Le Corbusier and photography – exhibition


Le Corbusier was born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret in 1887 in Switzerland. After a early career traveling, teaching and working on a small scale, he changed his name in 1920 and gave up designing in order to dedicate himself to more theoretical pursuits. In 1923 these were summed up in Vers Une Architecture, a manifesto for modernist design: architecture was a machine that was severely out of sync with society: ‘the primordial instinct of every human being is to assure himself of a shelter. The various classes of workers in society today, no longer have dwellings adapted to their needs; neither the artizan nor the intellectual. It is a question of building which is at the root of social unrest of today: architecture or revolution.’  Thus a revolution in design was the only thing that could halt the coming catastrophe. And what did this new revolution look like?

Already, Le Corbusier is imagining a new type of city: a regulated city of sky scrapers, in which the plan is at the centre of the work because ‘without a plan you have lack of order and wilfulness’. The idea thus became more important than the place, theory superseded experience. The rightness of the plan itself would ensure the evolution of a peaceful, happy society, whose voices were not encouraged. This revolution demanded men ‘without remorse’ who could see the project to its end without swaying to public opinion: ‘the design of cities are too important to be left to the citizens.’

In 1925 he hoped to test his ideas with projections for the Plan Voisin that was the centre piece exhibition in the Pavillion L’Esprit Nouveau at the World Fair. His dreams demanded the leveling of most of the historic neighbourhoods of Paris, north of the Seine – from the Marais to the Place Vendome, and replaced by long avenues, organised into a rigid grip system, filled with parkland and gardens. At the centre of each island was a vast tower blocks –  the new machines for living. Thankfully the Plan Voisin was nothing more than an attempt to shock and never intended to see the light of day. That did not mean that Le Corbusier was not absolutely serious and his ideas further evolved into the concept of the Ville Radieuse, published in 1933.

Le Corbusier’s City of Tomorrow was the solution to the problem of traffic as the architect saw poetry in speed. How can the massed chaos of the city be reordered to allow for maximum velocity? While Patrick Geddes saw the relationship between the past, landscape and present as integral to any city plan, Le Corbusier wanted to smash history, ‘burn our bridges and break with the past.’ Where Ebeneezer Howard desired the marriage of city and nature, Le Corbusier saw the city as the enemy of uncontrolled nature, a machine to defend man against the vagaries of the unpredictable and inhuman, including human nature itself.

Le Corbusier was quick to grasp the impact and promotional character of photography. In the course of his life, he used images in diverse ways: he saw travel as an opportunity to collect a wealth of extremely rich material which he used in his work as an architect, town planner, theoretician and sculptor. He then drew on a vast repertoire of images to illustrate his writings and exhibitions.

Ultimately, he forged his image on the basis of the work of several famous photographers: Fred Boissonnas, Lucien Hervé, René Burri, to name only the most well-known.

Photography therefore formed the logical basis for his architectural work as well as enabling him to construct his own image.

The various sections of the exhibition cover the diverse relationships between Le Corbusier and photography:

1.      Le Corbusier, the man

2.      Le Corbusier, the photographer

3.      Image and promotion of Le Corbusier’s works in photographs

4.      Photography and publication

5.      Photography and exhibition

6.      Le Corbusier’s architecture in contemporary photography

r. de l’Ermitage 55 / Kluisstr. 55, 1050 Ixelles / Elsene

Tel : 02-642.24.50 – Fax : 02-642.24.55

26/4/2013 – 6/10/2013