Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier was an architect, designer, painter, urban planner and was one of the pioneers of modern 20th century architecture. His career spanned five decades, with his buildings constructed throughout Europe, India and America. Le Corbusier was born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris in Switzerland on October 6, 1887.

Le Corbusier

At age 13, Le Corbusier left primary school to attend Arts Décoratifs at La Chaux-de-Fonds, where he would learn the art of enameling and engraving watch faces. He was tutored by Charles L’Eplattenier who taught Charles-Edouard art history and drawing. Charles-Edouard soon abandoned watchmaking and continued his studies in art and decoration, intending to become a painter but L’Eplattenier insisted that his pupil also study architecture, and he arranged for his first commissions working on local projects. After designing his first house, in 1907, at age 20, Charles-Edouard took trips through central Europe and the Mediterranean, including Italy, Vienna, Munich and Paris. His travels included apprenticeships with various architects including Auguste Perret, a pioneer of reinforced concrete construction and with renowned architect Peter Behrens, with whom Charles-Edouard worked from October 1910 to March 1911, near Berlin.

More than anything during this period, it was his visit to the Charterhouse of the Valley of Ema that influenced his architectural philosophy profoundly for the rest of his life. Charles-Edouard believed that all people should have the opportunity to live as beautifully and peacefully as the monks he witnessed in the sanctuaries at the charterhouse.

In 1912, Charles-Edouard returned to La Chaux-de-Fonds to teach alongside L’Eplattenier and to open his own architectural practice. He designed a series of villas and began to theorize on the use of reinforced concrete as a structural frame, a thoroughly modern technique. He began to envisage buildings designed from these concepts as affordable prefabricated housing that would help rebuild cities after World War I came to an end. The floor plans of the proposed housing consisted of open space, leaving out obstructive support poles, freeing exterior and interior walls from the usual structural constraints. This design system became the backbone for most of his architecture for the next 10 years.

In 1917, Charles-Edouard moved to Paris, where he worked as an architect on concrete structures under government contracts. He spent most of his efforts, however, on the more influential, and at the time more lucrative, discipline of painting. In 1920, along with poet Paul Dermée and painter Amédée Ozenfant, Charles-Edouard established the journal L’Esprit Nouveau (The New Spirit) an avant-garde review. In the first issue of the new publication, he took on the pseudonym Le Corbusier, an alteration of his grandfather’s last name, to reflect his belief that anyone could reinvent himself. Also, adopting a single name to represent oneself artistically was particularly en vogue at the time, especially in Paris, and Le Corbusier wanted to create a persona that could keep separate his critical writing from his work as a painter and architect.

In 1923, Le Corbusier published Vers une Architecture (Toward a New Architecture), which collected his polemical writing from L’Esprit Nouveau. In the book are such famous Le Corbusier quotes as “a house is a machine for living in” and “a curved street is a donkey track; a straight street, a road for men.”. Le Corbusier’s collected articles proposed his first city plan, the Contemporary City, and two housing types that were the basis for much of his architecture throughout his life - the Maison Monol and more famously, the Maison Citrohan, which he also referred to as “the machine of living.”

Le Corbusier envisioned prefabricated houses, imitating the concept of assembly line manufacturing of cars. Maison Citrohan displayed the characteristics by which the architect would later define modern architecture. He 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 he installed a stairway to provide second-floor access from ground level. 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 spaces. He left the interior aesthetically spare, with any movable furniture made of tubular metal frames. Light fixtures usually comprised single, bare bulbs and interior walls also were left white. Between 1922 and 1927, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret designed many of these private houses for clients around Paris.

Furniture design

Le Corbusier began experimenting with furniture design in 1928 after inviting the architect, Charlotte Perriand to join his studio and they began to put the expectations for furniture Le Corbusier outlined in his 1925 book L'Art Décoratif d'aujourd'hui into practice. In the book he defined three different furniture types: type-needs, type-furniture, and human-limb objects. He defined human-limb objects as: "Extensions of our limbs and adapted to human functions that are type-needs and type-functions, therefore type-objects and type-furniture. The human-limb object is a docile servant. A good servant is discreet and self-effacing in order to leave his master free. Certainly, works of art are tools, beautiful tools. And long live the good taste manifested by choice, subtlety, proportion, and harmony". The first results of the collaboration were three chrome-plated tubular steel chairs designed for two of his projects, The Maison la Roche in Paris and a pavilion for Barbara and Henry Church. The line of furniture was expanded for Le Corbusier's 1929 Salon d’Automne installation, 'Equipment for the Home'. The most famous of his collection is the now-iconic LC-Set.

After World War II Le Corbusier attempted to realize his urban planning schemes on a small scale by constructing a series of "unités" around France. The most famous of these was Unite d’Habitation in Marseille (1946–52). In the 1950s, a unique opportunity presented itself in the construction of Chandigarh the new capital for the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana and India's first planned city. Le Corbusier designed many administration buildings, including a courthouse, parliament building, and a university. He also designed the general layout of the city, dividing it into sectors. In 1964, Cassina S.p.A of Milan acquired the exclusive worldwide rights to manufacture La Corbusier’s furniture designs. Today many copies exist, but Cassina is still the only authorized manufacturer. Against his doctor's orders, on August 27, 1965, Le Corbusier went for a swim at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France. His body was found by bathers and he was pronounced dead at 11 a.m. It was assumed that he may have suffered a heart attack. His funeral took place in the courtyard of the Louvre Palace. He was buried alongside his wife.

Le Corbusier's death had a strong impact on the cultural and political world. Tributes poured in from around the world. United States President Lyndon B Johnson said "His influence was universal and his works are invested with a permanent quality possessed by those of very few artists in our history. Russia added "Modern architecture has lost its greatest master".

So, why is he a #Houseproud hero?

Le Corbusier was the most influential architect of the 20th century. Through his writings and buildings his visions of homes in the future were innovative and influential. Dedicated to providing better living conditions, his ideas on urban living became blueprints for post-war reconstruction. He wasn’t just an architect, many of his furniture designs feature in homes, offices and commercial spaces worldwide today. He said:

“Chairs are architecture, sofas are bourgeois”

Want to find out more?

Le Corbusier Foundation