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ART HISTORY - Le Corbusier's Utopian urban-renewal plans

Le Corbusier's Utopian urban-renewal plans

Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe's model for a glass skyscraperLe Corbusier, like Wright, had few major commissions during the 1920s, but he continually advanced his ideas and his reputation through his writings and through his visionary urban-planning projects. These large-scale housing projects, a response to the growing urban populations and housing shortages of postwar France, were never actually built. In 1922 he drew up a plan for a contemporary city (the "Vile Contemporaine") of three million inhabitants, involulg rows of gleaming glass skyscrapers placed on stilts to allow for pedestrian passage. They were connected by vast highways and set in the midst of parks.

In his 1925 "Plan Voisin" for Paris, Le Corbusier envisioned an enormous urban-renewal project that would have replaced the historic buildings north of the Seine with a complex of high-rise buildings. Like the Vile Contemporaine, this radiant modern city was the architect's drastic antidote to the traffic-congested streets of modern Paris and the soot-filled slums of the nineteenth-century city. It was based on the Utopian notion common among the modern pioneers that, armed with the right city planning and the appropriate faith in technology, architecture could revolutionize patterns of living and improve the lives of modern city dwellers on a physical, economic, and even spiritual level. But Le Corbusier's buildings were designed to house the industrial and intellectual elite, not the poor. In the face of today's massive urban crises, his desire to create cities where "the air is clean and pure" and "there is hardly any noise" seems naively idealistic, but his urban schemes were prophetic in the way they anticipated elements of today's cityscapes.

Le Corbusier's writings, also, have been tremendously influential in modern world architecture. His trenchant book Vers une architecture (1923) was immediately translated into English and other languages and has since become a standard treatise. In it he extolled the beauty of the ocean liner, the airplane, the automobile, the turbine engine, bridge construction, and dock machinery - all products of the engineer, whose designs had to reflect function and could not be embellished with nonessential decoration. Le Corbusier dramatized the problems of modern architecture through incisive comparisons and biting criticisms and, in effect, spread the word to a new generation. The pure, elegant geometry of Le Corbusier's International Style would give way in the years after World War II to a new, more organic vocabulary.

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Comment by lord_k on December 1, 2009 at 5:16am
I can imagine these 60-storeyed slums.

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