Born in Switzerland in 1887, Le Corbusier moved to Paris in 1917, where it was painting that first caught his imagination. This section of the exhibition presents some of his art works, predominantly his early Purist works. One of these, La cheminée (1918), depicts a rectangular white block on a mantelpiece above a fireplace. This oil painting is of particular significance because it heralds his later interest in simple, white Modernist architectural forms.
This section includes only one architectural item, a model for Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut, Ronchamp. This precious model was presented by Le Corbusier to André Malraux in 1965, when he was the French Minister of Culture. The architecture is an extremely sculptural form, and uses a large variety of colors, giving it a close connection to his sculptures and paintings.
Also exhibited are a sculpture and a number of the rough sketches made during his 1911 journey to the Middle East. It was about this time that sketches became his main means of recording, discovery, and expression. Half of this section is taken up by a full-scale reproduction of the artist's atelier, which is still intact on the rue Nungesser et Coli in Paris. Inside are Le Corbusier's belongings and other items from his atelier that illustrate clearly how his life was devoted to art and architecture in equal proportions. It is clear that art was a vital part of his makeup.
Le Corbusier's early ideas are most clearly expressed in L'Esprit Nouveau, a journal that he co-edited from October 1920 to the end of 1924, a total of 28 issues. For his own writings in L'Esprit Nouveau, he adopted the "Le Corbusier" name instead of his real name, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret.
In 1926, he constructed two houses in Weissenhofsiedlung, Germany. This was when he put together and published his five points of Modern architecture: the use of pilotis, the rooftop terrace, the free floor plan, the horizontal strip windows, and the free façade. The fact that he first applied these principles in the architecture of houses demonstrates the role played by houses as the starting point for his architecture. In his Maison Dom-Ino, Maisons Monol, and Maison Citrohan, which were ideas for architectural systems utilizing a minimum of elements, Le Corbusier proposed what was to become the basic form for his modern housing.
Le Corbusier collaborated with Charlotte Perriand―who was on the staff of his architectural practice―on the development of many pieces of furniture. The furniture is an important part of the architect's work, part of an integrated solution enabling the modern way of living that he envisaged. His automobile design also followed this approach, considering the automobile as providing a minimal mobile living space.
The philosophy of modern architecture advocated by Le Corbusier crystallized in his and Pierre Jeanneret's 1927 entry to the international competition to design a Palace for the League of Nations in Geneva. The competition presented an opportunity to see how this sort of architectural philosophy would be evaluated for a major international project. Their proposal won the competition, but was then rejected after the review―a chain of events that resulted in a scandal of international proportions.
This plan was followed the following year by a proposal for the Mundaneum (1928), designed as a spiral. One of the special features of this proposal was the way that it could be extended to accommodate a growing collection of exhibits. This concept was later to be realized through the construction of art museums designed by Le Corbusier's in Ahmedabad and Chandigarh, and was partly carried through to his basic ideas for Japan's National Museum of Western Art (1955 - 59).
The Palace of Soviets (1930 - 32, 34), a project for a Soviet government competition in 1932, was a complex incorporating many different functions and having massive halls in each of its two wings. For this project, Le Corbusier conducted through research into the design of many major public facilities.
Although none of these proposals was built, the shift from personal spaces in individual houses to larger and more public projects gave Le Corbusier the opportunity to examine in detail the significant issues involved with construction for the new, modern society.
This section focuses principally on Le Corbusier's later paintings and sculptures.
From 1928, Le Corbusier's interest in Purism waned, and his paintings became freer and more passionate. His subjects began to include women, bulls, and icons, drawn in an abstract and very symbolic way. He also drew objects such as shells, glass bottles, pebbles, bones, pinecones, and ropes, selecting articles with complex shapes and painting them over and over. His colors became brighter, and the energy of his brush-hand and the movements of his brush are retained in the lines, producing paintings with a more human feel to them.
Many of Le Corbusier's sculptures are three-dimensional renderings of motifs from his paintings, and they retain a certain degree of flatness and orientation, many have clearly definited fronts. Some even incorporate frames like picture frames, or demonstrate their affiliation with paintings through coloring. In contrast, the third dimension enables the sculptures to have volume or to have void spaces hinting at a relationship with the artist's architecture.
Le Corbusier also produced many tapestries, but he regarded these as moveable murals rather than as interior decorations. The tapestries often used more vivid colors than his paintings, with substantial use of red and black.
The ease with which Le Corbusier shifted between sketches, paintings, sculptures, tapestries, enamel paintings, architecture, or urban planning, suggests that he regarded them all as different avenues of creatively expressing the same ideas.
In 1952, Le Corbusier completed the Unité d'Habitation, Marseille. This large block of apartments was an integrated, coherent expression of his ideas for architecture, cities, and for how people can live together. It is one of the most significant buildings that he produced.
This Unité d'Habitation is very large block of apartments in the shape of a cuboid, raised off the ground on pilotis. It is an application of Le Corbusier's ideas for a garden city growing vertically, incorporating shops and a hotel in the central part of the block, and having a childcare center, pool, and jogging track on the roof. The design is coherent and very indicative of Le Corbusier throughout.
This section presents a full-size reproduction of a two-storey apartment from the Unité d'Habitation. The kitchen on the lower level is original, while the bedroom and other facilities upstairs are reproductions. This home was designed on what Le Corbusier perceived to be the minimum scale necessary for living, so the reproduction provides visitors with an opportunity to feel what it was like to live in such a minimum space.
Dimensions were derived from the Modulor, a scale of proportions conceived by Le Corbusier as part of a system based on measurements of the human body. This was applied as the basic scale for the Unité d'Habitation. The thinking behind the Modulor is expressed poetically in Le Corbusier's series of prints entitled Le Poem de L'Angle Droit.
