Anthony Daniels wrote in 2015 a masterful defenestration of modern architecture’s chief founder, “The Cult of Le Corbusier,” for Quadrant, an Australian magazine. I offer this one quote, along with my assurance that the essay in its entirety will comfort all who recognize the despicable in Corbu and his work. He is a man venerated who should be shunned:
For a man for whom abstract ideas were so important, he wasn’t very good at thinking. His ideas were to real thought what doggerel is to real poetry. You never have to go very far in his books (and his literary output was prodigious) to find ex cathedra statements that combine inaccuracy, looseness, laziness and self-serving mendacity, all covered in a thick sauce of absolute self-confidence. Here, for example, is something from page 4 of Quand les cathédrales étaient blanches, published in 1937:
The cathedrals were white because they were new. The cities were new: they were built all of a piece, in order, regular, geometric, according to plans.
This will no doubt come as news to medievalists. And to imply some kind of aesthetic equivalence between, say, Rheims Cath- edral and the Unité d’habitation (or anything else that he built) is breathtakingly arrogant, to put it mildly. On page 163 we read:
Manhattan repeats a natural history lesson: man is an ant, with precisely the same life habits, a uniform behaviour. By wanting to “free” man from his biological realities by an urbanisation extended in space, our snake-oil salesmen have rendered cities ridiculous …
The solution is obvious: to hand over total control to Le Corbusier, so that uniform man can live in uniform buildings that are efficiently conformable to his uniform behaviour and his “biological realities”.
Le Corbusier wrote thousands of pages of this unpleasant semi-intellectual drivel.
The illustration atop this post is a model of Corbusier’s Plan Voisin, involving the destruction of a large swath of central Paris. Daniels’s essay provides information on this plan and the so-called thinking behind it. The plan was rejected by Paris, fortunately, but much of its program was carried forward on behalf of the poor in public housing, housing estates and banlieus around the globe. The essay describes Corbusier as “a man, deeply autistic, who could never tell the difference between his own dull metaphors and reality.”
Corbusier’s own renderings of the Plan Voisin and his book The Radiant City put his fascistic tendencies on open display. Daniels describes the cult-like will to ignore of attendees at a Corbusier exhibition at (of course) the Centre Pompidou in Paris:
Many normal people do not see it, however, among them the thousands who trooped respectfully through the exhibition, not one of whom (as far as I could see) reacted with anything except awe to what was exhibited. Corbusier’s ideas, all of them gimcrack and third-rate, have struggled with good taste and common sense, and triumphed in the struggle. Of course, the visitors were a self-select- ed group; but the thoroughness with which the myth of Le Corbu- sier’s architectural genius has been propagated can be gauged from the story that Marc Perelman, an architectural critic, relates in his recent book, Le Corbusier, une froide vision du monde. In 1986, he says, he published another book critical of Le Corbusier, and it put an immediate end to his career in French architectural schools.
Daniels quotes one fawning critic’s appallingly accurate description of Corbusier’s most famous work, the Villa Savoye:
The most limpid and most structured of his works. A fragile edifice, all but uninhabitable, abandoned immediately, ruined by leaks, its plaster constantly cracking, but incontestably a masterpiece.
Of course, it was impossible for me to print only a single passage from Daniels’s brilliant essay. But just one more. He quotes another recent book critical of Le Corbusier, Le Corbusier, un fascisme français, by Xavier de Jarcy. It ends:
The most appalling thing is not that the most famous architect in the world had been a militant fascist. It is the discovery that a veil of silence and lies has been thrown over not only this reality, but also over the fascism of a part of the French intellectual, artistic and industrial elite. It is to feel the thickness of the curtain of forgetting that has concealed the facts for so long.