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Le Corbusier (1887-1965) is a Swiss-French architect; he is considered by many a pioneer of modern architecture. Le Corbusier’s ambition is evident as he was an individual of many talents including painting, writing, and design.
Le Corbusier’s attitude towards the home, the objects of the home and the way in which this was expressed in his art and architecture will be discussed. By assessing the ‘Five points in Architecture’ used by Le Corbusier as a structural basis for much of his architecture up to 1953, a discussion can be made of his following homes Maison Citrohan, Maison La Roche, Ville Contemporaine, “L’esprit nouveau” Pavilion, Maison Cook , The Villa Stein and Villa Savoye. Le Corbusier artwork displays an association with his architectural design these association and the influence of his artwork upon his designs will be discussed, in association with the development of purism. Additionally the response faced by his architecture of the 1920′ and 1930’s will be assessed.
In 1915 Le Corbusier and friend, engineer and entrepreneur, Max Dubois evolved two ideas that inspired his style of work throughout the 1920s; One being the Maison Domino which represents the ‘Five points in Architecture’. The five points included Pilotis (columns), roof garden, free plan, free façade and ribbon windows. These elements were seen by Le Corbusier as Objects-types which he explains in detail in his book, ‘Vers une architecture’ and journal, ‘L’Esprit nouveau’.
In 1918 with the help of the artist Amedee Ozenfant, Le Corbusier adopted the painting with the use of oils. Together they developed the Purism movement, ‘Ground in Neo-Platonic philosophy, Purism extended its discourse to cover all forms of plastic expression from salon paintings to product design and architecture.’
The purism movement derived from cubism in which similarly the main subject matter was the common objects of the ‘café table, the studio and the machine shop: guitars, bottles, and pipes’ which were presented in their most natural and clear forms that were expressive of modern machine age, unlike the abstract and decorative approach of cubism. ‘It was against what le Corbusier and Ozenfant regarded as the unwarranted distortions of cubism in paintings as it was in favour of the ‘evolutionary perfection of, say, thonet bentwood furniture or standard café tableware’.
They collaborated on the book, ‘Apres le cubisme’,
Along side poet Paul Dermee in 1920, he founded the magazine l’esprit Nouveau with its main subject matter being the arguable relation between art and industrial society which was already developed in ‘Apres le cubisme’. Many architectural ideas which were mentioned in L’Esprit nouveau developed from the planning of an ideology of modern paintings.
‘Still life (1920) is a purist painting by le Corbusier which uses flat images with the overlapping of planes similarly to cubism, however it’s different in the way the objects are made to look solid and not as abstract like in cubism. The repeated curving outline of the guitar and bottle he achieved is also a popular cubist concept. The selection of common, everyday objects which are represented in the paintings are considered objet-types. ‘the object would become an objet-type, its platonic forms resulting from a process analogous to natural selection, becoming ‘banal’, susceptible to infinite duplication, the stuff of everyday life’.
The colour scheme contains only the neutral colours, black, grey, white and different shades of green.
Citrohan House, 1925-7 in Weissenhofsiedlung, Stuttgart
The Citrohan house is a pure prism, the use of concrete allows large uninterrupted interior space; it consists of a white box supported by columns with a flat roof and the use of consistent rectangular windows which extend to the corner columns and resemble an industrial kind. It was in relation with this building in which Le Corbusier published his ‘Five points for a New Architecture’.
The Citrohan’s section and main arrangement was inspired by a café In Paris where le Corbusier lunched everyday. ‘Simplification of the light source; single bay at each end; two lateral bearing walls; a flat roof over; a veritable box which could be used as a house’. Le Corbusier believed that the house should be as standardized as a car; hence the name ‘Citrohan’ came from the name of the famous automobile company, ‘Citroen’.
The idea of mass production was important and the fact the Citrohan visualized a way of a life clear from all ‘the unnecessary clutter of the customary bourgeois dwelling at the time’. Using the Maison Citrohan as his model, he was determined on using mass production processes in order to solve the housing crisis of the post-war years, similar to the way in which Ford cars where processed. In 1924 industrialist, Henri Fruges, agreed to carry out Le Corbusier’s idea of mass produced housing for his workers in Pessac using the Citrohan as its bases. This included 130 reinforced frame houses along with one common type known as the ‘sky scraper’ unit which was a combination of the Maison Citrohan and the back-to-back units he had designed for the ‘city’ of Audincourt. The Citrohan house at the Stuttgart Weissenhofsiedlung was the last in the series of Citrohan-type houses in which he developed the true version.
In ‘Vers une architecture’ Le Corbusier described this house as a ‘machine for living in’, by which he meant ‘a house whose functions had been examined from ground floor up and stripped to the essentials’. Both the house and car are considered objects-types due to the fact they both have significant functions, like the machinery of a car which is enclosed within the exterior layer he believed the function of the house should also be invisible, covered in an ideal layer.
Maison La Roche/Jeanneret, 1923, in Paris
The Maison La Roche/Jeanneret which was designed in 1923 for Raoul La Roche, a collector of paintings, and Le corbusiers’s brother Albert and wife Lotti Raaf. The house displays many influences of the purist movement, from the fixtures of the house to its form. The use of overlapping surfaces and the transparent areas of glazing are similar to the characteristics of purist paintings which include the overlapping of planes. The fixtures used within the home also relate to the subject matter of Purism which include, ‘radiators, naked light bulbs, simple Thonet chairs, door latches, metal windows- are obviously of industrial extraction’. These are objects-types similarly to the objects represented in the purist paintings like the bottles and machine parts, these are objects that ‘tend towards a type which is determined by the evolution of forms between the ideal of maximum utility, and the necessities of economics manufacture’.
