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Le Corbusier’s Technological Dilemma

Published onApr 23, 2021
Le Corbusier’s Technological Dilemma

Le Corbusier in a pensive mood, 1948. (Photograph courtesy of Associated Press, New York.)

Le Corbusier exhibited his paintings widely but kept quiet about his early experiences as a brick manufacturer, so he cannot complain if the world has seen him as an “art” architect and largely ignored his attitude to construction and building technology. But this ignorance has let to a serious omission from the documentation of the man’s work, an undervaluing of his real, if patchy, achievements as a constructor, and a lack of appreciation of the technical determinants of his work.

From his years with Auguste Perret and Peter Behrens, Le Corbusier emerged as an admirer of the new technology of building. In 1908 he was fascinated by the glass and steel house in the Rue Réaumur and could see through its post-Art Nouveau styling to admire its building technique. His Villa Schwob is probably the first house ever built with a reinforced-concrete frame, and among its array of technical inventions are cavity walls housing services, double glazing with heating between the panes, and planted roof terraces.

In written work he becomes much more demanding: Vers une architecture is a hymn to the machine, whose products are to be compared to Doric capitals; his contributions to L’Esprit Nouveau emphasize the advantages of the machine for making buildings. So, in the first third of this century, when the building industry was still based on handicraft skills, Le Corbusier’s machine-image buildings such as the Pavilion Suisse acted as a rallying point. “Thin and precise” became a modern movement canon.

In the late 1930s, Le Corbusier’s friends Eugène Beaudouin, Marcel Lods, and Jean Prouvé built Buc Airport and Clichy Market Hall, the first buildings designed right through as machine-made products. Machine-age building had arrived. And what was Le Corbusier doing at this time? He was designing houses in rough masonry and heavy timbers. In the decade following the war, Le Corbusier positively gloried in primitive construction, while the rest of the Western world slowly mechanized its building industry in accordance with Le Corbusier’s ideas of the twenties.

In the 1960s, a reaction arose against “curtain wallism” and the glibness of so much of the metal and glass of the previous decade, and Le Corbusier’s primitive technology was copied round the world. The world had swung his way. But Le Corbusier turned again, and his last European projects were sophisticated metal and glass objects.

There is of course an element of logic in Le Corbusier’s changes of approach; he is developing as a designer and learning from the shortcomings of the buildings he has completed. But there is also an element of cussedness, of reacting against the view held by the rest of the world, so that he could fulfill his lonely heroic role, or, as Charles Jencks would say, his tragic role.1

Vers une architecture: The Stand Is Taken

Vers une architecture was published in 1923 when Le Corbusier’s mature practice was just beginning. With this book he takes a stand that gives precise direction to his work for the next ten years and less precise direction for the rest of his life. It is not only polemic; it is also image. Here are the ocean liners whose superstructure becomes the Maison Lipchitz and whose companionways become the stairs of the Pavilion de L’Esprit Nouveau; here is the factory façade that is refined into the Pavilion Suisse; here are sketches of the Acropolis that lead us to Chandigarh. Throughout the machine aesthetic, the stand is clear.

Industry, overwhelming us like a flood which rolls on toward its destined ends, has furnished us with new tools adapted to this new epoch, animated by the new spirit….

Industry on the grand scale must occupy itself with building and establish the elements of the house on a mass-production basis. We must create the mass-production spirit.

The spirit of constructing mass-production houses.
The spirit of living in mass-production houses.
The spirit of conceiving mass-production houses.

If we eliminate from our hearts and minds all dead concepts in regard to the house and look at the question from a critical and objective point of view, we shall arrive at the “House-machine,” the mass-production house, healthy (and morally so too) and beautiful in the same way that the working tools and instruments which accompany our existence are beautiful.2

Every modern man has the mechanical sense. The feeling for mechanics exists and is justified by our daily activities. This feeling in regard to machinery is one of respect, gratitude and esteem.3

Delage. Front-wheel Brake. This precision, this cleanness in execution go further back than our reborn mechanical sense. Phidias felt in this way: the entablature of the Parthenon is a witness. So did the Egyptians when they polished the pyramids.4

And again of the Parthenon: “All this plastic machinery is realized in marble with the vigour that we have learned to apply in the machine. The impression is of naked polished steel.”5

So the Parthenon is like a highly polished machine-made object, and architecture is a love affair with the machine, the adding of poetry to the engineer’s aesthetic.

