"He called it the Ville Radieuse, the Radiant City. Despite the poetic title, his urban vision was authoritarian, inflexible and simplistic. Wherever it was tried- in Chandigarh by Le Corbusier himself or in Brasilia by his followers- it failed. Standardization proved inhuman and disorienting. The open spaces were inhospitable; the bureaucratically imposed plan, socially destructive. In the US, the Radiant City took the form of vast urban-renewal schemes and regimented public housing projects that damaged the urban fabric beyond repair. Today, these megaprojects are being dismantled, as superblocks give way to rows of houses fronting streets and sidewalks. Downtowns have discovered that combining, not separating, different activities is the key to success. So is the presence of lively residential neighborhoods, old as well as new. Cities have learned that preserving history makes more sense than starting from zero. It has been an expensive lesson, and not one that Le Corbusier intended, but it too is part of his legacy."
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret was born on 6 October 1887 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a small city in the French-speaking Neuchâtel canton in north-western Switzerland, in the Jura mountains, just 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) across the border from France. It was an industrial town, devoted to the manufacture of watches. (He adopted the pseudonym of Le Corbusier in 1920). His Father was an artisan who enameled boxes and watches, while his mother gave piano lessons. His elder brother Albert was an amateur Violinist. He attended a kindergarten that used Fröbelian methods.
Le Corbusier began teaching himself by going to the library to read about architecture and philosophy, by visiting museums, by sketching buildings, and by constructing them. In 1905, he and two other students, under the supervision of their Teacher, René Chapallaz, designed and built his first house, the Villa Fallet, for the engraver Louis Fallet, a friend of his Teacher Charles L'Eplattenier. Located on the forested hillside near Chaux-de-fonds. It was a large chalet with a steep roof in the local alpine style and carefully-crafted colored geometric patterns on the façade. The success of this house led to his construction of two similar houses, the Villas Jacquemet and Stotzer, in the same area.
Le Corbusier wrote later that the Unité d'Habitation concept was inspired by the visit he had made to the Florence Charterhouse at Galluzzo in Italy, in 1907 and 1910 during his early travels. He wanted to recreate, he wrote, an ideal place "for meditation and contemplation." He also learned from the monastery, he wrote, that "standardization led to perfection," and that "all of his life a man labours under this impulse: to make the home the temple of the family."
In 1911, he traveled again for five months; this time he journeyed to the Balkans and visited Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, as well as Pompeii and Rome. filling nearly 80 sketchbooks with renderings of what he saw—including many sketches of the Parthenon, whose forms he would later praise in his work Vers une architecture (1923). He spoke of what he saw during this trip in many of his books, and it was the subject of his last book, Le Voyage d'Orient.
In 1912, he began his most ambitious project; a new house for his parents. also located on the forested hillside near La-Chaux-de-Fonds. The Jeanneret-Perret house was larger than the others, and in a more innovative style; the horizontal planes contrasted dramatically with the steep alpine slopes, and the white walls and lack of decoration were in sharp contrast with the other buildings on the hillside. The interior spaces were organized around the four pillars of the salon in the center, foretelling the open interiors he would create in his later buildings. The project was more expensive to build than he imagined; his parents were forced to move from the house within ten years, and relocate in a more modest house. However, it led to a commission to build an even more imposing villa in the nearby village of Le Locle for a wealthy watch manufacturer. Georges Favre-Jacot. Le Corbusier designed the new house in less than a month. The building was carefully designed to fit its hillside site, and interior plan was spacious and designed around a courtyard for maximum light, significant departure from the traditional house.
"Reinforced concrete provided me with incredible resources," he wrote later, "and variety, and a passionate plasticity in which by themselves my structures will be rhythm of a palace, and a Pompieen tranquility.". This led him to his plan for the Dom-Ino House (1914–15). This model proposed an open floor plan consisting of three concrete slabs supported by six thin reinforced concrete columns, with a stairway providing access to each level on one side of the floor plan. The system was originally designed to provide large numbers of temporary residences after World War I, producing only slabs, columns and stairways, and residents could build exterior wallls with the materials around the site. He described it in his patent application as "a juxtiposable system of construction according to an infinite number of combinations of plans. This would permit, he wrote, "the construction of the dividing walls at any point on the façade or the interior."
