03 November 2015

Le Corbusier's architectural masterpieces

Swiss citizen Charles-Édouard Jeanneret aka Le Corbusier (1887-1965) needed to broaden his horizons. During the decade before WW1, he travelled to Paris and found work in the office of the modernist French pioneer of reinforced concrete. Then he studied architecture in Vienna and Berlin with the Bauhaus architects Josef Hoffmann and Peter Behrens, even before Bauhaus had been planned. Presumably he also met Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius there.

In 1922, Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret opened an architectural studio in Paris at 35 rue de Sèvres. And since Paris was going to be his permanent home, Charles-Edouard became a French citizen in 1930.

In a new industrial spirit, Le Corbusier contributed to a journal called L'Esprit Nouveau that advocated the use of modern industrial techniques and strategies to transform society into a more efficient environment ....with a higher standard of living for all. He argued that this transformation was necessary to avoid the spectre of revolution that would otherwise shake society. His "Architecture or Revolution" rule, developed in his articles in this journal, became his rallying cry.

His book Toward an Architecture was made from scholarly articles he con­tributed to L'Esprit Nouveau between 1920-3. In this book, Le Corbusier followed the influence of my second favourite architect, Walter Gropius!

Le Corbusier was certainly an innovator, but he originally based himself on the existing models he knew and loved. By examining the work of Theo van Doesburg and other architects of the De Stijl Group, Le Corbusier reviewed their principles and then created his own five important rules for architecture.

Villa La Roche
Auteuil, Paris

1. Pilotis—narrow columns made of reinforced concrete—for structural support;
2. An open floor plan;
3. A free façade;
4. A roof garden, designed to incorporate the house more thoroughly into the landscape; and
5. Long rows of horizontal windows for the best uninterrupted view and natural light.

When Swiss banker Raoul La Roche commissioned his friend Le Corb­us­ier to design an urban villa in Auteuil (then on the outskirts of Paris), it had to be three-storeys high and modernist. And it was the first chance for Le Corbusier to test his own five rules for architecture. But this building was not going to be simply the La Roche family home; it was also to be a gallery to house the stunning La Roche art collection of cubist art. In what was only his third important commission in Paris, Le Corbusier designed La Roche House as a double house i.e pair of semi-detached houses, at right angles to each other, one with a curved front. The structure itself went up during the years 1923–1925.

When the visitor climbs the stairs from the entrance, he/she discovers the ex­tent of the lobby as it appears in relation with the dining room. At the height of the treetops, the walk leads to the picture gallery, whose curved wall supports a ramp that leads to the terrace garden. The gallery shines light on cubist paintings owned by Raoul La Roche.

e-architect also recommends that the visitor proceeds to the culmination, La Roche’s curved gallery. And up the ramp to the left is Le Roche’s aerie, his top-lit library. Le Corbusier’s term Architectural Promenade was clearly a structural design by which movement through the house would become a three-dimensional, theatrical experience.

    Villa La Roche
lobby and stairs leading up to the Le Roche gallery

In 1928, Le Corbusier and Pierre Perriand designed furniture for Villa La Roche. Notable were the chrome-plated tubular steel chairs.

Maison La Roche is now a museum holding thousands of original architectural drawings, studies and plans by Le Corbusier, in collaboration with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret from 1922-1940. Additionally there are 450 of his paintings, 30 enamels, 200 works on paper, and good photographic archives. It describes itself as the world's largest collection of Le Corbusier treasures.

Villa La Roche was renovated in 2008-9 and the interior colours have returned to the originals, bright white surfaces with strong contrasting colours to highlight the stairs etc. The villa is open to the public, administered by Fondation Le Corbusier, which is based in the adjoining Villa Jeanneret.

 Le Corbusier's own studio apartment, Paris

Near Villa La Roche in Paris, visitors can inspect the studio-apartment that Le Corbusier designed for himself a decade later (1931-34). The white walls and blocks of primary colour accenting large door frames, which open to living, working and entertaining spaces, reminded Le Corbusier of his triumph at Villa La Roche

To examine the enormous influence of Le Corbusier’s laws of architecture, we need look no further than the architectural staff and students at Bauhaus. German Jews who made aliya to Israel in the l930s brought with them the then-newest architectural ideas: the modernist ideas of ar­ch­itects Le Corb­usier and Walter Gropius. And at the VERY time the brand new city of Tel Aviv was getting going, modernist archit­ects at the heart of the Bauhaus movement were leaving Germany: 1933! While many of the lead­ing Bau­haus ar­chitects fled to Britain and the USA, at least 20 Bauhausers and their colleagues migrated to British Palestine. Had Le Corbusier travelled to Tel Aviv between 1933 and 1939, he would have been very proud indeed to see 4,000 blocks of flats designed and built in his taste. 

