Le Corbusier | The architect
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The architect

Fai­re une archi­tec­tu­re, c’est fai­re une créa­tu­re”, wro­te Le Cor­bu­si­er in 1955 in his Litho­gra­phy Port­fo­lio “Le poè­me de l’angle droit” – to build meant to crea­te a living being, to lend phy­si­cal­i­ty to a struc­tu­re and in this way to rise abo­ve the purely func­tion­al. With this stance, LC aimed for “the hig­hest value in life: the poe­tic.” In doing so, the archi­tect Le Cor­bu­si­er depen­ded upon the artist Le Cor­bu­si­er: the latter’s per­sis­tent prac­ti­ce of art for its own sake, the dai­ly strugg­le at the stu­dio to find form, pro­por­ti­on, and harm­o­ny help the archi­tect in his search for aes­the­tic expression. 


Alre­a­dy at the very begin­ning of his care­er, at the start of the 1920s, it was impos­si­ble for Le Cor­bu­si­er to sepa­ra­te archi­tec­tu­re and pain­ting. For him, they were the two means of expres­si­on based upon the divi­si­on of space. The basic ques­ti­on of how to divi­de space – that of a house just as much as that of a city – was now what con­cer­ned him, at the brink of Moder­nism. He was awa­re of the new tech­ni­cal deve­lo­p­ments and eco­no­mic con­di­ti­ons that would emer­ge out of the era of the machi­ne and mass pro­duc­tion, as well as the needs of the indi­vi­du­al and the new pos­si­bi­li­ties in con­s­truc­tion that would ari­se therefrom. 


The con­clu­si­ons which Le Cor­bu­si­er came to in his awa­re­ness of the­se dra­ma­tic chan­ges pla­ced archi­tec­tu­re on a new foun­da­ti­on: dis­car­ding the past, he repla­ced it with ans­wers to ques­ti­ons that had never once been asked in such radi­cal cohe­rence. “A house is a machi­ne in which to live,” he wro­te in 1921 – and meant no less than that a house had to be strict­ly plan­ned accor­ding to a sca­le of human needs, cle­ar­ly par­ti­tio­ned, func­tion­al, offe­ring refu­ge to the individual. 


But by the end of the 1920s, his purism and stri­ving for the opti­mum use of all pos­si­ble resour­ces no lon­ger satis­fied him. In oppo­si­ti­on to the zeit­geist, he began to accen­tua­te the ten­si­on bet­ween struc­tures ins­tead of high­light­ing their for­mal harm­o­ny, giving them a mark­ed sculp­tu­ral form rather than stan­dar­di­zing them. From now on, orga­nic forms were an inte­gral part of his work, he com­po­sed and modu­la­ted, and as the poe­tic qua­li­ty gai­ned importance, he brea­thed life into Modernism. 


So the lega­cy of the archi­tect Le Cor­bu­si­er lies first of all in his cohe­rence, which made him into the pro­pa­gan­dist for modern archi­tec­tu­re par excel­lence. Almost more cen­tral today, howe­ver, are both his par­ti­cu­lar way of thin­king a pro­ject and his social con­cerns, in respect to which he had a pio­nee­ring role in their for­mu­la­ti­on and imple­men­ta­ti­on. His objec­ti­ve was not sim­ply “archi­tec­tu­re” or “art” – his objec­ti­ve was life its­elf. And for this reason, Le Cor­bu­si­er is, and will con­ti­nue to be, tho­rough­ly relevant. 


T. Rab­a­ra

Le Cor­bu­si­er in 1947 working on
the draft of the UN headquarters. 

© United Nati­ons Permanent
Head­quar­ters; FLC / 2019, Pro­Lit­teris, Zurich