In August 1916, Le Corbusier received his largest commission ever, to construct a villa for the Swiss watchmaker Anatole Schwob, for whom he had already completed several small remodeling projects. He was given a large budget and the freedom to design not only the house, but also to create the interior decoration and choose the furniture. Following the precepts of Auguste Perret, he built the structure out of reinforced concrete and filled the gaps with brick.The center of the house is a large concrete box with two semicolumn structures on both sides, which reflects his ideas of pure geometrical forms. A large open hall with a chandelier occupied the center of the building. "You can see," he wrote to Auguste Perret in July 1916, "that Auguste Perret left more in me than Peter Behrens."
Le Corbusier moved to Paris definitively in 1917 and began his own architectural practice with his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret (1896–1967), a partnership that would last until the 1950s, with an interruption in the World War II years
Between 1918 and 1922, Le Corbusier did not build anything, concentrating his efforts on Purist theory and painting. In 1922, he and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret opened a studio in Paris at 35 rue de Sèvres. His theoretical studies soon advanced into several different single-family house Models. Among these was the Maison "Citrohan", a pun on the name of the French Citroën automaker, for the modern industrial methods and materials Le Corbusier advocated using for the house. Here, Le Corbusier proposed a three-floor structure, with a double-height living room, bedrooms on the second floor, and a kitchen on the third floor. The roof would be occupied by a sun terrace. On the exterior Le Corbusier installed a stairway to provide second-floor access from ground level. Here, as in other projects from this period, he also designed the façades to include large uninterrupted banks of windows. The house used a rectangular plan, with exterior walls that were not filled by windows but left as white, stuccoed spaces. Le Corbusier and Jeanneret left the interior aesthetically spare, with any movable furniture made of tubular metal frames. Light fixtures usually comprised single, bare bulbs. Interior walls also were left white.
The political views of Le Corbusier were rather vague and variable over time. In the 1920s he briefly wrote articles about urbanism for the syndicalist journals Plans, Prélude and L'homme reel. Between 1925 and 1928 Le Corbusier had connections to Le Faisceau, a short-lived French fascist party led by Georges Valois. Valois later became an anti-fascist. Le Corbusier knew another former member of Faisceau, Hubert Lagardelle, a former labor leader and syndicalist who had become disaffected with the political left. In 1934, after Lagardelle had obtained a position at the French embassy in Rome, he arranged for Le Corbusier to lecture on architecture in Italy. Lagardelle later served as minister of labor in the pro-Axis Vichy regime. While Le Corbusier sought commissions from the Vichy regime, he was unsuccessful, and the only appointment he received from it was membership of a committee studying urbanism.
As the global Great Depression enveloped Europe, Le Corbusier devoted more and more time to his ideas for urban design and planned cities. He believed that his new, modern architectural forms would provide an organizational solution that would raise the quality of life for the working classes. In 1922 he had presented his model of the Ville Contemporaine, a city of three million inhabitants, at the Salon d'Automne in Paris. His plan featured tall office towers with surrounded by lower residential blocks in a park setting. He reported that "analysis leads to such dimensions, to such a new scale, and to such the creation of an urban organism so different from those that exist, that it that the mind can hardly imagine it." The Ville Contemporaine, presenting an imaginary city in an imaginary location, did not attract the attention that Le Corbusier wanted. For his next proposal, the Plan Voisin (1925), he took a much more provocative approach; he proposed to demolish a large part of central Paris and to replace it with a group of sixty-story cruciform office towers surrounded by parkland. This idea shocked most viewers, as it was certainly intended to do. The plan included a multi-level transportation hub that included depots for buses and trains, as well as highway intersections, and an airport. Le Corbusier had the fanciful notion that commercial airliners would land between the huge skyscrapers. He segregated pedestrian circulation paths from the roadways and created an elaborate road network. Groups of lower-rise zigzag apartment blocks, set back from the street, were interspersed among the office towers. Le Corbusier wrote: "The center of Paris, currently threatened with death, threatened by exodus, is in reality a Diamond mine...To abandon the center of Paris to its fate is to desert in face of the enemy."
Maison La Roche and Maison Jeanneret (1923–24), also known as the La Roche-Jeanneret house, is a pair of semi-detached houses that was Le Corbusier's third commission in Paris. They are laid out at right angles to each other, with iron, concrete, and blank, white façades setting off a curved two-story gallery space. Maison La Roche is now a museum containing about 8,000 original drawings, studies and plans by Le Corbusier (in collaboration with Pierre Jeanneret from 1922 to 1940), as well as about 450 of his paintings, about 30 enamels, about 200 other works on paper, and a sizable collection of written and photographic archives. It describes itself as the world's largest collection of Le Corbusier drawings, studies, and plans.
