An architect by choice...

An architect by choice...

It all began in the Swiss Jura Mountains in 1887. Le Corbusier, the world-renowned architect and city planner, was born as Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, on October 6, 1887 to Édouard Jeanneret and Madame Jeannerct-Perrct, in a small village of La Chaux-de-Fonds.

Being born into a region that was globally acclaimed as the centre of precision watch-making, and living with a family that had strong protestant beliefs and undying love for the Jura Mountains, young Jeanneret left his primary education at the age of 13 to attend Arts Décoratifs at La Chaux-de-Fonds, where he would acquire the art of enamelling and engraving watch faces, just like his father.

It was here at Arts Décoratifs that he met his mentor L’Eplattenier, who taught young Jeanneret drawing, art history and natural aesthetics of Art Nouveau. It was, in fact, L’Eplattenier who paved the way for Jeanneret’s architectural future. Having taught Jeanneret for about three years, he got the young lad involved in local architectural projects. L’Eplattenier also encouraged young Jeanneret to travel the world, an advice that was well taken.

It was his travels through Central Europe and Mediterranean from 1907 to 1911 that changed the course of Jeanneret’s life. Tuscany taught him the contrast between expansive and compact living spaces, Greece taught him classical proportions, and the Mediterranean taught him to play with geometrical forms and set them against light.

During World War 1, Jeanneret decided to stay in La Chaux-de-Fonds and teach at his school. He also formed his own architectural theories at this time and worked on his early projects, ‘Domino House’ being the foundation for the kind of architecture he practised for the next decade. He thus began his own practice with cousin Pierre Jeanneret. At the age of 30, Jeanneret met painter and designer Amedee Ozenfant in Paris, who introduced to him sophisticated contemporary art. Jeanerret thus rejected complex Cubism and came back to pure, simple geometric forms.

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret adopted the name Le Corbusier, that reinstated his stance that anyone could start afresh any time he wants to. Having grown into a painter and writer in addition to being a self-taught architect, Corbusier experimented a lot with his theories about design and art. Up came Maison Citrohan, a three-storied structure, in collaboration with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, a major project in his architectural career.

The double height living space, large astute interior spaces, arrangement of living spaces, sun terrace, large external windows, all became quite synonymous with Corbusier’s architectural style and earned him some popularity. Hence followed a number of private houses for patrons in and around Paris. Meanwhile, Le Corbusier gained French citizenship in 1930.

Villa Savoye (1929-31) is perhaps Le Corbusier’s most talked about projects that completely complies with his Five Point Architectural theory. The villa was propped off the ground and was supported on reinforced concrete stilts called the ‘pilotis’. The open planning here was much appreciated and the long ribbon windows on the external facade gave way to a beautiful view outside. A roof garden on the terrace too went much with Corbusier’s plan.

Le Corbusier was a great urban planner and came to the rescue of French officials with ingenious solutions whilst they were trying to find a solution to the growing Parisian Slums. Not content with designing group housing projects, Corbusier studied city and urban design in detail. In 1922, he came up with a great proposal called ‘The Contemporary City’, a housing solution for 3 million inhabitants. This, alas, was too brave a vision for that time.

After World War II, Corbusier carried forward his vision of urban design on a smaller scale around France, called the Radiant City, Unité d’habitation of Marseilles being the most popular one there. Chandigarh came up as a great opportunity at this time, a perfect way to implement his urban design and city planning on a larger scale. He designed the layout of the city and dealt with a lot of administrative, government and educational buildings personally, like the Secretariat, Assembly and the University.

Corbusier, is much appreciated for his contribution to the system of proportioning in the form of the Modular Scale that he evolved from Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man and the golden ratio. Another contribution that one cannot forget is Corbusier’s expression of peace and reconciliation, the open hand sculpture.

The largest one is coincidentally placed in his realised urban planning project of Chandigarh and is popularly known as The Open Hand Monument. Corbusier was an enthusiastic writer, painter and a furniture designer too. His chairs being the most popular of the lot. His tapestries were another highlight of him as an artist. One can see a lot of them on display in the Assembly building in Chandigarh. A great urban planner, Corbusier was a founding member of Congres International d Architecture Moderne (CIAM).

Whilst quite a controversial figure during his lifetime, Le Corbusier has been bestowed upon with many awards including the Frank P Brown Medal and the AIA Gold Medal in 1961. The University of Cambridge, too, as a mark of appreciation for his contribution to the field of architecture, honoured him with an honorary degree in the June of 1959.

On August 27, 1965 against the advice of his doctor, he went for a swim in the Mediterranean Sea, France. He probably suffered a heart attack while in water as his body was found washed by the shore. The world lost a great architect, painter, writer and a leading figure in the field of Modern Architecture. With a career extending five decades, and buildings constructed across Europe, Americas and India, Le Corbusier  will always be counted amongst the most influential architectural figures.
Simran Chhibber

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