Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier, is considered to be one of the mosticonic architects of the last century.
Due to the nature of Swiss watchmaking, he studied first engraving watch faces at the Arts Décoratifs at La Chaux-de-Fonds, where he was born in 1887. His artistic mentor, L’Éplattenier, whom he called "my master" throughout his career, taught him architecture, painting, art history, and the aesthetics of art nouveau, displaying Le Corbusier's aptitude as a painter.
With the assistance of L'Éplattenier, Le Corbusier began his first architectural work in the region, designing his first house when he was only 20 years old.
Following that, Le Corbusier journeyed across central Europe and the Mediterranean, and these journeys were dubbed "voyages d'orient" since they were crucial to his education. The Balkans, Istanbul, Prague, Bucharest, Greece, and all of Italy, including Naples, Rome, and Florence, were among the places he visited.
His travels provided him with the opportunity to work with a number of architects, most notably structural rationalist Auguste Perret in Paris, a pioneer of reinforced concrete construction, which was crucial for his project for the Maison Domino, and later with famous architect Peter Behrens, with whom Le Corbusier worked near Berlin from 1910 to 1911, where Mies Van Der Rohe and Walter Gropius were also working.
Le Corbusier returned to La Chaux-de-Fonds a year later, in 1912, to teach alongside L’Éplattenier and create his own firm. From what he learned in Paris, he built a succession of houses and began to consider the use of reinforced concrete as a structural frame.
Le Corbusier moved to Paris in 1917 and worked as an architect on government-funded concrete projects. However, he focused on painting as a result of his important intellectual partnership with Amédée Ozenfant at the time. Cubism, a prevalent art trend at the time, was deemed irrational by the two.
"Apres le Cubisme", an anti-cubism manifesto, was published, and purism, a new creative movement, was created. In 1920, the pair created the purist magazine L'Esprit Nouveau (The New Spirit) alongside poet Paul Dermée. Vers une Architecture (Toward a New Architecture), a collection of Le Corbusier's polemical work from L'Esprit Nouveau, was published in 1923. It's famous for Le Corbusier's statements like "a house is a living machine." Le Corbusier envisioned a new architecture that would meet both industry's needs and the architectural form's long-term concerns. His first city plan, the Contemporary City, and two housing types, the Maison Monol and the Maison Citrohan, which he referred to as "the machine for living," were among his suggestions.
"A house is a machine for living in. Baths, sun, hot-water, cold-water, warmth at will, conservation of food, hygiene, beauty in the sense of good proportion. An armchair is a machine for sitting in and so on."
Le Corbusier's societal goals and structural design concepts were quickly realised. He built a workers' city in the shape of the Maison Citrohan in Pessac, with about 40 structures (1925-26). Unfortunately, the buildings sat unoccupied for six years due to a broken connection to the municipal water supply.
Pierre Jeanneret, Le Corbusier's cousin, worked with him for over two decades. Le Corbusier and his cousin established their atelier on rue de Sèvres in Paris in 1922. In 1927, the pair decided to engage the services of Charlotte Perriand, a young architect who had already established herself in the architectural world. Their collaboration lasted 10 years, with a focus on furniture design. The resulting designs were academically valuable as well as financially successful. Cassina's constant output has maintained interest in the work's intellectual substance as well as the level of brilliance achieved; one example is LC12 Table La Roche, designed in1925. "Le Corbusier waited eagerly for me to bring the furniture to life," Charlotte Perriand said. Her tubular steel chair was incorporated in Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, and Perriand's design for "Dining room 28", in 1929.
In the 1930s, Le Corbusier refined his urbanism theories, publishing La Ville radieuse (The Radiant City) in 1935, which drew a lot of criticism. Le Corbusier was a cofounding member of the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM;1928-59), an organisation which aimed to create a better world through architecture and urban planning. His ideas were then generating notable projects like the planned master plans for the cities of Algiers and Buenos Aires, which were only experimental. He did indeed design the master plan of Chandigarh in India as it was established as Punjab's new state capital in 1950. The metropolis was designed using a grid street system and bare concrete structures, such as the civil Secretariat building.
Le Corbusier's architectural conceptions were outlined in Le Corbusier's five principles of modern architecture, published in 1927. His concept was then articulated in his "Unité d’Habitation" principles (one of them in Marseille): huge residential towers with roomy accommodation, communal areas, roof gardens, commercial districts, and other facilities. These would be structures that the masses could not only occupy but also live in.
Pillars, roof gardens, open floor layouts, big windows, and open facades were among Le Corbusier's architectural concepts. In essence, Le Corbusier advocated for a transformation in architecture. Le Corbusier created the Modulor, an anthropometric measure of proportions and visual connection between two incompatible scales: imperial and metric, as part of his innovations. The modulor's scale is based on the height of a man with his arm up. And it was formalised into two volumes (1948-49) and utilised to set out many of Le Corbusier's designs. Le Corbusier also created 63 fascinating colours for his Architectural Polychromy in two colour collections, the first in 1931 and the second in 1959. All of the colours are appealing to the eye, classic, and timeless. "Colour in architecture is a means as strong as the ground plan and section," he explained.
It may come as a surprise that Le Corbusier chose to list his profession as "Homme de Lettres" (or man of letters) on his French identity card. In addition to architecture, his literary works consisted of more than 50 books, hundreds of articles and thousands of letters, which supported his architectural and urban design practice.
In 1965, Le Corbusier died of an heart attack while swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Since he was at the vanguard of such massive change, Le Corbusier became known for both his architectural theories and his austere dress. His favourite outfits were bow ties, double-breasted suits, and, his famous round-eye glasses. Le Corbusier's geometric spectacles are a wonderful match for his pragmatic ideas, and they are a nod to the eyewear hero we all admire.
Discover more about Le Corbusier's pioneering designs here.