Saturday, June 22, 2013

As a teenager, pondering whether to become an architect, I fell in love with the precision drawings of the archmodernist Le Corbusier (many of them for buildings that never would actually be built).  Many years later. in preparation for a seminar at Hunter College, I spent a month traveling through France and Switzerland, where I saw the bulk of his oeuvre, which is not large.  (Foolishly, when I was in India I did not make a trip to his planned city of Chandigarh.) 

Now the Museum of Modern Art in New York is favoring us with a big exhibition of the master’s work.  There are many drawings and models, quite a few lent from the Fondation Le Corbusier.  Most of these pieces can be seen in books, but not with the immediacy that we find here.

Unfortunately, the underlying premise of the MoMA exhibition linking the architect with landscape, is simply absurd.  Although Le Corbusier was aware of the setting of his buildings, as every architect must be, he never celebrated nature.  Instead, he regarded architecture as the triumph of culture over nature.  Unlike his rival Frank Lloyd Wright, he had a horror of the traditional house, with its damp, insalubrious cellar communing with all sorts of subterranean dangers.  In some cases he even hoisted his buildings up on stilts (pilotis), to separate them from the baneful earth.

I suppose the organizers had some vague sense of aligning Le Corbusier with the ecology movement.  If so, they failed.  He remains, however, the most influential architect of the 20th century, and for that reason the show is well worth seeing.


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