November 22, 2004
Two of the many faces of Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier was an odd fish. When I was an architecture student I, like most of my contemporaries, worshipped him dutifully, yet I never really worked him out. On the one hand he dreamed fascist dreams like this:

VilleRadieuse.jpg

Yet he was also capable of contriving wonderful places like this:

Ronchamp.jpg

… which truly is wonderful, but the way. I crossed north eastern France on a bicycle in my teens, entirely to visit this place, and I was not disappointed in the slightest.

I found that picture of this amazing building at this site, which has a www address that starts"alovelyworld" dot com. No way would that hideous pseudo city in the top picture (the "Ville Radieuse"!! – "Radiant City") ever find its way into such a collection of cute tourist type photos.

One should not use words like "fascist" lightly, but Le Corbusier really was pretty much a fascist. And like a lot of other pretty-much fascists he had a thoroughly two-faced attitude towards being modern. Sometimes he was modern in the worst possible sense of that word. At other times he was defiantly ancient, as if recoiling from the horrors he found in the other part of his fevered brain. Sometimes, that is to say, he used modern techniques to do modern, and sometimes he used modern techniques to revive ancientness.

And the irony is that his revived ancientness now looks like it could be as influential in the long run as his brutal modernism has been so balefully influential in the short run.

I think that the truth about Le Corbusier is that he was a compulsively first class architectural talent who just wanted to stick up buildings, and he covered all the bases. Like Picasso, he was fantastically prolific, his ideas to final buildings ratio being positively Darwinian. (The Ville Radieuse, for example, never got built, thank God, or at least not by Le Corbusier!) Like Picasso, Le Corbusier was fiercely ambitious to have an impact. Like Picasso, he had a hell of a lot more than two faces. To get this impact Le Corbusier did whatever would make an impact, given the very peculiar times he lived in. In a different century, Le Corbusier's output would have been totally different. He was a fascist because a fascist is what one was in the times he happened to live in.

That is the best plucking out of the heart of Le Corbusier's mystery I can now manage for you, given that, today, I am in rather of a hurry to finish my bloggings and get stuck into other things.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:00 PM
Category: Architecture