Le Corbusier (né Charles-Édouard Jeanneret)

Architect, France (born in Switzerland)
Le Corbusier (né Charles-Édouard Jeanneret) was born in Switzerland, although he
studied and worked primarily in France. In 1905, when still in his teens, Le Corbusier
was commissioned by one of the trustees at the school where he studied—La Chaux-de-
Fonds—to design the Villa Fallet. Charles l’Eplattenier, a painter and mentor to the
young Le Corbusier, arranged for him to be helped by a local architect, René Chappalaz.
The house was constructed of freestone, rendered and decorated with stylized fir-cone
patterns, with the steep roofs and all-round balcony traditional in the region.
In 1907 the fee for this commission enabled Jeanneret, in the company of fellow
student Léon Perrin, to travel to Italy, where they visited 16 major northern Italian cities,
including Siena, Florence, and Venice. In Tuscany, Jeanneret visited the Carthusian
monastery of Ema, an experience that had a profound effect on him. In late 1907, still in
the company of Perrin, he visited Budapest and then Vienna, where he met Josef
Hoffmann and other members of the Wiener Werkstätte. Two more houses for La Chauxde-
Fonds were commissioned: the Jaquemet and Stotzer houses. He worked on their
design during a stay in Vienna of four and a half months in 1908, again receiving help
from Chappalaz. Both these houses are of wood and stone, in the regional style.
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Later in that year Jeanneret went to Paris, where he approached Franz Jourdain, Henri
Sauvage, Eugène Grasset, and finally Auguste Perret, for whom he worked for 16
months. Another formative influence was that of Tony Garnier, whom he met in Lyons.
Jeanneret returned to La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1909 and joined a group of his former
associates who styled themselves Ateliers d’Art Réunis. The following year he was given
a grant from the School of Art, on the initiative of L’Eplattenier, to study and to report on
the decorative-arts movement in Germany. He attended the Deutsche Werkbund
Congress in Berlin and acquired a new perspective on the relationship between art and
modern industrial production, which took him even further from his earlier Arts and
Crafts years. Deeply impressed by Peter Behrens’s AEG Turbine Factory, he worked for
five months in his studio, alongside Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe, although he
does not appear to have formed close friendships and eventually fell out with Behrens.
In the spring of 1911, Jeanneret left Germany and set off on another major formative
journey that lasted six months: the “voyage d’orient.” Traveling with his friend Auguste
Klipstein, he visited Czechoslovakia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Greece, and
Italy, which this time included Pompeii and Rome. He returned to La Chaux-de-Fonds in
November to teach and to help form a new design section at the Art School.
The next commission was for a house for his parents in 1912, a medium-size villa
close to the Maisons Fallet, Stotzer, and Jacquemet, with a studio and a music room.
Essentially classical in form, with white cubic and cylindrical forms under a pyramidal
roof, it has strong echoes of the houses by Behrens at Hohenhagen that Jeanneret had
visited, in particular the Haus Schroeder. The Villa Favre-Jacot at Le Locle (1912) also
resembles Behrens’s Hohenhagen houses, and the Jura regionalism of the earlier houses
has been wholly abandoned. Aligned along a terrace on a steep hillside and approached
from the side, the striking feature of the composition of this house is the circular court
greeting the visitor, the diameter of which was the turning circle of M.Favre-Jacot’s car.
This courtyard is embraced by concave single-story wings from the body of the house
and counterpointed by the convex entrance porch, which leads inside to a cylindrical twostory
vestibule with a double staircase wrapped around it. The sequence of movement
outside and inside the house is an early expression of one of the most characteristic
elements of the architect’s future buildings: an architectural processional way.
In 1914 Jeanneret visited the Deutsche Werkbund Exhibition in Cologne, the buildings
of which vividly demonstrated the properties of industrial materials such as concrete,
glass, brick, and steel.
At the outbreak of war, which he did not expect to last long, Jeanneret
thought that the first priority would be for rapidly constructed houses in
the devastated areas. With the help of an engineer, Max du Bois, who ran
a reinforced-concrete building firm, he planned the Dom-ino housing type.
