BARCELONA.- Architect, city planner, painter, interior designer, writer, editor, photographer and amateur film-maker. Le Corbusier was a multidisciplinary artist who amazed the world with his creative power and unconventional ideas. Through 215 objects illustrating the full dimensions of his creative processes, the exhibition Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes explores the many facets of an artist regarded today as a key figure in 20th-century architecture.
The result is a truly extraordinary experience, the most complete exhibition devoted to the architect in our country in the last twenty-five years. This comprehensive retrospective traces Le Corbusiers life and work over a sixtyyear career in which he constantly observed, imagined and created landscapes: architectural landscapes, domestic landscapes and found object landscapes. Organised by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) of New York and featuring many pieces loaned by the Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris, the exhibition includes not only models, paintings, plans and photographs, but also four recreations of rooms, complete with their original furniture. The show also focuses on Le Corbusiers links to the city of Barcelona, as well as featuring several panoramic photographs taken by Richard Pare of some of the architects most outstanding projects.
The show forms part of the firmly consolidated exhibition programme that la Caixa Foundation devotes to architecture. This programme goes beyond the focus on particular styles and historic periods to provide visitors with an overview that enhances their understanding of the role that architecture plays in the world around us. Particularly outstanding amongst the shows organised so far are those devoted to such great masters as Mies van der Rohe, Andrea Palladio and Richard Rogers, and recent projects like Building the Revolution: Art and Architecture in Russia 1915-1935 and Towers and Skyscrapers: from Babel to Dubai.
Curated by Jean-Louis Cohen, an expert in the work of Le Corbusier, the exhibition features 215 objects that encompass all the facets of the creative processes of this great all-round artist (La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, 1887 Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, 1965). Besides pieces from the MoMA collections, the show also features many loaned by the Fondation Le Corbusier of Paris to form a comprehensive review of Le Corbusiers artistic production and his work as architect, interior designer, artist, city planner, writer and photographer.
Landscape: a central element in the work of this multidisciplinary artist
A key figure in 20th-century architecture, Le Corbusier was a pioneer in efforts to improve the homes of the lower classes, proposing new forms of efficient architecture in densely-populated cities. He was also a multidisciplinary artist, for he also practised painting and photography and successfully fused art with architecture.
Le Corbusier (real name CharlesÉdouard Jeanneret) was born in the small industrial town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, in the Jura Mountains in Switzerland. In 1917, he established his studio in Paris, from where he worked practically all over the world and, over a professional career spanning six decades, directly or indirectly changed the face of many cities, from South America to India. He became renowned for his poetic and often provocative interpretations of technologies and values in the new machine age, working on some 400 architectural projects and designing 75 buildings in a dozen countries. He also published nearly 40 books and wrote hundreds of articles, including some of the most influential texts in modern culture.
Le Corbusiers concept of architecture was deeply rooted in nature and the landscape, from the carefully framed view from an open floor plan and the dialogue between growing cities and their geographic territory to the natural panorama in its broadest sense. As the artist he was, he drew and painted almost daily, capturing in his work the spatial connections between nature and buildings in the Swiss mountains, on the Mediterranean coast, in Italy, in the south of France and on the great plains of northern India. For Le Corbusier, the emerging metropolis was also a landscape, one in which a recently reorganised domestic interior could establish relations with a broader orbit of natural and human forces.
Far from embodying a universal or international architecture, distanced from place, Le Corbusiers work was rooted in its surroundings, even though the architect sought transformation in order to accommodate new lifestyles in a world characterised by technological change.
Visitors to this major exhibition will see works ranging from his early years as an artist in the Jura Mountains (Switzerland) to his final days on the Côte dAzure, passing through Istanbul, Athens, Rome, Paris, Geneva, Moscow, Barcelona, New York and India. All these projects reveal the way in which the architect observed and imagined landscapes throughout his career, using all the artistic media and techniques available to him. The exhibition focuses on four types of landscape: the landscape of found objects; the domestic landscape; the architectural landscape of the modern city; and the landscapes he dreamed for large territories that he was commissioned to plan.
Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes is divided into five sections and features several models, as well as paintings, plans, photographs and documents. Moreover, four interiors created by Le Corbusier have been reconstructed and are displayed with their original furniture. These are: the Maison Blanche; a pavilion for the Villa Church in Ville-dAvray; the unité dhabitation housing unit in Marseilles; and the cabin in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin where Le Corbusier spent the final days of his life.
Richard Pares panoramic photographs
In order to bring the theme of the landscape to life, in 2011 and 2012 the British photographer Richard Pare was commissioned to re-examine the works of Le Corbusier as they can be experienced today. From the architects first houses in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, to the Capitol Complex in Chandigarh, India, Pare presents a new vision of Le Corbusiers most outstanding buildings. Not only does Pare show how these are integrated into the environment, but he also presents the views of the landscape framed by the buildings themselves. Pares photographs embody a poetic interpretation of these sites, light and texture interacting in them to reveal the effects of time on buildings that have been in use for more than half a century. In doing so, Pare makes architecture more eloquent in some cases, and more mysterious in others.
A House, A Tree: the project for Barcelona
In 1933, Le Corbusier worked on a project for a modular neighbourhood, with the slogan A House, A Tree, as part of the Macià Plan for Barcelona. He continued to devote great efforts to designing such provisional housing throughout the 1930s.
Built in large blocks measuring 400x400 metres, with six sectors in each, these homes are partially inspired by the Citröhan model that Le Corbusier had created in 1920, as can be seen in the double-height space in the living room, for example. These three-storey buildings receive daylight only on one front, in which brise-soleil (parasols) are installed. This is the first realisation of the design, one of the greatest successes of Le Corbusier and his young Brazilian followers. However, in this case, the architect did not use the pilotis system, which is found in nearly all his projects.
The resulting urban fabric, which is in stark contrast with the toothed buildings that make up most of the development under the Macià Plan, is based on an intimate relationship between the buildings, the avenues and the small squares that form the housing blocks. Once the study had been completed, most of the work having been done in Paris, Josep Lluís Sert made an estimate of the cost of the works before the project was finally abandoned.
1. FROM THE JURA MOUNTAINS TO THE WIDE WORLD, 1887-1917
Le Corbusier, whose real name was Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, was born on 6 October 1887 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, in French-speaking Switzerland. La Chaux-de Fonds was the world centre for watchmaking, and his parents hoped that he would engrave dials for a living. The young man learned to draw and explored the landscapes of the Jura Mountains before finally devoting himself to architecture. At the age of 20 years he built his first house, Villa Fallet, on the hills overlooking the town centre.
Over the next five years, Le Corbusier discovered the horizons of Europe, fascinated, as always, by the dialogue between tradition and modernity. In 1907, he made an initial study trip to Italy, followed by a visit to Vienna. He later worked at the Paris architecture studio of Auguste Perret, a pioneer in the use of reinforced concrete. Subsequently, he travelled to Germany to study town planning, working at the Berlin studio of Peter Behrens. In 1911, he made his journey to the East, visiting the Balkans and Istanbul before reaching Greece. On his return, he began teaching architecture and interior design and also built several houses, taking inspiration from the landscapes and modern practices that he had observed in Vienna, Paris and Berlin.
2. THE CONQUEST OF PARIS, 1917-1929
In 1917, Jeanneret established his residence in Paris. There, he met the artist Amédée Ozenfant (1886-1966), who encouraged him to paint and with whom, in 1918, he published After Cubism, the founding manifesto of Purism. This movement rejected the complex abstractions of Cubism in favour of the study of the pure geometric forms found in everyday objects.
