Why is it that architects insist on wearing insane eyeware? And now they've got the rest of the creative community doing it. No self-respecting creative type would be caught dead without their statement glasses. But I digress.
Corbusier is the answer. In addition to his many other firsts, he was quite possibly the first architect to employ glasses as a fashion statement, forever inspiring architects to self-identify by their eye wear. (Many of these same architects affectionately refer to him as Corb or Corbu.) Considered the godfather of modernism, In addition to his statement glasses Le Corbusier was once of the first architects to embrace the open floor plan, concrete costruction and many other aspects of modern urban living that we take for granted
He began his career designing elegant single family homes elevated on slender columns called piloti, allowing for parking underneath. This elegant form of architecture was copied ad nausea, eventually becoming a cheap mid-century multi-family housing style employed throughout suburbs and cities. He was introduced to most Americans in 1932 in Philip Johnson’s ‘International Style’ exhibition at MoMA. Despite the fact the Philip Johnson thought him a “pompous sourpuss”.(1) Pompous - definitely. But sourpuss? looks to me like this guy liked to party.
Photo: Fondation Corbusier
He was born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret in 1887, in the Jura mountains straddling Switzerland and France. He never had any formal architectural training, but attended the local art school La Chaux des Fonts. In 1917 he moved to Paris where he opened his own architecture practice with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret. Between 1918 and 1920 he focused on writing about architecture and painting with little new building design. (How did he support himself one wonders) It was during this period that he re-named himself Le Corbusier, which was the name of his maternal grandfather. He spent the roaring twenties, building sleek residential pavilions and writing books expounding on his theories of architecture, the most famous of which was Towards A New Architecture. ( Considered a modern classic by some torture by others...) It was also during this period that he co-designed many of his famous funiture pieces with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand.
The approach of World War II and its global depression put an end to building throughout most of the 1930’s. Despite the lack of projects Corbu was living his best rock star life. He managed to find time to have an affair with actress Josephine Baker and marry his fashion model girlfriend Yvonne Gallis in addition to cranking out his many books. (Today’s STARchitects seem positively boring in comparison!) He and Yvonne moved into a penthouse apartment in Paris that he re-modeled in Corbusian style with lots of glass and a roof terrace.
When the war was over the drastic need for housing throughout Europe re-invigorated his career. In 1947 he finally he got the commission he’d been waiting all his life for, in the massive housing complex L’Unite d’Habitation in Marseille. This project with its concrete structure, glass curtain walls and modular units is probably the most well known example of Corbusian style. The complex even offered services such as nurseries, shops and restaurants as well as gyms and a theater. It was a huge success and is still lived in today.
L’Unite d’Habitation cemented (see what I did there...) Le Corbusier’s reputation as the premiere architect of France and brought him international fame. In the 1950’s his career and architecture became more sculptural with a series of commissions for the Catholic church in which he exploited the possibilities of concrete to breathtaking effect in his cathedrals at Ronchamps, and La Tourette.
.His practice endured into the 1960’s with the Museum of Western Art in Tokyo and the Carpenter Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At the age of 77, he died while swimming in the Mediterranean in the south of France. ( See previous post The Feud) Still revered and also mocked by architects today (most of whom were forced to read his endless deep thoughts about everything and nothing while in school) we nonetheless continue to feel his influence if only in our choice of eyeglasses. Thirsty? Get the recipe for the Sazerac- A Machine for Drinking here
1.Franze Schulze, "Philip Johnson, Life and Work" University of Chicago Press pp.175
2.Stephen Gardener, "Le Corbusier" Viking Press
3.Le Corbusier, trans. Frederick Etchells " Towards A New Architecture" Dover Publications