But what explains the uncaptioned inclusion of Walter Gropius’s Faguswerke among the anonymous engineer’s factories? Perhaps he was scoring a point off the Berlin Functionalists, by implying that they had the engineer’s aesthetic without the added poetry.

Period 1: The Machine Aesthetic

The decade following the publication of Vers une architecture is the period when Le Corbusier remained true to the machine aesthetic stance of his book. This period can be divided into two phases. The first is the time of the white cubes of Volume One of Oeuvre complète; the second covers the large glossy buildings of Volume Two. In 1929 Volume One is firmly closed, for after completing the design for the Villa Savoye at Poissy, he never again used white painted rendering or designed a hard-edged house. Volume Two chronicles the next five years and includes all the big impeccable glassy buildings and a couple of little houses that show the first stirrings of Le Corbusier the primitive.

During the period recorded in Volume One, the feel of the machine-made was more image than reality. The Le Corbusier houses of the twenties are, generally speaking, as hand-made as other buildings of the time; the walls are not even of reinforced concrete, as the elevations might imply, for construction generally is a reinforced-concrete frame with block infill, all stuccoed and painted to try to give it the precision both of machine products and of Cubist paintings. The machine admired in Vers une architecture was shiny and metallic, but it was not practical to make houses like motor cars in the twenties, so Le Corbusier’s houses of the time can almost be regarded as traditional buildings decorated to look machine-made. Almost. But not quite. The Maison Domino is a machine-age image too, and in terms of displaying the clear, regular, reinforced-concrete frame, the houses are much more successful—at Pessac the frame extends to define outside spaces, at Carthage it stands clear outside the skin on all sides, and in almost all of the houses the columns are kept clear of wall lines to display the frame.

The 1927 double house at the Weissenhof, Stuttgart, is supported on steel columns, perhaps because Germany is a steel-building country, perhaps because the office had now expanded and employed Swiss assistants who were outside the Paris reinforced-concrete tradition. The adjoining single house is a maison type following the Citrohan image, and hence it has a complete reinforced-concrete frame. The double house has columns made of steel channels placed toe to toe, with large holes cut through the webs below floor levels to allow in situ reinforced-concrete beams to pass through; these beams carry floor and roof slabs of reinforced concrete poured over boxes of reed matting, which gives lightness, insulation, and a key for plaster. Walls are of hollow pumice blocks with rods inserted in the hollows, which are then filled with concrete—an unnecessarily strong wall, one might think, to form a panel within a reinforced-concrete frame. Window lintels are suspended from the frame on steel hangers. On the ground floor the steel columns are exposed and painted, but on the upper floors they are plastered over in international style, and one is left with the impression that Le Corbusier was not anxious, at that time, to explore the possibility of steel.

The year of 1929 saw the last of Le Corbusier’s designs in the white stucco box tradition and the first of his designs where the machine aesthetic was not surface-applied—in the precise metalwork, the luminous ceiling, and the square shiny furniture of the Salon d’Automne exhibition (Fig. 83). This exhibition shows a mastery of industrial design across a whole range of skills.

Figure 83
The sleeping area in the Salon d’Automne apartment, 1929. Machine-made, hard-edged, synthetic materials were used to imply a new world of luxury. (Source: Le Corbusier, Oeuvre complète 1929-34, p. 46.)

