Le Corbusier

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Le Corbusier was one of the most creative architects of the 1900's. He introduced many innovative architectural ideas in the buildings he designed throughout the world. His extensive writings also did much to stimulate acceptance of modern architectural styles. Most notable is his book, Towards a New Architecture, published in 1923.

Le Corbusier was born on October 6, 1887, in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. He was named Charles Édouard Jeanneret but today is best known as Le Corbusier. He studied in Paris and Berlin. After World War I (1914-18), he settled in Paris. He later became a French citizen.

As an architect, Le Corbusier's prime objective was to improve the environment and to serve everyday human needs with greater efficiency. He gained a reputation for his pure white houses made of glass and stucco over reinforced concrete. These houses were supported on slender stilts, called pilotis. They also contained freely flowing interior spaces. One of the finest examples is the Villa Savoye (Savoye House), built in Poissy-sur-Seine, near Paris, in 1929. There were other important houses designed by Le Corbusier. The Villa La Roche was built in Paris in 1925. The villa called Les Terraces was built two years later on the outskirts of Paris.

Sometimes Le Corbusier's works aroused great astonishment. For example, at the Paris Exhibition of 1925 he displayed a plan for a house with a living tree growing through it. Yet he was also instrumental in the mass production of housing. And he contributed many novel ideas for town planning in the 1930's and 1940's. In addition, he was a member of a committee of international architects who jointly designed the United Nations Headquarters building in New York City in 1949-51.

In the late 1940's, however, Le Corbusier's designs began to depart more and more from tradition. They started to take on the appearance of massive free-form sculpture molded in concrete. A significant example is the Unité d'Habitation. This large apartment building was built in 1947-52 in Marseille, France. It included a kindergarten and shops as well as apartments and was supported on huge concrete pilotis. The facade, or exterior, of the building had a honeycombed design. This was a Le Corbusier creation that became a standard feature in apartment design.

Le Corbusier is also noted for his plan for the new city of Chandigarh, India. The city's government center was made of raw concrete. It was built over a 13-year period, from 1951 to 1964. Perhaps his most striking and innovative work is the church of Notre Dame du Haut (1951-55), in Ronchamp in southern France. Its boldly curved roof is made of a thin shell of reinforced concrete held together by concrete struts, like the metal struts inside the wing of an airplane.

The only building in the United States designed entirely by Le Corbusier is the Visual Arts Center at Harvard University. It was finished in 1963, two years before Le Corbusier's death on August 27, 1965, in France.

Howard E. Wooden
Director Emeritus, The Wichita Art Museum

 

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