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haiku for the book “Towards a New Architecture” by Le Corbusier

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Mar 11, 2012 02:03 AM
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by bubba of the bubbles ( last modified Mar 10, 2012



heavy carpets heave
keep your floors clear ofdebris
demand a vacuum

Thisbook, first published in 1923, was an unexpected delight. Unexpected in thesense that it was readable (unlike most of Frank Lloyd Wright’s scribblings)and still (mostly) relevant almost 100 years later. Like Wright, Le Corbusier(pronounced core-boo-see-eh and referred to as “Corbu” by the cool kids) was afreakin genius, essentially perfecting Modernism. His houses are timeless; hisdesigns still crisp and contemporary (contemporary in the sense they couldeasily be designed today and fit into the Modern meme seamlessly). Every time Isee a photo of one of his houses with an automobile-o-the-day parked in front,I giggle like a drunken sorority girl. Oh to have lived back in those years andseen one of his creations for the first time!

Theactual title of his book, properly translated, is “Towards an Architecture” not“Towards a New Architecture”. Probably because his architecture was so radical,translators (editors?) changed the title, and thus subtly changed Corbu’s mainpoint: Architecture as architecture needs to change.

Thebook is a collection of essays he wrote for the magazine L’Esprit Nouveau. Themain thrust of the essays is that architecture needs to change its dusty andcrusty ways and be optimized to the people who use it. Corbu refers to andincludes photos of automobiles, steamships, and airplanes (and grain silos!)noting that the clean designs of these machines and practical solutions werefunctional yet beautiful.

Corbuspills his famous quote here: “A house is a machine for living in.” Many, includingWright, have misinterpreted this quote to mean that a house should literally bea machine. What Corbu was really trying to say is that just as an automobile iscarefully designed to meet its purpose (for driving in), so should a house (forliving in). (He also writes that “An armchair is a machine for sitting in”. Heehee!). Corbu questions the dogma and assumptions of architecture and designback in the day where living was required to bend to that dogma and thoseassumptions. He simply notes that architecture should bend to the people thatplan to use it.

Heincludes a “Manual of the Dwelling” enumerating his thoughts on a house:

Demand a bathroom lookingsouth, one of the largest rooms in the house or flat, the old drawing-room forinstance. One wall to be entirely glazed, opening if possible on to a balconyfor sun baths; the most up-to-date fittings with a shower-bath and gymnasticappliances.

An adjoining room to be adressing-room in which you can dress and undress. Never undress in yourbedroom. It is not a clean thing to do and makes the room horribly untidy. Inthis room demand fitments for your linen and clothing, not more than 5 feet inheight, with drawers, hangers, etc.

Demand one really largeliving room instead of a number of small ones.

Demand bare walls in yourbedroom, your living room and your dining-room. Built-in fittings to take theplace of much of the furniture, which is expensive to buy, takes up too muchroom and needs looking after.

If you can, put the kitchenat the top of the house to avoid smells.

Demand concealed or diffusedlighting.

Demand a vacuum cleaner.

Buy only practical furnitureand never buy decorative “pieces.” If you want to see bad taste, go into thehouses of the rich. Put only a few pictures on your walls, and none but goodones.

Keep your odds and ends indrawers or cabinets.

The gramaphone or thepianola or wireless will give you exact interpretations of first rate music,and you will avoid catching cold in the concert hall, and the frenzy of thevirtuoso.

Demand ventilating panes tothe windows in every room.

Teach your children that ahouse is only habitable when it is full of light and air, and when the wallsand floors are clear. To keep your floors in order eliminate heavy furnitureand thick carpets.

Demand a separate garage toyour dwelling.

Demand that your maid’s roomshould not be in the attic. Do not park your servants under your roof.

Take a flat which is onesize smaller than what your parents accustomed you to. Bear in mind economy inyour actions, your household management and in your thoughts.

(Noteto self: Demand a vacuum cleaner from the architect [We have requested acentral vacuum, but we haven’t demanded one yet!].)

AlthoughCorbu’s flavor of Modern is described as cold, he was truly a humanist, bendinghis theories at the knees to bow before humanity.

Corbugoes on, somewhat poetically:

Every modern man has themechanical sense. The feeling for mechanics exists and is justified by ourdaily activities. This feeling in regard to machinery is one of deep respect,gratitude, and esteem.

Machinery includes economyas an essential factor leading to minute selection. There is a moral sentimentin the feeling for mechanics.

The man who is intelligent,cold and calm has grown wings to himself [blogger’s note: This is stated on apage with photos of airplanes.]

Men--intelligent, cold andcalm--are needed to build the house and lay out the town.

Inessense, what The Corbu is saying is that the machine ethic, that ethic of thecold-hearted engineer to design in a practical and cost-effective manner, needsto be brought into the design of our homes and cities.

However,Corbu recognizes that architecture is not simply practical design:

You employ stone, wood andconcrete, and with these materials you build houses and palaces; that isconstruction. Ingenuity is at work.

But suddenly you touch myheart, you do me good, I am happy and I say: “This is beautiful.” That isArchitecture. Art enters in.

My house is practical. Ithank you, as I might thank Railway engineers or the telephone service. Youhave not touched my heart.

But suppose that walls risetowards heaven in such a way that I am moved. [...] That is Architecture.

Althoughpractical design can accidentally lead to beauty (see grain silos), it’s bestnot to leave beauty to accident:

Architecture is the skilful,accurate and magnificent play of masses seen in light...

Corbugoes on to note that the Modern age, the transfer of people from rural to urbanareas, from working in a field with family to working in a factory with thefaceless, threatens family fabric which in turn threatens civilization. Henotes that architecture at a home or city scale can be used to offset thesethreats, maximizing family interaction and interaction with nature, basic needsof our species. And he further notes that if these basics needs are not met werisk social unrest and the ruin of civilization. With this, Le Corbusier endswith these words and this photo:

Architecture or Revolution.
Revolution can be avoided.

Theinfluence of this book on architecture cannot be avoided. If you are interested in architecture, you shouldn’t avoid this book, either.




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