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ART HISTORY - Le Corbusier's building blocks of The International Style

Le Corbusier's building blocks of The International Style

Le Corbusier's domino housing projectAmong the generation of architectural pioneers who rose to prominence during the 1920s, Le Corbusier, the artistic pseudonym of the Swiss Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, was a searching and intense spirit, a passionate but frustrated painter, a brilliant critic, and an effective propagandist for his own architectural ideas. He studied in the tradition of the Vienna Workshops, learned the properties of ferroconcrete with Perret in Paris, and worked for a period with Behrens in Berlin (where he no doubt met Gropius and Mies van der Rohe). He moved to Paris from his native Switzerland in 1916. Although he condemned all forms of historical revivalism, he did not reject tradition, and his architecture evolved through an adherence to the basic principles of classicism. While he never became a painter of the first rank, his interest in and knowledge of Cubism and its offshoots affected his attitude toward architectural space and structure. Le Corbusier's principal exploration throughout much of his career was the reconciliation of human beings with nature and the modern machine. This was addressed largely through the problem of the house, to which he applied his famous phrase, "a machine for living." By exploiting the lightness and strength of ferroconcrete, his alms were to maximize the interpenetration of inner and outer space and create plans of the utmost freedom and flexibility. A drawing of 1914-15 states the problem and his solution. This is a perspective drawing for the skeleton of a house to be mass-produced of inexpensive, standardized materials. The structure consisted of six slender pillars standing on a broad, flat base and supporting two other floors or areas that may be interpreted as an upper floor and a flat roof. The stories are connected by a freestanding, minimal staircase. The ground floor is raised on six blocks, suggestive of his later use of stilts or piers.

This drawing is important for showing how early Le Corbusier established his philosophy of building. Outer walls, windows, or complete glass sheaths can simply be hung on this frame. Inner partitions can be distributed and shaped in any manner the architect desires. The entire structure can be repeated indefinitely either vertically or horizontally with any number of variations. (Le Corbusier did not invent the system of ferroconcrete screen-wall construction; Behrens and Gropius had already constructed buildings involving the principle.) Le Corbusier's "Five Points of a New Architecture," published in 1926, were (1) the pilotis - supporting narrow pillars to be left free to rise through the open space of the house; (2) the free plan - composing interior space with non-beariug interior walls to create free flow of space and also interpenetration of inner and outer space; (3) the free façade - the wall as a nonsupporting skin or sheath; (4) the horizontal strip window running the breadth of a façade; (5) the roof garden - the flat roof as an additional living area. These points could provide an elementary outline of the International Style.

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