In the Maisons Loucheur, designed at the same time, concern for the industrialized product is again apparent. The steel structure is clearly expressed, not just for the ground floor columns as at the Weissenhof, but for the complete frame, with aggressively exposed steel beams, stairs, and landings. These houses indicate another tendency foreshadowing Le Corbusier’s future buildings—the rough stone wall “executed by the local mason.”6

The Maisons Loucheur were never built, but the study of steelwork leads to the important period covered in Volume Two, the five great steel and glass buildings constructed around 1930. These buildings, plus the competition entries of the same time, turned an office that had designed “one-off” houses in the Paris suburbs into a major international practice. None of these large buildings have the magic of the Villa at Garches or of the Maison Savoye at Poissy, but technically they tackle many new problems and solve quite a few of them.

The Centrosoyus at Moscow

This office building was constructed for a client who “wished that this building should express the latest resources of modern technology,”7 so it has a steel and glass curtain wall erected from the top down. Mechanical ventilation was designed, to give comfort to the occupants in such a glassy building, but, “unfortunately, the Russian authorities did not agree to the application of the principle of ‘respiration exacte,’8 so it was built with opening windows and radiators, adequate in winter but too hot in summer. The answer, Le Corbusier stated later, would have been to add brise-soleil.

Immeuble Clarté at Geneva

This block of forty-nine flats was built with Edmond Wanner as client, builder, and adviser, and the architects absorbed a great deal of technical know-how from this man. Although it is not such an exciting building as some of the others, it is probably the most technically suave, with a delicious staircase that allows light to filter down through eight floors of glass treads. Reinforced-concrete piles support a steel frame with all joints electrically welded (surely one of the first anywhere) and frames for the double-glazed windows are welded to the frame. It was never intended to have mechanical ventilation, so blinds and balconies are provided to protect the glass area from the summer sun.

Pavilion Suisse, Paris

This student hostel stands on strongly modeled piloti that foreshadow their successors at Marseilles. Above first floor slab level all is construction à sec with steel frame and precast concrete or glass skin. Partitions between rooms contain quilts and lead sheets for sound insulation. Le Corbusier was already facing up to the problems created by using lightweight construction for large buildings, but his beautifully detailed “pan de verre en façade sud” (Fig. 84) does not show equal understanding of the problem of solar heat gain. That had to wait another five years until he had invented the brise-soleil to cope with it. In the Pavilion Suisse itself the occupants managed for thirty years until the owners of the building provided external Venetian blinds—a form of brise-soleil (Fig. 85).

Figure 84
The Pavilion Suisse, Cité Universitaire, Paris, 1930-1932, has its main elevation facing open ground to the south and was built entirely of glass. (Photograph by John Winter.)

Figure 85
Detail of the Pavilion Suisse showing the external Venetian blinds added after World War II. (Photograph by Russell Walden.)

Cité de Refuge, Paris

This hostel for the Salvation Army should have been the machine-age miracle. An awkward site was turned into a dazzling series of spaces; the curtain wall was elegantly detailed with air at a controlled temperature designed to pass between the skins. “It is the first entirely hermetically sealed dwelling structure, comprising in particular a thousand square meters of glass with no openings.”9 There are shortcomings to the theory of the mur neutralisant method of maintaining internal temperature by passing heated or cooled air between two skins of glass, for radiant heat could pass through and cause overheating in summer; but the real disasters at the Cité de Refuge were not in theory but in practice, for neither the inner glass skin nor the cooling system were installed, while the skin was sealed tight.

The building opened late in 1933 (Fig. 86) and seemed comfortable enough. But when the summer sun of 1934 beat down on the glass façade, the discomfort became very real. When wartime damage, neglect, and the action of rust on the window frames caused glass to break, the owners patched the windows with solid panels and concrete blocks (Fig. 87). Then in the early fifties opening windows were provided for ventilation, spandrels were used to reduce the glass area, and brise-soleil were added to cut down the sun’s heat (Fig. 88).

Figure 86
The Cité de Refuge, Paris, 1929-1933, was built with a sealed façade, but without the inner skin and cooling system originally intended. (Source: Le Corbusier, Oeuvre complète 1929-34, p. 99.)

Figure 87
During World War II the damaged skin of the Cité de Refuge was patched up with anything that would reduce the glass area. (Photograph by John Winter.)

Figure 88
The main façade of the Cité de Refuge was reconstructed in the early 1950s with brise-soleil. (Photograph by Russell Walden.)

