Afterbriefly mentioning his name and work in previous tasks, I thought it would onlybe fair to finalize this series of reviews by talking about the man himself inwhat is arguably his most influential book “Towards a new architecture” that issurprisingly still relevant to architectural theory and practice after nearly acentury from its original publication. Havingtaught himself architecture through his own research, and working on histheoretical architectural studies during a time of rapid technologicaladvancements and availability of new materials such as concrete, set up theperfect scenario and environment for Charles-ÉdouardJeanneret to establish a clean palette and lay down the foundations ofwhat would ultimately become the modernist movement in architecture.The mainargument presented in the book, which is laid out in the form of 7 topics oressays that dissect the problem into easy to understand notions, refers to theapparent stagnation that architecture had fallen victim to in the early 20thcentury.
Using examples of automobiles, planes and ship liners of the timethroughout his book, Corbusier identifies that these industries have movedforward at unprecedented rates due to their successful solution to well statedproblems through experimentation, refinement and standards; this methodology iswhat he argues the contemporary practice of architecture lacks. He claims thatit is instead swamped in extravagance and redundant decoration, thus breeding aprofession with the inability to provide suitable solutions for a rapidlychanging world. It is because of this inability to innovate and adapt to thechanging times that a problem arises, “architecture of revolution”. As societyand technology move forward, architecture must follow to avoid revolution. Thedemands of the new century call for a standardization and subsequentmass-production of the house but a standard cannot be set in the current self-absorbedand nostalgic state of architecture.Thearchitect of his time seems disillusioned and no longer conscious of hisprofessions beginning or its tenets.
It is because of this that Corbusier deemsit necessary to write his “three reminders to architects” and “regulatinglines” to remind his peers, in a somewhat arrogant way, of the primary formsand the beauty and clarity in their simplicity. It is these geometrical formsthat become the solution to modern construction, as it is the engineer of histime that coincidentally achieves architectural emotions through anunderstanding of mathematics and economics that creates regulating lines. It isthe regulating line which gives the reassuring perception of order through aclean and simple aesthetic, order leads to the pursuit of harmony through theestablishment of relationships between the materials and practicality, whichinevitably becomes the definition of architecture. (picture of regulating lines) Corbusier detractsthe arts and crafts movement as it inherently goes against his theories andideas. It is accused of being nostalgic and deluded, and rightly so as it seeksa form of escapism from the inevitable need of mass-production in the 20thcentury.
The demands of the new epoch cannot be satisfied through a traditionaland anti-industrial method. “towards a new architecture” perfectly rebuttalsthis case and strongly conveys the importance of function with the famousphrase “the house is a machine for living”, reinforcing his idea that a houseshould primarily be for living in and that modern man should not clutter hishouse with unnecessary decoration or be restricted by tradition. He believedthat the house was stuck in the past and that it was stifled by custom,refusing to reinvent itself and adapt to new, more economical ways ofconstruction that had become readily available. He urged architects to freethemselves from the shackles of the past and exploit these new constructiontechniques, the current way architecture was practised no longer providedsolutions to present-day problems due to its stubborn and lazy respect fortradition. A modern problem could only be solved with a modern form ofarchitecture. The rest of the world moved forward through competition,experimentation, innovation and the fixing of new standards.
Corbusier arguesthat architecture would have to adopt these economic principles in order torecover from the trough it had landed itself in.The Athenianacropolis and the modern automobile, both entities from different times yetlinked together in the eyes of Corbusier, are stated in the book and perfectlydescribe functionality and the solution to a well stated problem. A standard isfixed through analysis and experimentation, he argues, the Parthenon havingreached its climax through refinement in precision and execution, passing froma mere construction to a pinnacle of architectural design. Through these samemethods Corbusier states that the car is evolving (and still is today), it hasaccomplished the simple function of travel and continually tackles and refinesthe complicated aims of comfort and appearance through the establishment of astandard.
Corbusierapplies this argument to the problem of the house. By successfully identifyingthe primary function of the house one can then analyse the problem andexperiment with a solution to the issue, modern materials and constructionmethods work to fix the new standard in architecture. Through thestandardization of the house comes the subsequent mass production of the house.(picture unite d’habitation)Through themass production of the house comes the reinterpretation of the street and thetown into a newly evolved plan. The initial concepts and ideas for what wouldbecome the Unite d’habitation in Marseille is an example of Corbusier’sreimagining of a city within a high-density housing block. The project providesa large green area that surrounds the block of mass-produced houses allowingits inhabitants plenty of sunlight and fresh air. The aims of the unite, heargues, is to a perfect receptacle for the family that would provide itsinhabitants with a healthier lifestyle and contribute to the refinement andcreation of a better society, through a product of rigour and elegance.
Howevertoday it is evident that Le Corbusier’s legacy of Unité inspired apartment blocks that dotthe skylines of cities across the globe are hardly ever described with thesewords anymore. They have instead been identified as incubators for crime andthe subsequent poverty that follows. These tower blocks seem to achieve theopposite intentions that Corbusier had envisioned.
Instead of providing abetter lifestyle they have exacerbated social problems by segregating theirinhabitants from the city. However, weshould not detract the ideas and principles put forward by Le Corbusier becauseof these failures, the notion of order through mindful planning is still verymuch relevant now as it was during his time. The Challenges of healthy living,noise pollution and public spaces which Le Corbusier had comprehensivelyaddressed, continue to be a major matter for both town planner and architectstoday. His arguments and concepts may or may not be seen as an inevitableaffinity towards a brutalist, utilitarian style of architecture, but theunderlying argument of his writing brings attention to a new way of thinkingabout architecture, one which meets the needs of a changing society.Architecture or revolution. The last sentence of his book answers thisquestion: revolution can be avoided.