Architect, urban planner, visual artist, designer, writer. Though as famous in life as Albert Einstein, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (1887 – 1965), better known as Le Corbusier, was a figure very different from what we call a starchitect today.
Born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a Swiss town in the Jura region close to the French border, in all his life and work Le Corbusier always combined Swiss rigor with more than a bit of Mediterranean spirit, which he inherited from his Romandy’s cultural background, admiration for classic and Renaissance art and architecture, as well as from his familiarity with Paris and southern France, the places where he lived during most of his professional life.
This combination of different cultural influences – as well as why to define Le Corbusier simply “a master of rationalism” is far from thoroughly describe his personality – comes out, for example, in his post-war works and many of his paintings.
The work of L-C mixes what we call today “modernity”, including in it also the technological revolution that characterized the first half of the 20th century, with a profound admiration for art history which is evident, for example, in the influence of Vitruvius and Leonardo da Vinci on the Modulor.
Le Corbusier, sketch for the Museum of Unlimited Growth, 1931
Le Corbusier presenting the Modulor at the Milan Triennale, 1951
Even the nickname Le Corbusier (with its variant Corbu, and L-C), tells us something about his real character. The byname derives from the French word corbeau (raven) and was an allusion to the physical appearance of its owner, gangly and hook-nosed, chosen by himself in the 20s as a signature name for his writings and paintings. A touch of irony that perhaps not many might expect from a stereotypical, always serious, Swiss architect. And I bet not many starchitects of today would accept to be photographed while painting completely naked or kicking time with pretty unstylish local bartenders and fishermen on a hot summer day in southern France.
If you are planning to visit one or more of them, there are buildings designed by Le Corbusier open to the public in France, Switzerland, Germany, the United States, Argentina, India, and Japan.
Cover photo: Gisèle Freund, “Le Corbusier, Paris” (1961) © Centre Pompidou, Guy Carrad © Estate Gisèle Freund/IMEC Images
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