24 Rue Nungesser-et-Coli, Paris

This block of thirteen flats is a modest version of the Immeuble Clarté. Reinforced-concrete floors span on to load-bearing stone party walls and five intermediate concrete columns; all is clad in steel and glass, with lots of glass brick. Le Corbusier and his wife Yvonne moved into a penthouse maisonette with bathrooms and terraces like an ocean liner; over the years they softened it and continued to change it through Le Corbusier’s subsequent development as an architect, so the open hard-edged interior finally became the enclosed chunky-wood apartment of 1953.

With the completion of these five buildings within three years, the Le Corbusier-Pierre Jeanneret office had become the most influential architectural practice in the world. They had given architecture a direction: thin and light, technically sophisticated and glossy. The demands of Vers une architecture for an architecture as satisfying as a Delage had been met. With his direction established, Le Corbusier could be expected to extend his practice and refine his designs. He chose to do just the reverse.

Period 2. The Fascination of Peasant Technology

By 1930, the Villa at Vaucresson was eight years old and the white cube buildings were weathering poorly. Anyone who asked Le Corbusier in later life for directions to visit one of these early houses was firmly told that it had been demolished, such was his embarrassment about its condition.

It was in the year 1930 that Le Corbusier was asked to design a house for M. Errazuris in Chile (which, in fact, was never executed). Here he could claim that the remoteness of the site necessitated primitive materials, and he designed an interior of logs and rough masonry. “The rusticity of the materials is in no way a hindrance to the manifestation of a clear plan and a modern aesthetic.”10 So technique and aesthetic can be separated; this is not what Vers une architecture had said nor indeed what he was writing at the time, for within a few months of designing the Chile house he wrote, “The new calculation and the steel and concrete construction on which it is based bring in place of antiquated methods of construction new solutions which set aside radically the planning and style of the past.”11 But to return to the Chile house, was that rusticity really necessitated by the location? Parts of the walling were to be stuccoed like his French houses. If he could have steel handrailing and big sheets of glass, he could presumably have had a flat roof and a smooth interior as well. The importance of this design is that it enabled Le Corbusier to indulge his new fascination for primitive materials in a site that gave him a chance to do so without seeming disloyal to the principles of Vers une architecture.

The rough stone ground-floor walls of the gardener’s house at Poissy could be justified as being a continuation of an existing boundary wall, while the rough stone and logs of the Chile house were explained by the remoteness of the site.

But with the house for Madame de Mandrot at Le Pradet, designed after the Chile house but before the Villa Savoye at Poissy was finished, Le Corbusier felt sufficiently confident of his newfound love of rough materials to give them to the Convenor of the first Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM). The roof is flat, and the floors, columns, even bookcases are of precisely made reinforced concrete. In spite of this, the house shows a total shift in mood from Poissy; instead of the prisme pur held above the Virgilian landscape, a wandering plan provides an outriding pavilion that gives a relaxed feel and stone garden walls and stair that tie the house down tightly to the land.

Two other houses of rustic charm continue the line of development initiated at Le Pradet. These two houses have great finesse and delight but what a comedown! The man who built five of the most marvelous buildings of the modern movement between 1930 and 1934 built just two little houses in the next decade. Le Corbusier was indeed in the wilderness. Reaction, fascism, and lack of clients for modern buildings have all been blamed, but these forces did not stop Jean Prouvé or Beaudouin and Lods from developing modern architecture and building technology during the thirties.

Somehow, however much he fought against it, a period of retrenchment was necessary to Le Corbusier after his great successes of the early thirties. The split with Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret in 1940 and his period of ill health and idleness during the war were time for reflection, for gaining the confidence to reject some of the arguments of Vers une architecture.

