Biography of Le Corbusier, Leader of the International Style

The House Is a Machine (1887-1965)

Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier, wearing eyeglasses, a bow tie, and shirt sleeves, looking up from a drawing table and an open portfolio
Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier (1887-1967). Photo by Michel Sima/RDA/Archive Photos Collection/Getty Images (cropped)

Le Corbusier (born October 6, 1887 in La Chaux de Fonds, Switzerland) pioneered European modernism in architecture and laid the foundation for what became the Bauhaus Movement in Germany and the International Style in the US. He was born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris but adopted his mother's maiden name,  Le Corbusier, in 1922 when he set up a partnership with his cousin, engineer Pierre Jeanneret.

His writings and theories helped define a new modernism in materials and design.

The young pioneer of modern architecture first studied art education at La Chaux de Fonds in Switzerland. Le Corbusier was never formally trained as an architect, yet he went to Paris and studied modern building construction with Auguste Perret and later worked with Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann. While in Paris, the future Le Corbusier met the French artist Amédée Ozenfant and together they published Après le Cubisme [After Cubism] in 1918. Coming into their own as artists, the pair rejected the Cubists' fragmented aesthetic for a more stripped-down, machine-driven style they called Purism. Le Corbusier continued his exploration of purity and color in his Polychromie Architecturale, color charts that are still used today.

The earlier buildings by Le Corbusier were smooth, white concrete and glass structures elevated above the ground.

He called these works "pure prisms." In the late 1940s, Le Corbusier turned to a style known as "New Brutalism," which used rough, heavy forms of stone, concrete, stucco, and glass.

The same modernist ideas found in Le Corbusier's architecture were also expressed in his designs for simple, streamlined furniture.

Imitations of Le Corbusier's chrome-plated tubular steel chairs are still made today.

Le Corbusier is perhaps best known for his innovations in urban planning and his solutions for low income housing. Le Corbusier believed that the stark, unornamented buildings he designed would contribute to clean, bright, healthy cities. Le Corbusier's urban ideals were realized in the Unité d'Habitation, or the "Radiant City," in Marseilles, France. The Unite incorporated shops, meeting rooms, and living quarters for 1,600 people in a 17-story structure. Today, visitors can stay at the Unite in the historic Hotel Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier died August 27, 1965 in Cap Martin, France.

Writings

  • 1923: Vers une architecture [Towards a new Architecture]
  • 1925: Urbanisme
  • 1931 and 1959: Polychromie architecturale
  • 1942: La Maison des Hommes [The Home of Man] with François de Pierrefeu
  • 1947: Quand les cathédrales étaient blanches [When the Cathedrals Were White]
  • 1948 and 1955: Le Modulor I and II Theories

In his 1923 book Vers une architecture, Le Corbusier described "5 points of architecture" that became the guiding principles for many of his designs, most especially Villa Savoye.

  1. Freestanding support pillars
  2. Open floor plan independent from the supports
  1. Vertical facade that is free from the supports
  2. Long horizontal sliding windows
  3. Roof gardens

An innovative urban planner, Corbusier anticipated the role of the automobile and envisioned cities with big apartment buildings in park-like settings.

Selected Buildings Designed by Le Corbusier

During his long life, Le Corbusier designed buildings in Europe, India, and Russia. Le Corbusier also designed one building in the United States and one in South America.

  • 1922: Ozenfant House and Studio, Paris
  • 1927-1928: Palace for the League of Nations, Geneva
  • 1928-1931: Villa Savoye in Poissy, France
  • 1931-1932: Swiss Building, Cité Universitaire, Paris
  • 1946-1952: Unité d'Habitation, Marseilles, France
  • 1953-1957: Museum at Ahmedabad, India
  • 1950-1963: High Court Buildings, Chandigarh, India
  • 1950-1955: Notre-Dame-du-Haut, Ronchamp, France
  • 1952: The Secretariat at the United Nations Headquarters, New York
  • 1954-1956: Maisons Jaoul, Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris
  • 1957-1960: Convent of La Tourette, Lyon France
  • 1958: Philips Pavilion, Brussels
  • 1961-1964: Carpenter Center, Cambridge, MA
  • 1963-1967: Centre Le Corbusier, Zürich, Switzerland

Quotes by Le Corbusier

  • "The house is a machine for living in." (Vers une architecture, 1923)
  • "By law, all buildings should be white."

Source

  • Photo of Villa Savoye by Esther Westerveld, westher on flickr.com, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic