What a pleasure to learn that a friend of mine has reviewed a book written by another friend of mine. Of course, that might not be so great if one friend panned the other. That is not the case here, thankfully. Both pan the subject of the book. Architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros, the reviewer, calls Malcolm Millais’s new book, Le Corbusier, the Dishonest Architect, a “refreshing analysis of a towering figure.” In short, Salingaros loves Millais’s scalding treatment modern architecture’s most influential founder.
In his review, titled “Dimensions of Failure” in this month’s issue of The New English Review, Salingaros writes:
Le Corbusier is supposed to have saved humankind from its retrograde and stubborn habits of building humane settlements. Like other prophets before him, he revealed immutable laws to the ignorant masses, such as the nostalgic folly of ornamenting their houses, and the futility of wishing to raise their children in friendly spaces and gardens.
Dr. Millais instead offers a contrarian opinion: “The truth is [that Le Corbusier] was a sham, a fake, a charlatan whose only gift was for self-publicity.”
Millais uses facts and reasoned arguments to show that Le Corbusier was ignorant of tectonics, as his canonical buildings have been falling apart since their day of completion. Millais exhaustively collects results from many other investigators; some crucial biographical ones from as late as 2015, when Le Corbusier was exposed as an anti-Semitic Nazi-Fascist collaborator.
Most of the goods Millais has on Corbusier are known to scholars but have been suppressed by the architectural establishment. And you can understand why after reading excerpts from the Corbusier file. For example, Here’s how Corbusier described his Philips Pavilion, designed for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair:
It should appear as though you are about to enter a slaughterhouse. Then once inside, bang, a blow to the head and you’re gone.
So, Monty Python’s 1987 The Architects Sketch starring John Cleese was spot-on after all.
Salingaros adds from his own files on Corbusier the architect’s reaction to a client’s complaint that her balconies have no railings.
The good woman was afraid that when her sons get married their children would fall off and kill themselves, as if I cared. As if I, Le Corbusier, would compromise with design for the sake of her unborn brats!
A recurrent theme throughout this biography, like the refrain in a children’s song, is Le Corbusier’s dishonesty: lying, stealing originality from anybody he could, betraying those who helped him, being driven by opportunism, and stepping over cadavers in his monomaniacal quest for glory. Again, these facts are routinely suppressed so that architecture students don’t get frightened. Or maybe it is in order to shield an architectural culture that has made lots of money and achieved immense global power by embracing these same vices.
Considering the power of the cult of Corbu, Salingaros doubts that architects will ever wake up to the sins of the god they worship:
This excellent book by Malcolm Millais should have been around for the last fifty years. It might have saved us from architectural and urban design mistakes, now ingrained in architectural and planning cultures. As Millais says, “This is not a book for architects.” No revelation—no matter how shocking—can tarnish this hero’s reputation among architectural true believers. Yet we need to delete Le Corbusier’s ideas from practice if our world is to become healthy once again.
(My review of Malcolm Millais’s fine book is here.)