Le Corbusier - 20th century French architect

Though Swiss-born, Le Corbusier is known as a French architect, writer, urbanist, and designer, having become a citizen in his 30’s and doing to majority of his work as a French citizen. He is best remembered for his pioneering vision and contributions to what is referred to as Modern Architecture by critics, historians and artists alike. His fifty year career produced some of the most iconic structures built all over the world.

Born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a small town in north-western Switzerland that was very provincial. He found an affinity towards the visual arts at a very young age. His early training was in his hometown, at the La-Chaux-de-Fonds Art School, where he trained as a watch engraver. In 1902, Le Corbusier began winning awards as an engraver and found early success in his career, but by 1907 he grew tired and started pursuing architecture, traveling to Paris and Italy and Germany to train under various architects.

Le Corbusier returned to La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1912, and worked as a teacher until 1914, when he completed the idea for The Domino House. This house would lay the groundwork for the philosophy of design Le Corbusier would incorporate into his lifelong style – by using steel support pillars, Le Corbusier did away with the need for supporting walls, and made his structures more ‘open’ and free-flowing. This approach to design, he felt, would provide better living conditions for city-dwellers, who were feeling the effects of overcrowding.

It wasn’t until the 1920’s, after a stint as a painter, that Le Corbusier actually started building. A few years prior, Le Corbusier spent some time with painters such as Amédée Ozenfant, adopting the ‘Le Corbusier’ pseudonym, and coming up with an artistic movement called Purism. It wasn’t until his break with Ozenfant over an argument over artistic credit that Le Corbusier moved on, partnering with his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret in 1922. At this time, Le Corbusier and his cousin began designing single-family homes using his Domino design.

As an architect, Le Corbusier has designed everything from villas, to the UN Headquarters in New York City. But most interesting are his theoretical writings and design ideas that stemmed from a dedication to urbanism and the improvement of quality of life in cities, especially for the lower class. His most influential written work is La Ville radieuse (1935), which organized housing according to family size, not class.

Le Corbusier’s writings, as well as his buildings are well worth a look – especially in politically and culturally trying times – for insight into the possibilities of architecture and urban planning. By the time of his death at the age of 78, he was considered one of the greatest masters of architecture around the world.

For examples of buildings by le Corbusier in France see Villa Savoye and Ronchamp Chapel.