During this unhappy phase in Le Corbusier’s career his attitude to building technology veers from one extreme to the other. Writings are almost always in favor of high technology, with apologies or at least reasons given for rustic buildings. The 1940 Maisons montées à sec was the last joint Le Corbusier-Pierre Jeanneret design; carried out in association with Jean Prouvé, it has chunky Le Corbusier forms made with elegant Prouvé steelwork. A few weeks later and Le Corbusier is on his own designing Murondins, self-build adobe houses with grass-covered roofs for refugee populations without access to industry; a few more months and he is back with Prouvé and a sophisticated metal structure for schools for the same refugees. But when the designs for this last project were completed, metal technology ceases to occupy an important place in Le Corbusier’s work for a long time.

Le Corbusier’s abortive trip to North Africa in 1942 resulted in the designs for the Peyrissac house, his most extreme excursion into the realm of peasant technology. In the description of the house in Volume Four it is written: “At this period of the occupation, people only spoke about folk-lore and did their best to copy ancient buildings.”12 Hence at this moment the Vichy viewpoint is not so far removed from Le Corbusier’s statement about the Peyrissac house that “in building in a modern way, we have discovered a harmony between the countryside, the climate, and tradition!”13 One may wonder where the “modern” is, but the Peyrissac house is certainly a lovely play with traditional Arab building forms. The written description has the usual apology that “there were no specialized craftsmen, and materials were almost unobtainable.”14 But it is difficult to believe that, at this moment of his life, Le Corbusier was anything but relieved to be forced to produce a peasant work.

After the disasters of war and occupation, Le Corbusier returned to his penthouse in Paris to find the roof garden delectably overgrown but the metal frames of the pan de verre rusty and deteriorated. He enjoyed the rampant vegetation on the roof and realized that the roofs of his postwar buildings could be places of fantasy and wonder; but the defective metalwork was miserable, and no steel was available to replace it (or is that the last of his apologies?). Forced to replace the window frames with wood, he abandoned the lightness of steel for chunky members, and with some panels of solid and unpainted wood he formed a fourth enclosing wall to the room, making a more private, more relaxed space.

This time there is no apology in the description. Instead he thoughtfully takes a stand different from Vers une architecture. “It may be admitted that certain materials are the friends of man. These are stone, wood, terra-cotta, and white chalk or white plaster, while nickeled and chromed metals, polished and brilliant, can only be used in very special circumstances.”15 The long years of hesitation are over; Le Corbusier could face the postwar situation with a consistent approach, very different from that of the twenties.

Not only his own apartment, but his other buildings as well, had suffered neglect during the war. Often they were patched up by unsympathetic hands. The Villa at Vaucresson, which originally had a flat roof, was given a pitched roof; the sloping roofs of the Ozenfant studio were changed to a flat roof. The magnificent villas at Garches and at Poissy were derelict and abandoned. The cladding of the Armée du Salut was patched with anything that came to hand. From Stuttgart to Le Pradet large windows were blocked up. Even his mother’s house in peaceful Vevey acquired metal siding to keep the water out.

For me, as a student, seeing these houses soon after the war was a powerful architectural experience, combining the emotion of hard geometry blighted with the nostalgia of mighty forms ruined within a generation. Le Corbusier was deeply hurt, but that spurred his efforts to make the new architecture of postwar France into something very different from the precise work of the twenties. The new architecture would have a ruggedness that would make it much less vulnerable to the vagaries of the occupants or the weather.

The Unité d’habitation at Marseilles was Le Corbusier’s statement of this new architecture and new life style for Europeans. With a commission free of building regulations and restrictions, Le Corbusier had the opportunity for which he had been preparing all his life.

The building was first designed with a steel frame and precast-concrete cladding, reflecting Le Corbusier’s previous experience with large buildings and even more so that of his engineer, Vladimir Bodiansky, who had been engineer for the Mopin system of the thirties. This system, as exemplified by the high-rise Drancy scheme of Beaudouin and Lods, consists of a steel frame, very economically used, and a semistructural cladding of pebble-faced precast-concrete panels, with a high degree of repetition. At Marseilles the availability of skills and materials led to the abandonment of steel columns; although steel was retained for internal horizontal structure and precast concrete for cladding, the vertical columns and all special areas of the building were of in situ concrete, ruggedly designed and crudely made (Fig. 89). One feels that, whatever Bodiansky may have thought, Le Corbusier was quite content to indulge in the use of primitive materials. Le Corbusier positively reveled in the irregularities of his concrete: “The defects shout at one from all parts of the structure! … Faults are human; they are ourselves, our daily lives. What matters is to go further, to live, to be intense, to aim high, and to be loyal!”16 The contrast between this attitude and Vers une architecture is total—then a thousandth of an inch mattered.