Le Corbusier first relied on ready-made furniture from Thonet to furnish his projects, such as his pavilion at the 1925 Exposition. In 1928, following the publication of his theories, he began experimenting with furniture design. In 1928, he inviting the Architect Charlotte Perriand, to join his studio as a furniture designer. His cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, also collaborated on many of the designs. For the manufacture of his furniture, he turned to the German firm Gebrüder Thonet had begun making chairs with tubular steel, a material originally used for bicycles, in the early 1920s. Le Corbusier admired the design of Marcel Breuer and the Bauhaus, who in 1925, had begun making sleek modern tubular club chairs. Mies van der Rohe had begun making his own version in a sculptural curved form with a cane seat in 1927.
The first results of the collaboration between Le Corbusier and Perriand were three types of chairs made with chrome-plated tubular steel frames; The LC4, Chaise Longue, (1927–28), with a covering of cowhide, which gave it a touch of exoticism; the Fauteuil Grand Confort (LC3) (1928–29), a club chair with a tubular frame which resembled the comfortable Art Deco club chairs that became popular in the 1920s; and the Fauteuil à dossier basculant (LC4) (1928–29), a low seat suspended in a tubular steel frame, also with a cowhide upholstery. These chairs were designed specifically for two of his projects, the Maison la Roche in Paris and a pavilion for Barbara and Henry Church. All three clearly showed the influence of Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer. The line of furniture was expanded with additional designs for Le Corbusier's 1929 Salon d'Automne installation, 'Equipment for the Home'. Despite the intention of Le Corbusier that his furniture should be inexpensive and mass-produced his pieces were originally costly to make and were not mass-produced until many years later, when he was famous.
The "Architectural Promenade" was another idea dear to Le Corbusier, which he particularly put into play in his design of the Villa Savoye. In 1928, in Une Maison, un Palais, he described it: "Arab architecture gives us a precious lesson: it is best appreciated in walking, on foot. It is in walking, in going from one place to another, that you see develop the features of the architecture. In this house (Villa Savoye) you find a veritable architectural promenade, offering constantly varying aspects, unexpected, sometimes astonishing." The promenade at Villa Savoye, Le Corbusier wrote, both in the interior of the house and on the roof terrace, often erased the traditional difference between the inside and outside.
As no doubt Le Corbusier expected, no one hurried to implement the Plan Voisin, but he continued working on variations of the idea and recruiting followers. In 1929, he traveled to Brazil where he gave conferences on his architectural ideas. He returned with drawings of his own vision for Rio de Janeiro; he sketched serpentine multi-story apartment buildings on pylons, like inhabited highways, winding through Rio Janeiro.
In the 1930s, Le Corbusier expanded and reformulated his ideas on urbanism, eventually publishing them in La Ville radieuse (The Radiant City) in 1935. Perhaps the most significant difference between the Contemporary City and the Radiant City is that the latter abandoned the class-based stratification of the former; housing was now assigned according to family size, not economic position. Some have read dark overtones into The Radiant City: from the "astonishingly beautiful assemblage of buildings" that was Stockholm, for Example, Le Corbusier saw only "frightening chaos and saddening monotony." He dreamed of "cleaning and purging" the city, bringing "a calm and powerful architecture"—referring to steel, plate glass, and reinforced concrete. Although Le Corbusier's designs for Stockholm did not succeed, later Architects took his ideas and partly "destroyed" the city with them.
In 1931, he developed a visionary plan for another city Algiers, then part of France. This plan, like his Rio Janeiro plan, called for the construction of an elevated viaduct of concrete, carrying residential units, which would run from one end of the city to the other. This plan, unlike his early Plan Voisin, was more conservative, because it did not call for the destruction of the old city of Algiers; the residential housing would be over the top of the old city. This plan, like his Paris plans, provoked discussion, but never came close to realization.
In 1932, he was invited to take part in an international competition for the new Palace of Soviets in Moscow, which was to be built on the site of the Russian Orthodox cathedral of Moscow, demolished by Stalin's orders. Le Corbusier contributed a highly original plan, a low-level complex of circular and rectangular buildings and a rainbow-like arch from which the roof of the main meeting hall was suspended. To Le Corbusier's distress, his plan was rejected by Stalin in favor of a plan for a massive neoclassical tower, the highest in Europe, crowned with a statue of Vladimir Lenin. The Palace was never built; construction was stopped by World War II, a swimming pool took its place; and after the collapse of the USSR the cathedral was rebuilt on its original site.
