09/20/12 - 0 Comments
Designer Spotlight: Le Corbusier
If you haven’t already guessed, we are big fans of Renaissance men—guys like Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (1887–1965), better known by the nom de plume Le Corbusier. Architect, furniture designer, urbanist and writer, Le Corbusier really did have his hand in some of everything—and he excelled at all of it. too (he is, after all, considered one of the fathers of modern architecture). Yep, he’s pretty amazing—definitely an artist we should all know a little bit about. In this case, we’re only to happy to further our education.
So, let’s start with the basics, where all good stories begin. Born in La Chaux-de-Fonds in northwestern Switzerland, Le Corbusier was never a stranger to the arts. With a father who was a painter of watch dials and a mother who trained as a musician and piano teacher, it’s not surprising that Le Corbusier went on to wow the world with his artistic talent. But La Chaux-de-Finds was a small town, and he felt the urge to escape. On top of studying architecture in Paris, Vienna and Berlin with Auguste Perret, Josef Hoffmann and Peter Behrens, Le Corbusier ventured further abroad, traveling to the Balkan lands of Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey to fill his sketchbooks with forms that were later used as architectural inspirations.
When World War I hit, Le Corbusier returned to his hometown to teach and work on his own architectural designs. His favorite medium was concrete and he loved experimenting with new designs, the most stunning of which was his Domino House, a building that incorporated the then-innovative open floor plan. After this, though, his architectural achievements went dark for a while when he moved back to Paris. Instead, Le Corbusier took up painting.
After meeting Amédée Ozenfant—a painter originally of the Cubist persuasion—in 1918, Le Corbusier took a break from building designs and instead collaborated with Ozenfant to establish Purism—an artistic movement conceived out of frustration with the overly “romantic” nature of Cubism. Le Corbusier, however, could not stay away from the drafting table for long, and, by the end of 1922, he was back designing houses.
So, what is classic Le Corbusier? Well, for starters, his houses were usually based on a rectangular floor plan, and the facades were always done with concrete (a trick he picked up while studying with Perret). Windows were, surprisingly, missing from his early designs, and Le Corbusier exteriors were generally known for their large swaths of uninterrupted concrete. Many of these designs were envisioned as a response to the growing Parisian slums, and those such as Immeubles Villas (1922) were done in hopes of raising the quality of life of the lower classes through modernism and organized living.
Despite the fact that, initially, Le Corbusier was not a huge fan of windows (when designing Ville Contemporaine he finally caved and incorporated a glass facade), his spaces always included an outdoor component, like a terrace or a rooftop garden. Another interesting trait of Le Corbusier’s finished products was the furnishings that he liked to include in every house. His interiors, like his exteriors, utilized what he called an “engineer’s aesthetic.” Movable, metal furniture and exposed lightbulbs was the look he was going for.
Like his architecture, Le Corbusier’s furniture was incredibly focused on functionality—he’s even rumored to have said that “chairs are architecture, sofas are bourgeois.” Naturally, Le Corbusier designed chairs (or “home equipment,” as he called them) that were made of metal tubular frames and cushions for comfort. The final result was, according to Chicago Furniture, “a work of art that is also useful for humans and can be comfortable.” While this might not sound like everything we would like to have in a piece of furniture, the designs were (and are) incredibly successful—in fact, many of Le Corbusier’s original furniture designs are still used today.
At his heart, Le Corbusier was a revolutionary and a big fan of the phrase “Architecture or Revolution.” Throughout his career, he longed to create a new Paris by sweeping away the older, more class-based housing and replacing it with complexes that were parceled out according to the size of each family. He saw the steel, glass and concrete as mediums for “a calm and powerful architecture.”
Sadly, during his career, Le Corbusier’s work was often highly criticized and misunderstood. Today, we like to think that we know better—his designs are some of the best that we’ve seen. And while Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut might not loom the same way as its gothic counterpart, there is definitely still a wow-factor to the structure.