Toward an Architecture  

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"The house is a machine for living in" --Le Corbusier in Vers une architecture (1923)

"Machines for living:" for various critics, including Tom Wolfe, the Pruitt-Igoe housing project illustrated both the essential unlivability of Bauhaus-inspired box architecture, and the hubris of central planning.
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"Machines for living:" for various critics, including Tom Wolfe, the Pruitt-Igoe housing project illustrated both the essential unlivability of Bauhaus-inspired box architecture, and the hubris of central planning.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Vers une architecture, translated into English as Toward an Architecture and commonly known as Towards a New Architecture is collection of essays written by Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret), advocating for and exploring the concept of modern architecture. The book has had an undeniable lasting effect on the architectural profession, serving as the manifesto for a generation of architects, a subject of hatred for others, and unquestionably a critical piece of architectural theory. The architectural historian Reyner Banham once claimed that its influence was unquestionably "beyond that of any other architectural work published in this [20th] century to date" (Banham 1960: 246), and that unparalleled influence has continued, unabated, into the 21st century.

The polemical book contains seven essays, all but one of which were published in the magazine L'Esprit Nouveau beginning in 1921. Each essay dismisses the contemporary trends of eclecticism and art deco, replacing them with architecture that was meant to be more than a stylistic experiment, rather, the architecture would be one that would fundamentally change how humans interacted with buildings. This new mode of living derived from a new spirit defining the industrial age, demanding a rebirth of architecture based on function and a new aesthetic based on pure form.

The authorship of the book was complex. Le Corbusier co-owned L'Esprit Nouveau with fellow purist painter Amédée Ozenfant. They co-signed many of the original essays as "Le Corbusier-Saugnier," and Ozenfant had been a close friend of Corbusier. Ozenfant denied having written the book, claiming that the essays were based on conversations the two had had together about theories written by Auguste Perret and Adolf Loos. As the book became more known, their fight became more heated. Ozenfant began to claim not only more credit for authorship, but also that Le Corbusier had purposefully excluded him by dedicating the original edition to Ozenfant.

The English language translation of the book has also been a source of controversy in regards to its change of style and very specific alterations to the text. The alterations have generated criticism and required correction, even as some of them began to define architectural language. A new translation was released in 2007 that is meant to be truer to the meaning Le Corbusier intended.


Contents

Contents

Toward an Architecture consists of seven essays, three of which are further subdivided into three sections. Before each section, Le Corbusier placed aphoristic arguments, all of which appear in a list at the front of the book, as a sort of rhetorical aid. Most of the essays were published in L'Espirit Nouveau previously, although Le Corbusier rearranged them from chronological sequence to focus on architects and clients, academic ideas and practical ones. Le Corbusier did this because the book targeted architects and professors, rather than the wealthy clientele who received L'Espirit Nouveau.

Aesthetic of the Engineer, Architecture

Le Corbusier begins the book with a fierce assertion: architecture is disconnected and lost in the past. On the other hand, he says, engineers have begun to embrace new technologies and build simple, effective structures that serve their purpose and are honest in construction. In order for architects to regain relevance, they must embrace the new artistic ideal. This artistic-spiritual element derives from a new way of life, manifested in architecture, which can stir a mind both rationally and emotionally in a way that a simply pretty building cannot.

Three Reminders to Architects

Mass

Surface

Not approved

Plan

The plan is the generator for architecture.

Regulating Lines

Le Corbusier argues from historical evidence that great architecture of the past has been guided by the use of what came to be known in English as "regulating lines." These lines, starting at significant areas of the main volumes, could be used to rationalize the placement of features in buildings. Le Corbusier lists off several structures he claims used this, including a speculative ancient temple form, Notre-Dame de Paris, the Capitol in Rome, the Petit Trianon, and lastly, his prewar neoclassical work in Paris and some more contemporary modern buildings. In each case, he attempts to show how the lines augment the fine proportions and add a rational sense of coherence to the buildings. In this way, the order, the function, and the volume of the space are drawn into one architectural moment. Le Corbusier argues that this method aids in formalizing the intuitive sense of aesthetics and integrating human proportions as well.

Le Corbusier claims in the text that that no architects trained in the Beaux-arts technique use regulating lines, because of contradictory training, but most of the Grand Prix architects did use them, even if they were supplementing the basic techniques.

Eyes That Do Not See

The section that likely has been the most influential, it carries the running argument that the spirit of the Machine Age has already begun to produce works that embody its principles. Moreover, these have come into being because of properly examining the need and the refinement of solutions for those needs.

Liners

Using the formal simplicity born out of engineering necessities he saw in the gargantuan ocean liners of the day, Le Corbusier argued that modern people, practical men of action, had grown tired of the old aesthetics of luxury, and were concerned with new, powerful forms of beauty. The new beauty merely had to be developed from honest construction, repeating his admonition from "Aesthetic of the Engineer, Architecture." In this case, the honesty can be achieved by building according to purpose and employing an architecture that celebrates the accomplishments of technology.

Airplanes

In the second lesson, the issue of heavier than air flight becomes a tool to show that architecture must be developed from needs that are properly determined. Only after the "question" of the need is properly proposed can a suitable solution be made. For example, most of the attempts to mimic nature to create flight resulted in disaster, because humans could not do what birds and bats do. Instead, Corbusier argues, it was only after the understanding of aeronautics and the properties of lift were crudely discovered that humans could achieve flight. The question was not, how can man copy flight, but rather what is the easiest way to achieve flight. The airfoil is a product of artificial, rational, and industrial processes. Further development of the original designs has refined the airplane to work better.

Having established a problem, he then defines both "dwelling" and "room" in austere terms, sardonically referring to contemporary villas as buildings in which one stores furniture and living is incidental. Instead he proposes five axioms as principles to begin design on. Firstly, chairs are for sitting on - the furnishings are purposeful. Electricity provides light. Windows are for lighting a room and looking out. Paintings are made for meditation - not decoration. Lastly, homes are made to be lived in and enjoyed. Because architects and clients have been ignoring these principles, moral problems have arisen. People live disconnected from the world and each other, bored at home, and constantly seeking diversion. Furthermore, they are separated from the spirit of the Machine Age.

Automobiles

In the most famous section of Toward an Architecture, Le Corbusier states that the architects must develop standardized forms, which they might refine in function and aesthetics, thus allowing for continued progress and refinement. Famously, Le Corbusier compares the development of the Doric temple to the development - he would say refinement - of automobiles over twenty years. The statement is only provocative at face value, and the underlying principle is simple: using a standard purpose, the form can be refined, possibly into being classic.

Architecture

The Lesson of Rome

The Illusion of the Plan

The plan proceeds from within to without; the exterior is the result of an interior. The elements of architecture and light and shade, walls and space. Arrangement is the gradation of aims, the classification of intentions. Man looks at the creation of architecture with his eyes, which are 5 feet 6 inches from the ground. One can only consider aims which the eye can appreciate and intentions which take into account architectural elements. If there come into play intentions which do not speak the language of architecture, you arrive at the illusion of plans, you trangress the rules of the Plan through an error in conception, or though a leaning towards empty show.

Pure Creation of the Mind

Mass-Production Housing

Architecture or Revolution

Reception

Influence

Sources

  • Le Corbusier. Toward an Architecture. Translated by John Goodman. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2007
  • Le Corbusier. Towards a New Architecture. Dover Publications, 1985.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Toward an Architecture" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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