Figure 89
Relief figure of the Modulor Man, Unité d’habitation, Marseilles, 1946-1952. Most of the concrete in the building is precast, but it was the rough in situ concrete that attracted attention. (Photograph by John Winter.)

It was the béton brut at Marseilles that was photographed, written about, and copied, but Le Corbusier had remained thoroughly professional throughout. Most of the concrete is precast, well detailed, and reasonably made; the apartments rest on lead pads on steel beams to give acoustic privacy. The technical know-how is greater than it ever was, but it keeps a low profile; it is the apparently primitive that is glorified.

At the same time as he was designing the massive piloti for Marseilles, Le Corbusier was also preparing the designs of Sainte Baume for Edouard Trouin—a world of grottoes, of stabilized earth walls, and of grass on the roof. This was primitivism pushed to the extreme, dear to Le Corbusier’s heart. It was never built, but echoes of the Sainte Baume designs run through the Maisons Jaoul in Paris and the Sarabhai house in Ahmedabad, which was built “to reestablish contact with the noble and fundamental materials of architecture; the brick, friend of man, rough concrete, a friend also.”17

Just as Le Corbusier had used rough stone walls at Poissy and in the Pavilion Suisse during his machine aesthetic period, so during this phase of postwar primitivism he made excursions back into the precise world of metal technology; he patented a quite delicious metal structural system that could build up 2260 cubes for his “Roq et Rob” project, and he designed metal umbrellas for an exhibition at the Porte Maillot. By the midfifties we find him back with his old friend Jean Prouvé, designing fifty metal houses for Lagny, nice designs with steel l-section piloti, Prouvé cladding, and sanitary cores, but mercifully free from the A frames that blight typical Prouvé houses. “These houses return to the favored graces of the law,”18 said Le Corbusier, but he was not optimistic about high technology in France at that time and correctly anticipated that the houses would not be built.

The completion in 1952 of the Unité at Marseilles and the Lever House in Manhattan, followed in 1958 by the completion of the Seagram Building in New York and the High Court at Chandigarh, revealed the full extent of the deep split within the modern movement. By the fifties American-inspired building technology became a world pace-setter, with Mies van der Rohe, the twentieth-century Palladio, giving it an image and an order. Le Corbusier, hating America, building largely in India, went the primitive way: out of step, lonely, glorious. It was only when glass and metal went out of fashion with the architectural trends in the sixties that Le Corbusier picked it up seriously; as always he was out of line.

The Final Phase

Fame and success brought Le Corbusier work in many parts of the world. In India the construction could be overseen by his colleagues; but in Argentina, in Tokyo, and in Boston, local architects supervised and ran into problems with the béton brut approach. It is one thing to accept rough workmanship from Corsican workmen in an impoverished postwar France; it is quite another to require it of a sophisticated American contractor.

The Carrutchet house at La Plata in Argentina was supervised by Amancio Williams; and it was given a smooth stucco covering. In the period 1957 to 1959 the Museum of Western Art in Tokyo was built from Le Corbusier’s designs by his former assistants Junzo Sakakura and Kunio Maekawa; as sincere disciples they carried out his designs to the last detail—the workmanship is immaculate, but the visual result is strangely dead. Five years later, in 1964, the Carpenter Center for Visual Arts was completed at Cambridge, Massachusetts, under the direction of Le Corbusier’s CIAM friend José Luis Sert, and reportedly the builders had difficulty getting the formwork rough enough to satisfy the architect.

