LE CORBUSIER: THE TOTALITARIAN ARCHITECT

March 31, 2009

The ideas of Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French designer of uniform, soulless skyscrapers, are recounted in a new biography, Nicholas Fox Weber's "Le Corbusier: A Life."

Le Corbusier's passion for imposed order extended beyond urban planning, notes Weber:

  • He once proposed razing Paris' Right Bank to implement regimented living zones.
  • Recognizing that free societies were unlikely to grant him the power to implement such visions, he courted totalitarian regimes, making overtures to Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini and Vichy France.
  • Yet, his talent for design -- embodied by the Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France -- was tarnished by his ideas about urban life and by the amoral deals he cut to implement them.

However, throughout his life, Le Corbusier professed a devotion to the betterment of man.  He was able to overcome his "totalitarian" acquaintances because nothing ever came of his proposed partnerships.  He built most of his highly revered works in the two decades after World War II ended, and his modernism still defines today's cultural landscape, says Weber.

His influence reigns supreme in the bleak cityscapes across the world, from grim American housing projects such as Chicago's Cabrini Green to Brasilia, Brazil's calamitous attempt at a planned urban paradise.

Source: Radley Balko, "The Totalitarian Architect," Reason, April 2009; based upon: James S. Russell, "'Le Corbusier: A Life' by Nicholas Fox Weber and "Le Corbusier Le Grand" by the editors of Phaidon Press," Chicago Tribune, December 20, 2008; Nicholas Fox Weber, "Le Corbusier: A Life," Knopf, November 2008.

For Chicago Tribune text:

http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2008/dec/20/books/chi-1220-le-corbusierdec20

 

Browse more articles on Environment Issues