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Which takes us to Charles Edouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier (1887-1965).  He was a Swiss-French architect who played a decisive role in the development of modern architecture. In 1908, Le Corbusier went to work with Auguste Perret, the French architect who had pioneered the use of reinforced concrete. In 1910 he worked for several months in the Berlin studio of architect and ‘industrial’ designer Peter Behrens, where he met the future Bauhaus leaders Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius. Unlike Antonio Sant’Elia he survived the First World War and turned to the avant-garde full time, becoming a painter, pamphleteer, architect and urban planner.

Having published a series of polemical essays in the journal L’Esprit Noveau which he published with Cubist painter Amédée Ozenfant, Jeanneret published them together in a book entitled Towards a New Architecture (Vers une architecture) under the nom de plume Le Corbusier in 1923. It is from this book that the famous quote “A house is a machine for living in” is drawn.

In this collection, Le Corbusier set out his theory for architecture that would be true to its time, a product of its own Modern age rather than indebted to classical or Renaissance forms.

In the 1920s and '30s, Le Corbusier's most significant work was in urban planning. In 1922 he published his detailed plan for a  New City for Three Million People (La Ville Contemporaine), a ruthlessly planned city where there was a place for everything and everything was in its place.  Twenty four large cruciform-shaped glass towers in the centre formed the commercial district set in a central parkland, surrounded by industrial and residential quarters.  Furthest away of all was the sports stadium.


In 1925 Le Corbusier proposed the Plan Voisin de Paris which would have involved demolishing practically all on the north bank of the Seine to build a smaller version of the Ville Contemporaine. Presumably this kind offer was turned down by philistine civil servants comfortably ensconced in the Louvre complex at the time.

Both La Ville Contemporaine and Le Plan Voisin de Paris incorporated airports at the heart of their plans - Voisin is actually a reference to the French aircraft manufacturer of the same name.  Unlike Sant'Elia's visionary depiction however, Le Corbusier didn't give these airports room to breathe let alone room to grow.  As can be seen from the depiction at left taken from Le Plan Voisin de Paris, the airfield may be geographically at the heart of Le Corbusier's vision but at the periphery of his vision.  Aircraft and tall buildings do not make comfortable neighbours, for either pilots or residents. Noise, danger of collision, treacherous airflows in the lee of the towers, no room for growth or expansion - there are many reasons why this concept is unworkable.

Despite Le Corbusier's position as poster child for modern architecture, I find it hard to warm to his philosophy.  Looking at the overall plans for his fantasy city, one is struck by the level of directed neatness - it is designed symmetrically and will remain symmetrical regardless of the wishes of the inhabitants.  It is mechanistic not organic.  The residents must fit into the structure of the city, there is no question of the city adapting around the needs of its residents.  The sports stadium sits to one side of the plan, some ways off from the population centre.  It might as well be in the neighbouring town for all the relevance accorded it by Le Corbusier.

Le Corbusier went on to publish a number of other urban plans before drifting into an espousal of ‘New Brutalism’ a school of architecture which espoused weather-stained exposed concrete beam which had the primary advantage of being really, really cheap to build because finishing and cladding weren’t deemed necessary.  It was buildings of this sort that gave Coventry its distinctive look.  With such bad progeny, the Modernist movement finally expired in the new town tower blocks of the 1950s and 1960s, unmourned by the people de-humanised by having to live among its unfeeling and unsympathetic creations..

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