allow free space for theatres and community centers sparsely located over great distances. Because of his unconventional thoughts, many critics think that his urban designs are anti-social. Few critics have gone a step ahead in comparing him with Charles Fourier, a utopian theorist of the 19th century who was known for his antisocial passions (Richards, 2007).
One of the famous architects of the 20th century, Le Corbusier is one of pioneering figures of modern high design. His trip round Europe as part of the tradition of being an architectural student shaped his architectural ideology. He was greatly influenced by the architectural designs of Val d’Ema and the Parthenon. He developed five points of architectural principles which are followed in designing many architectural buildings. He was a great city planner having designed high-rising apartments in the midst of a lush green park across the world. Besides designing architectural marvels, he even designed and launched his furniture line which brought in the concept of modern furniture. Despite his masterpiece works, he has been criticized by many critics who viewed his passion for architecture as ‘ evil’ and his urban planning as antisocial. Despite all the criticism, there is no denying the fact that Le Corbusier is one of the talented visionaries who revolutionized the architectural concept designing fine building across the world still noted for outstanding features.
Le Corbusier’s 5 Points of New Architecture. 2003. Geocities, Viewed on 8th July 2013
Tomas, Oliver. 2009. Le Corbusier: Towards a new architecture (1923), Viewed on 8th July 2013
Lichfield, John. 2013. The legacy of Le Corbusier, The Independent,
Richards, Simon. 2007. The Antisocial Urbanism of Le Corbusier,
Le Corbusier, Viewed on 8th July 2013
Le Corbusier Architecture, Distinct Build Okanagan, Viewed on 8th July 2013
Tungare, Amit. 2001. Le Corbusier’s Principles of City Planning and Their Application in Virtual Environments, Viewed on 8th July 2013
Certosa of Galluzzo (Certosa di Firenze), Abbeys of Tuscany, Viewed on 8th July 2013
Silverman, David. The Parthenon, Viewed on 8th July 2013