Based on a standardized concrete skeleton unit consisting of three
rectangular horizontal slabs supported on six slender stanchions placed
well back from their edges, there were no capitals or beams or transitional
brackets between the vertical pillars and the horizontal planes; the slabs
were quite flat underneath. The three slabs were to be of pot tiles with
steel reinforcement and connected by two dogleg staircases cast as part of
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the whole. The exterior skin of windows and walls could be of any
configuration, and the

Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts,
Harvard University, Cambridge,
Massachusetts (with Josep Lluís Sert),
1963

interior partitions might be placed in an infinite variety of ways. This design formed the
nucleus of his later architectural language.
The Villa Schwob (1916), however, in the rue de Doubs, was a major turning point,
the first building that the architect (the later Le Corbusier) considered to be representative
of his oeuvre. From the beginning he conceived the building in terms of a reinforcedconcrete
frame with brick in-filling walls. The site slopes steeply away to the south.
Aligned alongside the road, the facade rises straight from the sidewalk. It is a three-story
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 590
house flanked by a high wall extending along the street on either side of the entrance; the
single-story kitchen wing, attached to the house, is hidden behind this wall. Behind the
rectangular volume containing the hall and staircase, on the north (or road) side, the basic
form of the house is roughly a cube, but with the addition of two apsidal-ended
projections to the east and west. Inside, the plan is splendidly open, with a two-story-high
central living room, from which the dining room and drawing room open on either side,
terminating in bay windows, and another window, the full height of this space, opens
onto the garden and extended views over the landscape. To the left and right of this
window, the space is open on one side into the library and on the other to a study. The
style is fundamentally one of unadorned classicism, but the house is so subtle and
complex that references in its design have been convincingly identified with buildings as
diverse as Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s, and villas by Palladio as
well as contemporary works by Hoffmann and Frank Lloyd Wright. It was the first house
in La Chaux-de-Fonds to have a flat roof.
In the winter of 1916–17, Jeanneret moved to Paris. Max du Bois helped him to find
work as a consultant to the Société d’Applications du Béton Armé. Soon he met the
painter Amédée Ozenfant. Jeanneret began painting seriously in 1918 and, with Ozenfant,
held an exhibition at the Galerie Thomas. They called themselves “purists” and published
their manifesto Après le Cubisme in the catalog.
Active in a number of unsuccessful business enterprises associated with building
construction, in 1920 Jeanneret, Ozenfant, and Paul Dermée launched the magazine L’Es prit Nouveau ,
which ran for 28 issues until 1925. He began at this time to use the name Le Corbusier. In
1922 his first Paris house, the Villa Besnus, was begun, and he set up a studio in
partnership with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret. This was the year he met Yvonne Gallis, a
fashion model, later to be his wife.
The Villa Besnus at Vaucresson was a flat-roofed oblong house with white-painted
smooth cement wall surfaces; the facade was asymmetrical, with horizontal and vertical
strips of windows; a porch with a balcony above and an oriel window project from the
flat rectangular plane. There are no moldings or classical details, and the formal language
is derived from Cubism.
Le Corbusier’s second Paris commission was a studio house for Amédée Ozenfant,
completed in 1924. This cubic building—smooth, white, and with huge metal-framed
windows—had sawtooth factory-style windows as part of its roof, and throughout, the
aesthetic is one of modern industrial engineering. In brilliant counterpoint to the
rectangular forms is the white-walled exterior spiral staircase leading to the entrance.
In 1923 Le Corbusier published Vers Une Architecture, based on the articles he had published in L’Es prit Nouveau. It
rapidly became one of the most influential and widely read architectural writings of the
20th century, with its resonant aphorisms and persuasive rhetoric supported by
powerfully evocative photographs and drawings.
