by John JervisAug 03, 2021
Pioneering utopian visions across cities of the world, Le Corbusier’s influence has been enormous, and his mark indelible in the history of modern architecture. The revolutionary architect and urban planner, lesser-known writer and incredible painter, whose philosophy advocated that cities should be designed in a well-organised grid as against growing organically, who once stated that "a curved street is a donkey track; a straight street, a road for men", was born on this day today in 1887 as Charles-Édouard Jeanneret.
While his architecture has been widely feted and disseminated, it overshadows his contribution to other allied fields such as product design, furniture design, lighting and art. STIR delves into some of those works.
Furniture design as 'extension of limbs'
Having relied on readymade furniture to furnish most of his projects, it was only in 1928 that Le Corbusier began experimenting with designing his own. He along with his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, was invited to design and build two full-size permanent houses at the Weissenhof-Siedlung housing exhibition, in Stuttgart, Germany. For this opportunity, the two collaborated with young Art Deco designer Charlotte Perriand to give shape to modern interiors and a range of furniture that manifest the ideals of Corbusier's 1925 book, L’Art Décoratif d’aujourd’Hui. In the book, he refers to the house as a ‘machine for living’ – an industrial product that should include functional furniture.
Based on an in-depth study of human posture and the idea of furniture as 'extensions of our limbs and adapted to human functions', the trio went on to create armchairs, tables, sofa, and stools that received great acclaim and became modernist icons in the years to follow.
Sleek, functional and sculpted to fit the human physique, it was Le Corbusier chair – LC2 (great comfort sofa) and LC3 (great comfort sofa, large model), which came to be much closer reproductions of the Swiss-French architect’s original concepts; the other creations include LC1, originally known as Basculant and LC4, also called Chaise lounge or Long Chair.
What exists today are mostly reproductions of the original pieces. Some, however, still exist in auction houses and others with art collectors.
Naked objects and the composition of artificial light
"Light and illumination are inseparable components of form, space, and light," Le Corbusier once said. "These are the things that create ambiance and feel of a place, as well as the expression of a structure that houses the functions within it and around it. Light renders texture, illuminates surface, and provides sparkle and life."
While much of his work reveal exceptional sensitivity for the interaction of colour and light, a quality effortlessly found in his religious buildings such as the Pilgrimage Chapel in Ronchamp and the parish church of Saint-Pierre in Firminy, not many know of his master creations in lighting design.
Around 1954, Corbusier designed several simplistic and elegant lighting fixtures, of which many have been reissued by Nemo-Cassina Lighting. His creations have employed 'artificial light played between the crude light of the naked artifacts - sometimes incandescent and others fluorescent - and the sophisticated indirect lighting of complex, specially-designed lamps'.
These fixtures include Escargot - a floor lamp with inner reflector in aged cast brass and anodised aluminium that he conceived for the public spaces of the Unité d’Habitation of Marseille; concrete indoor table lamp Borne Beton Petite for Bhakra Dam and Sukhna Dam in India; and Applique de Marseille wall lamps for his Paris apartment at Rue Nungesser et Coli.
In 1961, French restaurateur and food writer Madame Prunier of the famous Prunier restaurant in London asked Corbusier to design a collection of tableware, especially with interlocking hands motif that are found on the bottom of his 1951 painting titled, Les Mains tapestry. What came out of the request were objects that he cites as 'taste of forms'. As a homage to the architect, Cassina recently reissued the range in collaboration with Richard Ginori and the Le Corbusier Foundation.
As part of the same collaboration, a set of porcelain trays borrowed some of the bas-relief symbols off the walls of the master’s buildings in Chandigarh; each tray replicating his signature sketches such as the open hand symbolising peace, the fish and the movement of the sun.
A legacy that continues
Following his contributions to the world of architecture and the built environment, ranging from monumental to the minutiae, Corbusier’s illustrious career came to an abrupt end in 1965 when he drowned while swimming in the Mediterranean Sea off Roquebrune-Cap-Martin in France. It is with great honour that we look back today at the life of this Renaissance man and all that he has left, which even after 55 years of his passing, is enough for generations to learn and inspire from.