Le Corbusier believed the whole modern city should be elevated up a level in order to keep the ground clear, providing a better circulation of cars. This idea was projected in the studio wing, for which a single cylindrical pilotis stands at the centre beneath, along the axis of the long access road. ‘The studio wing was a demonstration of urbanistic doctrine.’
Ville Contemporaine, 1922
‘Contemporary City’ which was a city of skyscrapers in a park for three million inhabitants, was inspired by the Utopian vision ‘where techniques of modern construction, automobiles and aeroplanes were brought together in a n ordered diagram, with nature and the machine reconciled and harmonized’.
“L’esprit nouveau” Pavilion, 1925, in Paris
The Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau built in 1925 was a pavilion in the shape of an apartment from the ideal city which included furnishing of the modern machine age objects alongside purist works of art.
Maison Cook, 1926-7, in
The clarification of Le Corbusier formal theory is also partly linked to his daily experience of painting. This can be evident in Maison Cook of 1926-7 in which ‘the precise control of volume, surface and profile may be sensed’. Maison cook consist of a square plan and façade, hence its almost cubic form. The single cylindrical piloti on the central axis and the use of continuous strip windows from one side to the other helps emphasis the symmetry of its overall shape. Le Corbusier’s uses a concrete frame in order to achieve spaces of varies qualities including lighting, size and views. The curved partitions dramatize the ‘free plan’, catch the light, and stand like objects in the lucid space; inevitably they call to mind the bottles and guitars of Purist pictures’.
The ‘five points’ are clearly emphasised in the Maison cook, with the piloti as a central point set back from the façade level ‘dramatizing the separation of structure from external cladding’. The use of the piloti provides a passage below the house for both pedestrian and cars. Use of the continuous windows draws attention to the free façade and also contains a roof garden on top which replaces the green area used by the building.
The Villa Stein (1926-1928) in Garches
The Villa Stein is an impressive example of the avant-garde movement such as the intense handling of interior space provided by a regular grid of pilotis along with it’s free plan, furthermore with its use of modern building techniques and use of industrial materials.
The site for the villa was of a long and narrow stretch of land, allowing the chance for a freestanding building volume with space for a garden front and back. This enables the chance to organise an architectural journey starting from the entrance through to the garden, hence ‘touches upon old themes of villa design to do with the transition from urban to rural experience’.
At first sight the villa appears to be a formal rectangular block consisting of horizontal strips of white wall and thin strips of glazing, In comparison to Maison Cook it’s rather striking. Similarly to Villa Savoye it ‘celebrates the arrival by car in an almost ceremonial way’.
The lowest level includes a variety of openings including a garage, small entrance to the servants’ quarters, the main entrance and a large area of industrial glazing which represents the use of the modern building technique.
Looking at the façade there is no evidence of piloti, however the way in which the windows extend to the edges suggest that the façade is a non-weight-bearing membrane. However the facades subtle rearrangement and similarities of the rectangles and slight transparency at the edges, present a visual uncertainty about the position and thickness of the façade surface. Hence, ‘The Villa Stein-de Monzie is organized as a series of layers’. This can relate to Le Corbusiers purist paintings, where the overlapping of planes occurs.
The main entrance is expressed by a canopy which slightly resembles the ‘wings and struts of an aeroplane’, which Le Corbusier identifies as an objet-type for its emphasis on function.
The arrangement of partitions within the whole layout reflects Le Corbusier’s paintings, ‘where curves and rectangles slide, overlap, and harmonize into a perceived unity within a rectangular frame’.
There are many features within the Villa Stein which relate to the ‘engineering objects’ Le Corbusier considered objet-types, in particular the ‘Ship’. This includes a protruded, curved volume used for storage ‘recalls the funnel of a liner; other nautical allusions are found in the railings, the spiral stairs’. In ‘Vers une architecture’, in the chapter ‘Eyes Which Do Not See’, the caption ‘An architect pure, neat, clear, clean and healthy’, appears under one of the ship illustrations. This could be used to describe the Villa Stein/de Monzie due to its comparison with a ‘ship’.
The Villa Savoye, 1928, in Poissy, France
The Villa Savoye in Poissy designed in 1928, is a great example of Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture. The main living space elevated on pilotis, with its strong horizontal façade is centred within a breathtaking landscape; with the use of continuous horizontal windows providing clear panoramic views.
One of the main parts to Le Corbusier’s machine age concepts was the provision of enough green space. This is apparent for the villa savoye site where organisations of trees and grass have a clearly framed view. ‘Nature is celebrated as dramatically as the idea of the house as a ‘machine a habiter’, or the theme of procession by car’.
The use of piloti in the Garches was an important mechanism within the interior; whereas for the Ville Savoye use of piloti is predominating for both exterior and interior.
From a distance Ville Savoye has been compared with a ‘Purist still life on a table-top and the associations with ships’ funnels or machine parts are not hard to make’.
This relates to the engineering objects le Corbusier considered to have relevance and the right balance he aimed for as he felt the architecture of the recent past was of poor and missing significance compared to the Parthenon, the Roman baths, Mansart etc. These engineering objects include ships, aeroplanes, cars and factories which were greatly evident in his book ‘Vers une architecture’. The use of silos and factories ‘were praised for their clear and distinct articulation of volumes and surfaces: ships and aeroplanes for their rigorous expression of function’.
The guitar outline emphasized in le Corbusier purist painting, ‘still life’, has a strong connection to the plan shape of the Solarium. This shows the influence his painting had on his architecture and the way in which he produced similar results, ‘because it provided him with a filter of experiences and a laboratory of forms’. Or (choose which quote)
‘The same formal intelligence working in different media achieved analogous results’.