In 1935, Le Corbusier made his first visit to the United States. He was asked by American journalists what he thought about New York City skyscrapers; he responded, characteristically, that he found them "much too small". He wrote a book describing his experiences in the States, Quand les Cathédrales etait blanc- voyages au pays des timides (When Cathedrals were White; voyage to the land of the timid) whose title expressed his view of the lack of boldness in American architecture.
Le Corbusier has been accused of anti-semitism. He wrote to his mother in October 1940, prior to a referendum held by the Vichy government: "The Jews are having a bad time. I occasionally feel sorry. But it appears their blind lust for money has rotted the country". He was also accused of belittling the Muslim population of Algeria, then part of France. When Le Corbusier proposed a plan for the rebuilding of Algiers, he condemned the existing housing for European Algerians, complaining that it was inferior to that inhabited by indigenous Algerians: "the civilized live like rats in holes", while "the barbarians live in solitude, in well-being." His plan for rebuilding Algiers was rejected, and thereafter Le Corbusier mostly avoided politics.
During the War and the German occupation of France, Le Corbusier did his best to promote his architectural projects. He moved to Vichy for a time, where the collaborationist government of Marshal Philippe Petain was located, offering his services for architectural projects, including his plan for the reconstruction of Algiers, but they were rejected. He continued writing, completing Sur les Quatres routes (On the Four Routes) in 1941. After 1942, Le Corbusier left Vichy for Paris. He became for a time a technical adviser at Alexis Carrel's eugenic foundation, he resigned from this position on 20 April 1944. In 1943, he founded a new association of modern Architects and builders, the Ascoral, the Assembly of Constructors for a renewal of architecture, but there were no projects to build.
In early 1947 Le Corbusier submitted a design for the Headquarters of the United Nations, which was to be built beside the East River in New York. Instead of competition, the design was to be selected by a Board of Design Consultants composed of leading international Architects nominated by member governments, including Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer of Brazil, Howard Robertson from Britain, Nikolai Bassov of the Soviet Union, and five others from around the world. The committee was under the direction of the American Architect Wallace K. Harrison, who was also Architect for the Rockefeller family, which had donated the site for the building.
Le Corbusier made another almost identical Unité d'Habitation in Rezé-les-Nantes in the Loire-Atlantique Department between 1948 and 1952, and three more over the following years, in Berlin, Briey-en-Forêt and Firminy; and he designed a factory for the company of Claude and Duval, in Saint-Dié in the Vosges.
Le Corbusier revolutionized urban planning, and was a founding member of the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM). One of the first to realize how the automobile would change human society, Le Corbusier conceived the city of the Future with large apartment buildings isolated in a park-like setting on pilotis. Le Corbusier's plans were adopted by builders of public housing in Europe and the United States. In Great Britain urban planners turned to Le Corbusier's "Cities in the Sky" as a cheaper method of building public housing from the late 1950s. Le Corbusier criticized any effort at ornamentation of the buildings. The large spartan structures in cities, but not 'of' cities, have been criticized for being boring and unfriendly to pedestrians.
The High Court of Justice, begun in 1951, was finished in 1956. The building was radical in its design; a parallelogram topped with an inverted parasol. Along the walls were high concrete grills 1.5 metres (4 feet 11 inches) thick which served as sunshades. The entry featured a monumental ramp and columns that allowed the air to circulate. The pillars were originally white limestone, but in the 1960s they were repainted in bright colors, which better resisted the weather.
