Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, who chose to be known as Le Corbusier (French pronunciation: [lə kɔʁbyzje]; October 6, 1887 – August 27, 1965), was a Swiss architect, designer, urbanist, writer and painter, famous for being one of the pioneers of what now is called Modern architecture or the International style. He was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in his thirties.
He was a pioneer in studies of modern high design and was dedicated to providing better living conditions for the residents of crowded cities. Later commentators have criticized Le Corbusier’s monoliths as soulless and expressive of his arrogance in pioneering his form of architecture.
His career spanned five decades, with his buildings constructed throughout central Europe, India, Russia, and one each in North and South America. He was also an urban planner, painter, sculptor, writer, and modern furniture designer.
Le Corbusier adopted his pseudonym in the 1920s, allegedly deriving it in part from the name of a distant ancestor, “Lecorbésier.” However, it appears to have been an earlier (and somewhat unkind) nickname, which he simply decided to keep. It stems from the French for “the crow-like one”. In the absence of a first name, some have also suggested it suggests “a physical force as much as a human being,” and brings to mind the French verb courber, to bend.
For a number of years French officials had been unsuccessful in dealing with the squalor of the growing Parisian slums, and Le Corbusier sought efficient ways to house large numbers of people in response to the urban housing crisis. He believed that his new, modern architectural forms would provide a new organizational solution that would raise the quality of life for the lower classes. His Immeubles Villas (1922) was such a project that called for large blocks of cell-like individual apartments stacked one on top of the other, with plans that included a living room, bedrooms and kitchen, as well as a garden terrace.
Not merely content with designs for a few housing blocks, soon Le Corbusier moved into studies for entire cities. In 1922, he presented his scheme for a “Contemporary City” for three million inhabitants (Ville Contemporaine). The centerpiece of this plan was the group of sixty-story, cruciform skyscrapers; steel-framed office buildings encased in huge curtain walls of glass. These skyscrapers were set within large, rectangular park-like green spaces. At the center was a huge transportation hub, that on different levels included depots for buses and trains, as well as highway intersections, and at the top, an airport. He had the fanciful notion that commercial airliners would land between the huge skyscrapers. Le Corbusier segregated pedestrian circulation paths from the roadways and glorified the use of the automobile as a means of transportation. As one moved out from the central skyscrapers, smaller low-story, zigzag apartment blocks (set far back from the street amid green space), housed the inhabitants. Le Corbusier hoped that politically-minded industrialists in France would lead the way with their efficient Taylorist and Fordist strategies adopted from American industrial models to reorganize society. As Norma Evenson has put it, “the proposed city appeared to some an audacious and compelling vision of a brave new world, and to others a frigid megalomaniacally scaled negation of the familiar urban ambient.”
Les 5 Points d’ une architecture nouvelle, which Le Corbusier finally formulated in 1926 included (1) the pilotis elevating the mass off the ground, (2) the free plan, achieved through the separation of the load-bearing columns from the walls subdividing the space, (3) the free facade, the corollary of the free plan in the vertical plane, (4) the long horizontal sliding window and finally (5) the roof garden, restoring, supposedly, the area of ground covered by the house.
These points were illustrated best in Le Corbusier’s domestic architecture. Le Corbusier’s first attempt to deal with the problem of mass housing was Maisons Citrohan, designed in 1920-22. All parts of the house are united by a spatial continuum, while the open space created by the pilotis and the flat roof increase the otherwise small available area. The prototype of a single-family unit, which was later modified to a module within a collective building, for example the basic units of the Immeuble-villa (1922).
Le Corbusier established his concept of the dwelling as standardized, mass produced and serviceable like the modern car. Citrohan 2 implies the elements of the Dom-Ino constructural system, that is the use of a reinforced concrete frame. Citrohan 2 introduced ideas of Le Corbusier’s ’5 Points of New Architecture’: the building raised off the ground on pilotis, which ‘free’ the ground for vehicular circulation and for services. The roof-garden or terrace, which is clearly established in the Citrohan projects as a component of private, domestic space.