Travailler c’est respirer

Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier was born on October 6, 1887. He was born in Switzerland, only about three miles from the French border, but became a French citizen in 1930. The real name of one of the fathers of modern architecture was Charles-Édouard Jeanneret. He created his pseudonym from the name of his maternal grandfather Lecorbésier as a sign that he was reinventing himself. He began his study of architecture in art school. He traveled to, and worked in, the capitals of Europe picking up both ideas and technical prowess along the way.

He brought this skill to bear on the problem facing urban centers such as Paris – slums. Le Corbusier designed housing blocks with the purpose of improving the quality of life of the poor. Inspired by the success of his apartments, he proposed a planned city for three million people including 60-story residential towers, as well as office blocks, green space, and public transportation, including an airport.

To his opponents, he declaimed “Architecture or Revolution.” Another proposal suggested bulldozing most of the right-bank of Paris to make way for residential skyscrapers. Where some saw charm and character, he saw a “frightening chaos and saddening monotony.” Beauty for him was represented by steel, glass, and reinforced concrete. While his plans were (thankfully) rejected for Paris, they were partially carried out in places as diverse as Marseille and Chandigarh, India.

His ideas can be reduced to five principal ideas, illustrated by his famous Villa Savoye, just outside of Paris.:

  • get the bulk of the building off the ground and place it on pylons made of reinforced concrete
  • make the façade free of supporting walls
  • have an open floor plan
  • windows should allow for unobstructed views
  • roof gardens would compensate for the space taken up by the building

As revolutionary as many of his concepts were, he relied on such traditional ideas as DaVinci’s Golden Mean and Fibonacci numbers to create the proportions of his designs. And he didn’t just work on buildings, but also furniture to complement his architecture. Unsurprisingly, he had strong feelings about furniture too, famously declaring, “Chairs are architecture, sofas are bourgeois.” His watchwords were choice, subtlety, proportion, and harmony – always valid considerations, whether in the home or for fashion. His two great furniture classics are the petit confort and grand confort.

Le Corbusier’s career spanned five decades because he simply loved to work. He said, “travailler c’est respirer” (trav-eye-ay seh res-peer-ay), which means “working is breathing.” He died of a heart attack while swimming in the Mediterranean on August 27, 1965. Tributes flooded in from all over the world, and he was eulogized by the French Culture Minister, André Malraux.

Le Corbusier 1887 – 1965: The Lyricism of Architecture in the Machine Age

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About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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3 Responses to Travailler c’est respirer

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