His later architectural work was extremely varied, and often based on designs of earlier projects. In 1952–1958, he designed a series of tiny vacation cabins, 2.26 by 2.26 by 2.6 metres (7.4 by 7.4 by 8.5 feet) in size, for a site next to the Mediterranean at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. He built a similar cabin for himself, but the rest of the project was not realized until after his death. In 1953–1957, he designed a residential building for Brazilian students for the Cité de la Université in Paris. Between 1954 and 1959, he built the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. His other projects included a cultural centre and stadium for the town of Firminy, where had had built his first housing project (1955–1958); and a stadium in Baghdad, Iraq (much altered since its construction). He also constructed three new Unités d'Habitation, apartment blocks on the model of the original in Marseille, the first in Berlin (1956–1958), the second in Briey-en-Forêt in the Meurthe-et-Moselle Department; and the third (1959–1967) in Firminy. In 1960–1963, he built his only building in the United States; the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The second major religious project undertaken by Le Corbusier was the Convent of Sainte Marie de La Tourette in L'Arbresle in the Rhone Department (1953–1960). Once again it was Father Couturier who engaged Le Corbusier in the project. He invited Le Corbusier to visit the starkly simple and imposing 12th–13th century Le Thoronet Abbey in Provence, and also used his memories of his youthful visit to the Erna Charterhouse in Florence. This project involved not only a chapel, but a library, refectory, rooms for meetings and reflection, and dormitories for the nuns. For the living space he used the same Modulor concept for measuring the ideal living space that he had used in the Unité d'Habitation in Marseille; height under the ceiling of 2.26 metres (7 feet 5 inches); and width 1.83 metres (6 feet 0 inches).
Le Corbusier used raw concrete to construct the convent, which is placed on the side of a hill. The three blocks of dormitories U, closed by the chapel, with a courtyard in the center. The Convent has a flat roof, and is placed on sculpted concrete pillars. Each of the residential cells has small loggia with a concrete sunscreen looking out at the countryside. The centerpiece of the convent is the chapel, a plain box of concrete, which he called his "Box of miracles." Unlike the highly finished façade of the Unité d'Habitation, the façade of the chapel is raw, unfinished concrete. He described the building in a letter to Albert Camus in 1957: "I'm taken with the idea of a "box of miracles"....as the name indicates, it is a rectangual box made of concrete. It doesn't have any of the traditional theatrical tricks, but the possibility, as its name suggests, to make miracles." The interior of the chapel is extremely simple, only benches in a plain, unfinished concrete box, with light coming through a single square in the roof and six small band on the sides. The Crypt beneath has intense blue, red and yellow walls, and illumination by sunlight channeled from above. The monastery has other unusual features, including floor to ceiling panels of glass in the meeting rooms, window panels that fragmented the view into pieces, and a system of concrete and metal tubes like gun barrels which aimed sunlight through colored prisms and projected it onto the walls of sacristy and to the secondary altars of the crypt on the level below. These were whimsically termed the ""machine guns" of the sacristy and the "light cannons" of the crypt.
In 1960, Le Corbusier began a third religious building, the Church of Saint Pierre in the new town of Firminy-Vert, where he had built a Unité d'Habitation and a cultural and Sports centre. While he made the original design, construction did not begin until five years after his death, and work continued under different Architects until it was completed in 2006. The most spectacular feature of the church is the sloping concrete tower that covers the entire interior. similar to that in the Assembly Building in his complex at Chandigarh. Windows high in the tower Illuminate the interior. Le Corbusier originally proposed that tiny windows also project the form of a constellation on the walls. Later Architects designed the church to project the constellation Orion.
Few other 20th-century Architects were praised, or criticized, as much as Le Corbusier. In his eulogy to Le Corbusier at the memorial ceremony for the Architect in the courtyard of the Louvre on 1September 1965, French Culture Minister André Malraux declared, "Le Corbusier had some great rivals, but none of them had the same significance in the revolution of architecture, because none bore insults so patiently and for so long."
The foundation was established in 1968. It now owns Maison La Roche and Maison Jeanneret (which form the foundation's headquarters), as well as the apartment occupied by Le Corbusier from 1933 to 1965 at rue Nungesser et Coli in Paris 16e, and the "Small House" he built for his parents in Corseaux on the shores of Lac Leman (1924).
Later criticism of Le Corbusier was directed at his ideas of urban planning. In 1998 the architectural Historian Witold Rybczynski wrote in Time magazine:
The Fondation Le Corbusier is a private foundation and archive honoring the work of Le Corbusier. It operates Maison La Roche, a museum located in the 16th arrondissement at 8–10, square du Dr Blanche, Paris, France, which is open daily except Sunday.
Le Corbusier "His ideas—his urban planning and his architecture—are viewed separately," Perelman noted, "whereas they are one and the same thing."
In 2016, seventeen of Le Corbusier's buildings spanning seven countries were identified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, reflecting "outstanding contribution to the Modern Movement".
Le Corbusier was heavily indebted to the thought of the 19th-century French utopians Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier. There is a noteworthy resemblance between the concept of the unité and Fourier's phalanstery. From Fourier, Le Corbusier adopted at least in part his notion of administrative, rather than political, government.