In 1924 the industrialist Henri Frugès, after reading Le Corbusier’s book,
commissioned an estate of houses at Pessac near Bordeaux. It was intended to provide
affordable housing for the Frugès employees and others, as a new garden suburb, but of
the 150 or so dwellings planned, only 51 were built. They were of four types: a row of
houses linked by arcades, detached houses, “gratte-ciel” double houses, and houses
grouped in blocks of six. All were constructed of reinforced-concrete frames with nonload-
bearing walls, continuous ribbon windows, roof gardens, and terraces. The houses
Entries A–F 591
were painted green, red, blue, yellow, and maroon on different sides when finished in
1926. The provision of light and ventilation, terrace space and kitchen, and bathroom and
storage facilities was ahead of its time, but difficulties of construction created severe
financial problems, and the houses were very much modified by later owners. Today they
are being restored.
At the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, Le Corbusier exhibited the
Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau, a freestanding villa. The double-height living room had a
gallery at the back, providing kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms half the height in the
divided space. A prototype from the Immeubles-Villas project of 1922, this interior
arrangement was to remain a favorite theme of the architect. A covered double-height
terrace was to one side, a young tree on the site penetrating through a circular opening in
its roof. Adjacent curved dioramas exhibited the model of the Ville Contemporaine
(1922) and the Plan Voisin. The Plan Voisin was a project to apply the Ville
Contemporaine to the center of Paris and to flatten a vast area just north of the Ile de la
Cité. Eighteen glass skyscrapers and lower housing complexes would be laid out in a
gridiron plan. This scheme provoked much hostility at the time and has always been
difficult to evaluate by later critics.
A twin house, La Roche/Jeanneret (1923–25), was for the Swiss art collector Raoul La
Roche, a bachelor who invested in L’Es pri t Nouveau, and for Le Corbusier’s newly married brother
Albert. The two white-painted dwellings blend together as a single composition from the
outside. At right angles to them, across the end of the Square du Docteur Blanche (a
narrow cul-de-sac in the 16th district), La Roche’s studio gallery is a raised, curved,
second-floor form, apparently supported on a single slender pillar. The interior of this
house is celebrated for the complexity and drama of its shapes and spaces, with its threestory-
high entrance hall and the long, curving ramp in the gallery. At the back the
reinforced-concrete construction demonstrates its versatility by allowing for an old tree
growing at an angle from a neighboring garden to be accommodated by modeling a
concave inverted funnel shape into the composition of the building.
Another house in Paris was the Maison Cook (1925–27) at Boulogne-sur-Seine, a
cubic building sandwiched between other houses. It unequivocally expressed Le
Corbusier’s “Five Points of a New Architecture”: the pilotis , which lifted the building into
space; the plan libre, whereby interior walls could be arranged at will; the façade libre, an exterior cladding
free from load-bearing constraints; the fenêtre en longueur, or horizontal band of windows; and the toit-jardin, the
flat roof that could be used as a terrace garden. The Maison Planeix (1924–28) has, by
contrast, a formal and symmetrical facade, as does the Villa Church (1928) at Ville
d’Avray. Two houses for the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart (1926–27), built at the
invitation of Mies van der Rohe and sponsored by the Werkbund, also demonstrate the
Five Points.
The double house Villa Stein/de Monzie (1926–28) at Garches, Les Terrasses, was Le
Corbusier’s most ambitious work yet and was soon recognized as one of his
masterpieces. This palatial and luxurious villa is very complex spatially, inside and out,
with the spectacular orchestration of solid and void climaxing in a series of terraces
descending to the garden in an elegant promenade architectural. Le Corbusier once mentioned his desire to recreate
“the spirit of Palladio,” and it has been shown that the plan, despite its astounding
fluidity, very precisely follows the grid of Palladio’s Villa Malcontenta (1550–60).
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 592
The villa Les Terrasses was followed by another, if anything more remarkable for its
beauty and originality: the Villa Savoie (1928–30) at Poissy.
