Saturday, June 1, 2013

Le Corbusier's Dreams

A new exhibit at the MoMA highlights the vision and style of the master of modern architecture.

English: Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris known ...
Le Corbusier. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Some love him and some loathe him. Whichever the case, Le Corbusier (1887-1965), also known as Charwes-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, was a Swiss-born architect, designer, and painter whose work was pivotal and momentous in the continuum of design history. His buildings are among the famous structures in the world, his legacy as a founder of Modernist International Style is unquestioned. And now his work is the subject of a vast new exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art titled "Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes," which is said to be "the largest exhibition ever produced in New York of his prodigious oeuvre."

Le Corbusier was essentially a utopian thinker. He had great interest in the development of urban schemes to improve social conditions. He believed his detailed strategies could be applied to design the organization of urban spaces and that the quality of life could be improved for the poor and working classes.

His book The City of Tomorrow, written in 1925, was his manifesto. The culmination of a decade of research and theory on cities and planning, it offers many dynamic ideas on high density transportation systems, housing, and open space.

In the book, Le Corbusier depicts a future city for three million residents. The plan for the city is organized according to a system of use-zoning, that designates specific areas of the city for specific purposes. Le Corbusier envisioned the center of the city to be reserved for commercial activities, with the other sections to consist of residential developments. These districts would be interconnected by a mass transportation system with specific circulation for automobiles, trains, and pedestrian traffic. The central business section of the city was to be comprised of twenty-five glass skyscrapers. These towers would be sixty stories in height, and only take up five percent of the surface area, leaving remaining space for parks. The outer residential sections of the city would be comprised of thin zig-zag shaped apartment buildings, each six stories in height.

'Plan Voisin' for Paris, Le Corbusier, 1924
While the future city depicted in Le Corbusier's City of Tomorrow was never constructed, many of the ideas presented in the book are still extremely relevant today. For example, Le Corbusier was truly visionary about the development of mass transportation and the significance of the automobile. He designed his city with massive auto roads, airports, and circulation for pedestrian commuters. Le Corbusier also emphasized the importance of open spaces and urban gardens and parks. He concluded that city planners needed to be focused on incorporating nature rather than overtaking it.

Some critics contend he possessed a naive, shortsighted understanding of social sciences, others decry his implementation raw concrete, or beton brut, in his designs, and blame him for spawning a period of cold rigid functionalism, otherwise known as Brutalist architecture - some of his well known projects have become slums. Yet overall, Le Corbusier's transformative vision profoundly changed the dialog of city planning, rethinking population density, pollution, traffic flow and speed. His concept for a utopian city illustrated the innovative, imaginative principles of the futurist movement of the 1920's on a grand scale, and thus with it a true notion for the betterment of humanity.--D.A. DeMers


Below is a Designer In Exile Storify mix of various aspects of Le Corbusier's life and career:

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