In 1920, the two friends joined forces with the poet Paul Dermée (1886-1951), to found LEsprit Nouveau, a magazine devoted to avant-garde art and culture. Jeanneret adopted the pseudonym Le Corbusier to sign his provocative articles, in which he juxtaposed drawings of landscapes and monuments with photographs of modern machines and engineering structures, along with studies of systems with underlying proportions. He would later bring together these articles in his book Towards an Architecture (1923), the first of many architectural manifestos. Meanwhile, he continued to paint and to create object landscapes on his canvas. In 1922, he opened an architecture studio with his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret (1896-1967). Over the course of the decade he developed theoretical schemes and built villas for the Parisian elite, experimenting with new architectural effects and the relations between the interior and exterior based on the use of reinforced concrete.
3. RESPONDING TO LANDSCAPE, FROM AFRICA TO THE AMERICAS, 1929-1940
As a result of the international impact caused by his books, Le Corbusier received many invitations to travel, and these enabled him to encounter new landscapes. His first great success outside Switzerland and France came in 1928 with the commission to build the Centrosoyuz, the headquarters of the Central Union of Consumer Cooperatives, in Moscow. Le Corbusier dreamed of working at large scale and of intervening in city planning. This is why he was so disappointed when he failed to win the competition for the commission to design the Palace of the Soviets in 1932, also in Moscow, after which he transferred his hopes to Fascist Italy, where success was also denied him.
In 1929, he developed plans for Río de Janeiro, São Paulo and Montevideo, taking his inspiration from his impressions on flying over these cities. However, the enthusiastic welcome he received from the local elites did not guarantee that his projects would be successfully put into practice. Similarly, he sought in vain for many years to carry out his provocative plan for Algiers.
Giving lectures was one of the main methods that Le Corbusier employed in order to persuade audiences of the validity of his projects. In the talks he gave in North and South America, he would draw on huge rolls of paper as he spoke. This section features several examples of these sketches.
4. CHANDIGARH: A NEW URBAN LANDSCAPE FOR INDIA, 1945-1965
After the Second World War, Le Corbusier faced fresh frustrations, particularly when Wallace K. Harrison was commissioned to complete the United Nations headquarters in New York. However, in 1950 he was finally given the chance to design an entire city when he was commissioned to build Chandigarh, the new capital of the Punjab in northern India. The result was one of his most monumental works, featuring the new beauty of rough, bare concrete. The project gave Le Corbusier the opportunity to engage with a vast territory, putting into practice visual ideas that he had first started to develop thirty years earlier in his studies of Ancient Rome. The flights he took twice a year between Europe and India also enabled him to obtain the view of the airplane, as he termed it, and he reflected his vision of the landscape below in his sketchbook.
The sculptures he produced in those years, from works in wood to the sand casts he developed in Long Island, were also reflected in his architecture. He continued to write, and published many books. In 1947, he unveiled the Modulor, his system of harmonic proportions and, on behalf of the Synthesis of the Arts (fusing architecture, painting and sculpture), he strove to become the central figure in a modern architecture that had become almost universally accepted by that time.
5. TOWARDS THE MEDITERRANEAN, OR THE ETERNAL RETURN, 1950-1965
Over the last fifteen years of his life, Le Corbusier finally achieved many of the objectives he had pursued for decades. He built four unités dhabitation (housing units) in France and another in Berlin, as well as designing a building at Harvard University in the United States. However, he was not successful in seeing his ambitious plans for Paris put into effect. He now spent more time painting than in his architecture studio, and he gave his young assistants great freedom. He returned to the themes of his purist paintings and re-read Don Quixote, The Iliad and Thus Spoke Zarathustra in search of new myths and to escape into nostalgia. Landscapes continued to be crucial in his work, whether in eastern France, with the Chapel of Notre-Dame-du-Haut, or near Lyon, where he designed the Convent of Sainte-Marie de La Tourette. Moreover, he poured his reflections from the 1930s into his project for a hospital in Venice.
Despite his worldwide renown, Le Corbusier became more and more prone to melancholy and introspection. During his last summer, he prepared the publication of a book he had written in 1911: Journey to the East. He retired to his Spartan cabin beside the Mediterranean, a sea that had enchanted him since his youth. He died on a beach near this refuge in the summer of 1965.