Le Corbusier's urban planning projects embodied his thoughts on solutions for the issue of how to construct a human-oriented environment in densely populated modern cities. The starting point for his urban planning philosophy is the Ville Radieuse plans, published in 1935, which incorporate the essential joys of light, air, and greenery. Believing that a pleasant life could be achieved in a modern city if there were a proper balance between the functions of living, working, recreation, and circulation, his interest shifted from the architecture of housing to public architectural space, then broadened to encompass the overall planning of cities.
This section introduces some of his many different urban planning proposals―including the Urban Design Projects for Algeria, Plan Voisin, Plan de Paris, and Ville contemporaine pour trois millions d'habitants―through his documents and explanatory images.
Le Corbusier made many urban planning proposals to national and local authorities around the world, often involving the redevelopment of a part of a major city. However, the exception of his design for the city of Chandigarh in India, none of his largest urban planning proposals were realized. In his adopted country of France, he received no commissions for major public architecture projects until just before he died in 1965, losing forever the chance to bring such a project to reality.
Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru commissioned Le Corbusier to build a new capital for the state of Punjab in Chandigarh in 1950. The opportunity to construct a whole city was something he had been dreaming of for many years, and so he took on the commission and began to work on producing a magnificent city.
The streets form a grid pattern with green areas interspersed throughout the city. Traffic and road systems were designed to accommodate seven different levels of circulation pattern. He personally handled the designs for the Capitol Complex where the central functions of the state government were concentrated, including the Assembly, Secretariat, and Court House. He also worked at the same time on the Governor's Palace, but this was not built. Close to the front of the High Court, he erected a monumental sculpture in the shape of a giant hand. The hand was one of the key motifs he had nurtured over the years, an eternal symbol of giving and receiving. He chose to make it the symbol of Chandigarh, locating it in the most important place.
A large model of the Chandigarh Capitol area has been fabricated specially for this exhibition. Le Corbusier placed substantial emphasis on tree-planting, so different colors are used to distinguish between the main types of trees in the model. The Capitol Complex is notable for the murals, tapestries and colored walls located from place to place throughout the buildings, adding color to the architectural spaces, and demonstrating how the architect's idealized city could only be a fusion of his art and his architecture.
Le Corbusier constructed two religious architecture projects during his life, and 41 years after his death, the third has finally been completed.
One of Le Corbusier's best-known works is the Chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Haut at Ronchamp. The giant projecting roof with its curved lines has surprised and delighted so many, and the whole building leaves a powerful impression. Combining the sculptured beauty of the architecture with painted iron panels (enamel art panels) on the doors and stained glass using a rich variety of colors, it is the fusion of architecture and art that makes this chapel the pinnacle of 20th Century religious architecture.
La Tourette (Couvent Sainte Marie), a large Dominican priory, was his second religious architecture project. The entrance, marked by three round pillars, incorporates an oratory, and inside the priory, walls and pillars are colored by the three primary colors―red, blue, and yellow―resulting in a very colorful space.
The third project is St. Pierre Church in Firminy. After Le Corbusier's death, this project was taken up by his assistant, José Oubrerie, finally being completed in 2006. It features a concrete roof in the form of a giant pyramid.
For each of these religious projects, Le Corbusier composed rhythmical spaces that he called 'acoustic forms,' producing works that embody an architectural promenade resonating with the surrounding environment.
At the same time as he was working on the urban planning project for Chandigarh, Le Corbusier took on four other projects in India: two private homes (Villa Mme. Sarabhai and Villa Shodhan), the Millowners' Association Building, and a museum, all in Ahmedabad. He also extended the scope of his work to other countries, designing the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts in the U.S.A., and the National Museum of Western Art in Japan. The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts was built for Harvard University in Cambridge, MA, and is the only project completed by the architect in North America.
The National Museum of Western Art is Le Corbusier's only architectural work in Japan, and it is known that Kunio Mayekawa, Junzo Sakakura, and Takamasa Yoshizaka―who were working at Le Corbusier's firm―were deeply involved with this project. The plans for the National Museum of Western Art incorporate spiral circulation as seen in the Mundaneum plans of 1929, permitting expansion of the space as the Museum's holdings increase. The original plans included a number of buildings arranged around the museum to give a stronger sense of being a complex, but this part of the project was not built.
During this later period, Le Corbusier was extending the scope of his operations from France to the outside world, seeking more and more reference points to incorporate into his work. However, the time he had left was insufficient to fit in everything he hoped to achieve.
In 1951, Le Corbusier built a summerhouse in the south of France for his beloved wife, Yvonne, calling it a cabanon (Le Petit Cabanon, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin). It nestles up against the Etoile de Mer bar-restaurant that the couple visited each summer.
The building is square, only measuring 3.66 meters on each side, making it equivalent in size to an eight tatami-mat room. Inside, there were two beds, a small desk, and the minimum necessary storage, toilet and washing facilities. Even considering that no kitchen was necessary because they could eat at the Etoile de Mer next door, Le Cabanon was an extremely small space.
Le Corbusier had experimented with all sorts of houses, worked on big collective housing and public architecture projects, and conceived designs for whole cities. He had constantly questioned the meaning of architecture, and attempted to create ideal environments for humans in the context of the Modern age. It is fascinating and symbolic that he chase this small hut, a minimal house, was his final destination. He had once predicted that this would be the house where he would live out his life, and just as he predicted, in the summer of 1965, Le Corbusier swam out to sea, never to return. He was 77 years old.