ART/ARCHITECTURE Le Corbusier
If the idea of being a modern person and leading a modern life
still has an exciting ring to it,
it’s at least in part down to the influence of an extraordinary Swiss architect
who in the first half of the 20th century wrote books,
put up buildings and designed bits of furniture
that conveyed the excitement, sleekness and glamour of the modern technological world.
Le Corbusier began his career
by attacking the architecture of the Victorian age,
and contrasting it with what he saw as the beauty and intelligence of modern engineering.
“Our engineers are healthy and virile,
active and useful, balanced and happy in their work.”
He exclaimed in his famous polemical book “Towards a New Architecture” written in 1923.
是健康而有魄力的 积极而有成效的 高尚而心情愉快的”
Meanwhile, Le Corbusier added,
“Our architects are disillusioned and unemployed, boastful or peevish.
“建筑师们却失去幻想 游手好闲 不是吹牛就是闷闷不乐
This is because there will soon be nothing more for them to do.
We no longer have the money to erect historical souvenirs.
At the same time, everyone needs to wash.
Our engineers provide for these things,
and they will be our builders.”
Le Corbusier recommended that the houses of the future be ascetic and clean,
disciplined and frugal.
His hatred of any kind of decoration
extended to a pity for the British Royal Family,
and the ornate, golden carriage in which they travelled to open Parliament every year.
He suggested that they push the carved monstrosity off the cliffs of Dover,
and instead learn to travel around their kingdom in Hispano Suiza 1911 racing car.
He even mocked Rome, the traditional destination for the education of young architects,
and renamed it “the city of horrors”,
“the damnation of the half-educated”,
and “the cancer of French architecture”,
on account of its violation of modern principles of architecture
through all its baroque detailing, elaborate wall painting and statuary.
For Le Corbusier,
true great architecture meaning architecture motivated by the quest for modern efficiency,
was more likely to be found in an electricity turbine or a low-pressure ventilating fan.
It was to these machines that his books accorded the reverential photographs
which previous architectural writers had reserved for cathedrals and opera houses.
Once asked by a magazine editor to name his favourite chair,
Le Corbusier cited the seat of a cockpit,
and described the first time he ever saw an aeroplane
in the spring of 1909 in the sky above Paris,
it was the aviator the Comte de Lambert taking a turn around the Eiffel Tower,
as the most significant moment of his life.
He observed that the requirements of flight of necessity
rid aeroplanes of all the superfluous decoration of buildings,
and so unwittingly transforms them into successful pieces of modern architecture.
To place a classical statue on top of the house
was for Le Corbusier, “as silly as to add one to a plane”.
But at least by crashing in response to this addition,
the plane had the advantage of rendering the absurdity starkly manifest.
“‘L’avion accuse,” he concluded.
But if the function of a plane was to fly,
what was the function of a house?
Le Corbusier arrived at a simple list of requirements,
beyond which all other ambitions were no more than as he put it, “romantic cobwebs”.
The function of a house was to provide
1. A shelter against heat, cold, rain, thieves and the inquisitive.
1. 避暑 遮寒 挡雨 防盗 防窥
2. A receptacle for light and sun.
3. A certain number of cells,
appropriated to cooking, work, and personal life.
便于烹饪 工作 个人生活
“What modern man wants is a monk’s cell,
well lit and heated, with a corner from which he can look at the stars.” wrote Le Corbusier.
光线充足 暖气充足 有一扇能看星星的窗” 勒·柯布西耶写道
His private houses which he built in and around Paris in the 1920s and 30s
were unlike anything that people had ever witnessed,
both inside and out.
Le Corbusier took an interest in their smallest details,
always with an eye to increasing efficiency.
He built much of the furniture himself,
and was often to earn more money from it than from his architecture.
Le Corbusier was evidently one of the world’s greatest architects.
But he was also one of the world’s most disastrous urban designers.
His manifesto on how to make cities contained in two books,
“The City of Tomorrow and its Planning” written in 1925,
and “The Radiant City” in 1933,
called for a dramatic break from the past:
“The existing centres must come down.
To save itself every great city must rebuild its centre.”
Le Corbusier wanted ever taller towers,
some housing as many as 40,000 people.
When he visited New York for the first time,
he came away disappointed by the relatively small scale of the buildings.
“Your skyscrapers are too low.” He told a surprised journalist.
By building upwards, two problems would be resolved at a stroke:
overcrowding and urban sprawl.
Le Corbusier planned to abolish the city street.
In his vision of the future, people would have footpaths all to themselves,
while cars would enjoy massive dedicated motorways,
with smooth, curving interchanges.
Even more than Paris,
New York was, for Le Corbusier, “the epitome of an illogical city”,
“because it had managed to graft skyscrapers, the buildings of the future,
onto a tight street plan better suited to a medieval settlement.”
On his trip around the United States,
he advised his increasingly bemused American hosts
that Manhattan ought to be demolished
to make way for a fresh and more cartesian attempt to the urban design.
Ironically, what Le Corbusier’s dreams helped to generate
were the dystopian housing estates that now ring historic Paris,
the wastelands from which tourists avert their eyes in confused horror,
and disbelief on their way into the city.
To take an overland train to the most violent and degraded of these places
is to realise all that Le Corbusier forgot about architecture,
and in a wider sense, about human nature.
For example, he forgot how tricky it is
when just a few of one’s 2699 neighbours decide to throw a party or buy a handgun.
He forgot how drab reinforced concrete can seem under a grey sky.
He forgot how awkward it is when someone lights a fire in the lift shaft
and home is on the 44th floor.
When Le Corbusier died in 1965,
having had a heart attack in the South of France where he’d gone for a swim,
he was responsible for building some of the most beautiful private houses of all time.
But his ideas had also destroyed some of the great cities of Europe and the United States.
For a man whose ambition was to change the world,
we can revere him paradoxically for the more modest things about him:
his beautiful white washed villas, his door handles and his armchairs.
他漂亮的白色水洗别墅 门把手 扶手椅
Our book “What Is Culture For” help us find compassion, hope and perspective in the art.
ART/ARCHITECTURE Le Corbusier