wk8 reading response

Toward An Architecture: Le Corbusier

In Toward An Architecture, several issues and positions reveal themselves through Le Corbusier’s dialogue with the reader.  The overarching issue of urgency in addressing a new “modern life” takes the forefront through several different arguments Corbu puts forth.  But all arguments relate back to Corbusier’s adoration for the work of the engineer, of which he says is “like a great art”.  This position seems to penetrate the other issues throughout the book.  He speaks of the work of engineers as having some kind of greater truth, in that they follow generative principles and rules that are in accordance with the natural laws of the universe.  Using the analogy of the automobile, he says several times that he is more interested in the “chassis” of the building than the “coachwork”.

Corbu likens the architecture he is seeking to that of oceanliners, airplanes, and automobiles.  He grasps onto the idea of those artifacts, which must address definite mechanical principles, as being “honest expressions” and in accordance with natural, mathematical laws, and therefore harmonious to the human figure.  Corbu delineated his mathematical design process through positions such as the plan as a generator, as well as using regulating lines as a means for guarding against arbitrariness.  What is apparent and ironic about his position is that he refers to the dwelling as a “machine for living in”, and not a poem culminating its owner’s life.  Looking at this statement, one could assume there is hardly anything harmonious or humane about the architecture that comes from it.

But we, of course, are looking at this in retrospect.  It is easy to make judgments about his ideals.  Corbusier was most definitely reacting to an architecture of his time that was static, stuck in [thoughtless] decoration and ornament.  I wonder if Corbu had any conversations with Adolf Loos?  He was looking for something more, something thoughtful, harmonious, and something that would stir/resonate with the inner human core.  He found this in the technology that was coming into being during the early 20th century.  This technology was innately magnificent because, as the “lesson of the airplane” says, there is certain logic that governs the statement of the problem and its realization.  This technology responded to the definite problems that natural forces posed.  The oceanliner had to contend with the issues associated with long journeys across large bodies of water, the airplane had to address not only mechanics but aerodynamics, and the automobile dealt with evolution and mass-production.  He did not believe that architects of his day were asking the right questions, or posing thoughtful problems.  We could assume that Corbu saw a way of using technology that truly and deeply addressed human needs and desires.  Unfortunately, as the century played out, this was not the case.  The complexity of the human condition required much more from technology that it could provide.

Vers Une Architecture starts out by noting that architecture is “the masterful, correct, and magnificent play of volumes brought together in light”.  Given the last half-century of exploration into new modes of technology, biology, and anthropology, it can be said that architecture is truly much more than simply correct geometry and form that resonates with the human condition.  Rather it is a dynamic, diverse response to an ever-changing complex context.  I think Charles-Edouard Jeanneret knew this, though a language for it may not have existed when this book was published.

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