A bitter disappointment for Le Corbusier was his entry for the competition launched in
1926 for the League of Nations Headquarters in Geneva. Although it excited much
favorable interest, his entry was disqualified and finally excluded. He was successful,
however, with his submission to the Soviet Central Union of Consumer Cooperatives
(Centrosoyuz) of designs for their Moscow headquarters, having been invited in 1928 to
participate in a limited competition. Some aspects of this project, a gigantic office
building to accommodate some 3500 employees, echo the League of Nations design. It
was not completed until 1936.
Le Corbusier was a founder/member of Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture
Moderne (CIAM) in 1928 and collaborated with Charlotte Perriand on the design of a
range of tubular steel furniture that continues in to be in production today. The first
volume of his Oeuvre complète was published in 1929 by Boesiger; Le Corbusier married Yvonne Gallis
and took French nationality the following year.
Between 1929 and 1933, Le Corbusier designed and realized the Cité de Refuge in
Paris for the Salvation Army. This building suffered from grave defects of ventilation,
and Le Corbusier was made to insert opening windows in 1935; he restored the
bombdamaged facade in 1948–52, adding a concrete bris e-soleil. A design for the Palace of the
Soviets (1931–32) was rejected in favor of a Russian competition entry in the
Renaissance style.
Over the same period, Le Corbusier was much more successful with the Swiss
Pavilion at the Cité Universitaire (1931–33), a building that had widespread influence
internationally, with its clear separation of parts. A single-story foyer and communal area
of irregular plan (one wall of which is constructed of rough stone) passes underneath the
long rectangular block of dormitories for 51 students, raised on thick pilotis , which show the
marks of the wooden shuttering into which the concrete was poured. To one side the
curved staircase tower is again a separate entity. The whole building unites and contrasts
curved and straight forms, materials, and surfaces.
In 1936 Le Corbusier worked with Oscar Niemeyer and Lúcio Costa on the Ministry
of Education and Public Health building in Rio de Janeiro. His major preoccupation with
urban planning during the period 1931–42 was with plans for the city of Algiers, which
finally came to nothing.
During World War II, under the Vichy government of France, Le Corbusier at first
sought to work for the authorities but was eventually obliged to retreat to Ozon in the
Pyrenees, devoting 1942–44 to painting and writing and beginning to devise the system
of proportion he called “The Modulor.” His cousin Jean, who joined the Resistance,
would not work with him for a number of years after the war because of his attempts to
collaborate.
Soon after the liberation, he was asked by Raoul Dautry, minister of reconstruction, to
design prototypes for mass housing. The result was the Unite d’Habitation at Marseilles
(1947–52), another key building of its time. Béton brut—rough, boardmarked concrete—was used
for an 18-story block of flats incorporating many services. The concept was inspired by
the ideal of the oceangoing liner and the Phalanstery schemes for communal living
advocated by Charles Fourier in the 19th century. Other versions of the Unité were built
Entries A–F 593
at Nantes-Rezé (1952–53), Briey-en-Forêt (1957–61), Firminy-Vert (1965–68), and
Berlin (1957–58).
In 1950 the English architects Edwin Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew proposed to the
Indian authorities that Le Corbusier be invited to work on Chandigarh, a new capital city
for the Punjab. Together with Pierre Jeanneret, he collaborated with these archi tects to
design this vast project, concentrating mainly on the huge and spectacular official
buildings of the Capitol complex. Other major commissions in India followed throughout
the 1950s, notably in Ahmedabad. At the same period, two religious buildings of his in
France, the Chapel of Notre-Dame-du-Haut (1950–55) at Ronchamp and the monastery
of Sainte-Marie de la Tourette (1953–59), were immediately acclaimed.
This fertile period also included the Maisons Jaoul (1956) in Paris, the Brazilian
Pavilion (1959) with Lúcio Costa to house Brazilian students at the Cité Universitaire in
Paris, and Le Corbusier’s only American building, the Carpenter Center for the Visual
Arts (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1961–63) with Josep Lluís Sert.
Le Corbusier received the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in
1953 and that of the American Institute of Architects in 1961. Throughout his life he was
inspired by the polarities of the architecture of Mediterranean civilization stretching back
to antiquity and the potential of the most modern technology of his day.

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