Le Corbusier (born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris) grew up in a small town in northwest Switzerland, but spent much of his childhood jet setting from Berlin to Budapest, to Vienna, to Paris, and numerous other cities across Europe. Of all the places he visited, Le Corbusier’s experiences at the Charterhouse of Galluzzo in Val d’Ema in Florence affected him the most profoundly. The peace and order of the monks living in the sanctuaries of the charterhouse stood in stark contrast to the chaos of the modern city, and he was inspired to design in ways that would allow the average citizen to live as beautifully as the monks.
In L’Esprit Nouveau (The New Spirit) — an avant-garde review he founded with poet Paul Dermée and cubist painter Amédée Ozenfant — and his manifesto Vers une architecture (Toward an Architecture), Le Corbusier built on these ideas. Rather than developing organically, he believed cities should be designed to be organized, peaceful and efficient. His fondness for right angles is reflected in his famous statement, “a curved street is a donkey track; a straight street, a road for men.”
Although its scale was significantly smaller than the cities he envisioned, the Villa Savoye was the first building that truly reflected Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture outlined in both L’Esprit Nouveau and Vers une architecture. These included pilotis (the structural support for the house), a free façade, an open floor plan, unencumbered views and a rooftop garden. The Villa Savoye’s swooping roof details, reinforced concrete and white tubular railings would become synonymous with the architect in years to come.
The designer’s first opportunity to implement his vision on a large scale occurred in the 1930s. According to Le Corbusier, the contemporary city of the day only offered “frightening chaos and saddening monotony”; he instead wanted to clean and purge the modern urban environment, bringing “a calm and powerful architecture” with a new design that he described as the Cité Radieuse (Radiant City).
The project — which some refer to as the initial inspiration of the Brutalist architectural style — involved self-contained, cell-like apartments, each one stacked atop another. They were meant to provide residents with everything they needed so that they wouldn’t have to venture away from the premises. Several of these buildings exist in Europe, including France and Germany.
In the 1950s, Le Corbusier was finally given the chance to create the urban utopia he’d always imagined. India commissioned him to design the new capital for the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana, named Chandigarh. Located far from any urban hub in the country, it was to be India’s first post-colonial planned city.
In keeping with his vision for an orderly and peaceful Radiant City, Le Corbusier designed Chandigarh with a strict separation of societal functions. By creating distinct zones for workplaces, residences, shopping and entertainment centers and government buildings, Le Corbusier intended for leisure zones like the Lake Precinct to provide citizens with an escape from the stresses of urban life.
People still live and thrive in Le Corbusier’s imaginings all over the world, but they aren’t the only ones who have been affected by his utopian visions. His division of daily functions can be seen in the basis of contemporary Western urban planning. While you may not find the same peace in Le Corbusier’s Brutalist designs as he did, you can’t help but appreciate their significance.
Written by Leah Bjornson
Headline photo of the Notre Dame du Haut by AWBT/Shutterstock