There was something silly about all this. Le Corbusier may have had only one eye, but it was a damned good one and he could see what was going on. The magnificent rough concrete that seemed so appropriate to India and postwar France became inappropriate in technically abundant cultures. Moreover, leaks in his French buildings and overheating in his Indian ones revealed shortcomings, not too serious perhaps, but worrying nonetheless. Le Corbusier said little, but just as he had reoriented his architecture in the thirties after observing the defects in his early houses, he made another change of direction in the sixties in response to the limitations of his postwar way of building. Already in his seventies, Le Corbusier disregarded the comforts of old age and rethought his architecture, but death cut short this third and last phase before much had been built.

The Youth Center at Firminy (Fig. 90) gives a hint of this new phase of Le Corbusier, with its roof suspended on cables and its shiny metal furniture, but the Heidi Weber Pavilion (Fig. 91) fully reveals the new Le Corbusier of enameled steel and neoprene.

Figure 90
The Maison de la Culture at Firminy Vert, 1961-1965, retains the massive concrete form of Le Corbusier’s buildings of the previous decade, but it shows a tendency toward another technology, with its roof suspended on steel cables. (Photograph by Russell Walden.)

Figure 91
The steel roof of the Heidi Weber Pavilion, Zurich, 1963-1967, stands over the light and elegant enclosure below. (Photograph by Russell Walden.)

The Heidi Weber Pavilion at Zurich, whose interior “demonstrates the practical, constructive, and plastic capabilities of dry construction,”19 shows the totality of Le Corbusier’s change and also his skillfulness, for this first example of his new approach is put together with a technical sophistication unsurpassed in Europe at the time. Credit must be shared with Jean Prouvé, who gave advice, and with his assistants Robert Rebutato and Alain Tavès, who carried the work through to completion following Le Corbusier’s death early in the construction period. The pavilion has a metal parasol roof, which is unduly ponderous and heavy, a hangover from his heavy concrete period; but under its shade is the patent system from “Roq et Rob,” where spaces are formed of mild steel angles forming 2260 cubes. In the original patented design the cubes stack up so that the outside corners have just one angle, whereas inside junctions have four angles building up to form a Greek cross. Unfortunately this did not prove workable, as the size of columns cannot be decreased in direct proportion to the load, so all the columns are made Greek crosses and the image of stacked cubes is weakened. The structural members are clearly expressed, however, for the grouped angles show as columns and beams and are painted in contrast to the panels to acknowledge the linear nature of this construction and to emphasize the difference between this cage and the massive solid constructions of the previous years. 2260 may be a basic modulor dimension, but it is a somewhat restricting span within a building; Le Corbusier had to accept a somewhat inhibited arrangement of spaces in order to keep the integrity of the structural discipline he had chosen.

Comparison between early sketches and the final proposals for the pavilion show that, as the design developed and the requirements of metal building became clearer, Le Corbusier abandoned various features that had been dear to him during the previous years. Early designs show ondulatoires (floor-to-ceiling mullions of varying spacing) and solid walls seen as planes; later designs have glass unsubdivided, frame revealed, and panels divided into two equal parts—a most unmodulor subdivision. The pressed and enameled panels are secured to the frame with gaskets, but extra metal members are introduced so that the clear outline of the frame is never encroached upon by the gaskets and the construction can be seen as a clear demonstration of frame and fill. The Heidi Weber Pavilion is a splendid construction, showing the way Le Corbusier was developing, but that elephantine roof holds it back to his ideas of the previous decade.

A few weeks before his death he prepared sketches for an extension on top of his Jaoul house (Fig. 92), and this design is being brought to realization by the architect Jacques Michel. The Jaoul design has no hangovers; it makes its architectural statement with that most metallic of all forms, the Warren truss; and by putting the spaces within the truss, he made sure that the building would be as insistently metal as Marseilles had been insistently concrete.

Figure 92
Design for an extension on top of the Maison Jaoul by Jacques Michel, from sketches by Le Corbusier. The contrast in technologies between the original house and the extension could not be more complete. (Redrawn from the original by John Winter.)

Seventy-eight is not a young age at which to die. With Le Corbusier it seems that a new creative period was just beginning.


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