Bauhaus graduates and colleagues built 4,000 blocks of flats in Tel Aviv, during the years 1933 and 1939. 


Joseph said...

Tel Aviv is called the greatest Bauhaus city in the world, but perhaps we should rename it as a Le Corbusier city instead.

Hels said...


I can see no direct connection between Le Corbusier and Tel Aviv. But I can see plenty of indirect links. When the British urban planner Patrick Geddes laid out the streets in the late 1920s, no specific architectural style was laid down. This allowed the Jewish Bauhaus-loving and Le Corbusier-inspired German architects go to Israel and to let their imagination run wild when designing blocks of flats etc. The designs and structures were adapted to the hot and humid Tel Aviv climate, thereby distinguishing Tel Aviv’s Bauhaus buildings from the European Bauhaus buildings.

Young Israeli architect Moshe Kaufman had worked for two years for the famous Israeli architect Dov Karmi. "Karmi profoundly influenced my approach to projects," says Kaufman. "Later we were all influenced by Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier wanted to be ahead of his time. That influenced an entire generation" of Tel Aviv architects, whether they had previously studied at the Bauhaus or not. Many young architects specifically tried to imitate Le Corbusier.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I think that architecture works best when designed in response to specific, individual needs, like Le Corbusier's examples you post here, rather than designed as some sort of utopian architecture that decides in advance how everyone should live.

By the way, I am glad to see these attractive restorations, crisp and inviting.

Andrew said...

It is hard to believe Villa La Roche was designed and built so long ago. I really like it. I did not know Tel Aviv was not all high rise and very functional buildings.

Hels said...


the crispness of the restorations is critical. I was looking today at Adrian Yekkes blog post about 1930s architecture in Montevideo. Some buildings are renovated sensitively and look fantastic. Other Deco buildings, once stunning, now look like decrepit slums.


Hels said...


Villa La Roche was built 1923–1925... that is not long ago at all :) In architectural terms it is just a recent creation ... and it shows its modernity very smartly.

But Tel Aviv was different because there were squillions of refugees pouring in during the 1933-39 period. And each family had to have a flat for itself. So there were/are few private houses to be seen. That also explains why there are public parks, small and large, in Tel Aviv - no family has a back or front yard to enjoy.

jeronimus said...

Le Corb's Nazi sympathies have been whitewashed fairly successfully. It's odd that he could admire a dictatorship that was determined to stamp out his style of architecture. But in his madness, Le Corb seems to have thought he could convert the fascists. He even wrote to Hitler to suggest that, after invading France, he demolish the old city centre of Paris and replace it with a vast park studded with high rise blocks designed by 'yours truly' of course. A sad case of great talent mixed with vile ideological tendencies.

Hels said...


I had never heard of Le Corbusier's fascination with Fascism over the last 15 years ....when talking about architectural history and Bauhaus with the students. But since writing this blog post in the last few weeks, I saw it being cited more and more often. So I agree with you; whitewashed is probably the correct word.

Now we have to ask the big question. Can a person admire an artist's architecture (or music, poetry, sculpture or any other creative process) IF that artist turns out to be a creep? I will never read another Charles Dickens novel again, now I know what he did to his wife :( But I never thought Dickens was a genius whilst I DO think Le Corbusier was a genius.

And what happens if Walter Gropius turns out to have dodgy views - he is my hero!

jeronimus said...

He was considered almost a god in the architecture faculty at Sydney Uni where I studied. I love his Villa Savoy.
To be fair to him, a LOT of progressives admired fascism before the war opened their eyes.

jeronimus said...

Sorry, Villa Savoy*e*

Hels said...


that made me think of Kandinsky and Schoenberg. From 1911 there was a long exchange of passions and fraternal affection that characterised the intense friendship between the two. Kandinsky saw Schoenberg as providing a parallel key in music to his own efforts in art. Their correspondence and exchange of books, photographs, cards and sketches continued, sometimes daily, for years.

In 1923, Schoenberg had asked for an explanation of reports that Kandinsky “sees only evil in the action of Jews and in their evil actions only the Jewishness.” From the Bauhaus School, Kandinsky answered Schoenberg, “I reject you as a Jew.”

Kandinsky had been the hero of modern artists and students! He had virtually created the new world of non-objective art!

jeronimus said...

What a shame Kandinsky threw away all those years of friendship. Those interwar years were an ugly time.

Hels said...

To David Brussat
Architecture Here and There

This might be relevant to your discussion about architecture of the eye, Le Corbusier and poor vision.

A new book by Dr Henry Lew about a new scientific form of art connoisseurship which, through the work of selected artists, explains how to amalgamate a knowledge of ‘art history and artistic techniques’ with an appreciation of the ‘neurophysiological engineering of human vision’.The aim of this book is to revolutionise the manner in which readers and art lovers will think about and perceive their own vision.