Le Corbusier: Promoter Of The Modern Age


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Charles Edouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier {luh kor-boo-zyay’}, b. La Chaux-de-fonds, Switzerland, Oct.  6, 1887, d.  1965, was a Swiss-French architect who played a decisive role in the development of MODERN ARCHITECTURE.  He first studied (1908-10) in Paris with August Perret, and then worked (1910) for several months in the Berlin studio of industrial designer Peter Behrens, where he met the future BAUHAUS leaders Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius.  Shortly after World War I, Jeanneret turned to painting and founded, with Amedee Ozenfant, the purist offshoot of cubism.  With the publication (1923) of his influential collection of polemical essays, Vers une architecture (Towards a New Architecture, Eng.  repr.  1970), he adopted the name Le Corbusier and devoted his full energy and talent to creating a radically modern form of architectural expression.

In the 1920s and ’30s, Le Corbusier’s most significant work was in urban planning.  In such published plans as La Ville Contemporaine (1922), the Plan Voisin de Paris (1925), and the several Villes Radieuses (1930-36), he advanced ideas dramatically different from the comfortable, low-rise communities proposed by earlier garden city planners.  During this 20-year span he also built many villas and several small apartment complexes and office buildings.  In these hard-edged, smooth-surfaced, geometric volumes, he created a language of what he called “pure prisms”–rectangular blocks of concrete, steel, and glass, usually raised above the ground on stilts, or pilotis, and often endowed with roof gardens intended to compensate for the loss of usable floor area at ground level.

After World War II, Le Corbusier moved away from purism and toward the so-called New Brutalism, which utilized rough-hewn forms of concrete, stone, stucco, and glass.  Newly recognized in official art circles as an important 20th-century innovator, he represented (1946) France on the planning team for the United Nations Headquarters building in New York City–a particularly satisfying honor for an architect whose prize-winning design (1927) for the League of Nations headquarters had been rejected.  Simultaneously, he was commissioned by the French government to plan and build his prototypical Vertical City in Marseilles.  The result was the Unite d’Habitation (1946-52)–a huge block of 340 “superimposed villas” raised above the ground on massive pilotis, laced with two elevated thoroughfares of shops and other services and topped by a roof-garden community center that contained, among other things, a sculptured playground of concrete forms and a peripheral track for joggers.

His worldwide reputation led to a commission from the Indian government to plan the city of CHANDIGARH, the new capital of the Punjab, and to design and build the Government Center (1950-70) and several of the city’s other structures.  These poetic, handcrafted buildings represented a second, more humanistic phase in Le Corbusier’s work that also was reflected in his lyrical Pilgrim Church of Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp (1950-54) in the Vosges Mountains of France;  in his rugged monastery of La Tourette, France (1954-59);  and in the several structures he designed (from 1958) at Ahmedabad, in India.  Le Corbusier accidentally drowned in a swimming accident off Cap Martin in the Mediterranean on Aug.  27, 1965.

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