One of the major influences in what became widely known throughout the western world as ‘modern architecture’ is a person who never studied architecture. That was also the case of some of his most illustrious peers and contemporaries: Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe. That Charles-Édouard Jeanneret became an architect at all is amazing, given that he once wrote, as a young man, that “I had a horror of architecture and architects.”
Nevertheless, he became one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, not only in France, but throughout the western world. He is the person, who, at the age of 33, chose a pseudonym for himself that might be the subject of a considerable amount of psycho-analysis: Le Corbusier. That he had a grandmother whose name was Courbésier hints at an explanation. But what he chose to call himself actually means “crow-like,” and the only suggestion that I have found that tries to explain that choice is the idea that anyone can re-invent himself. It does not sound convincing to me but perhaps he was conjuring the longevity and consequent wisdom that some cultures attribute to crows. I can’t say that I am reconciled with that explanation, but it is all that I have found.
Le Corbusier is a persona that you cannot ignore, if you are in any way into the evolution of art and architecture in the western world, let alone in France. It does not matter whether you like his architecture, or not: he is a major influence. I confess that I am not one of his architectural or artistic proponents, but there is no way to pretend he did not leave a deep imprint on those fields, and he did so in many applications, from domestic structures to urban design to painting.
He was also a person of strong opinions and did not hesitate to express them. Among them: “a house is a machine for living in.” And: “I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies.” There are many others that one can cite, but since our focus here is his architecture, consider: “Architecture is the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in the light.”
Born in Switzerland, he traveled extensively throughout Europe. He was influenced early in his career in working with Auguste Perret in Paris, before the first world war, and later with Peter Behrens in Germany, where he met Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, the illustrious founders of the Bauhaus School. Perret was a pioneer in the use of reinforced concrete, who produced the Art Deco landmark Theatre de Champs Elysees in Paris. Le Corbusier developed such an affinity with France that in 1933 he acquired French citizenship.
If you are interested in visiting some of his works in and near Paris, there is a large selection that you can visit from which to choose, including some of his most famous works. Just outside of Paris in the town of Poissy, which is a drive of 25 minutes to reach, you can explore his iconic Villa Savoye, both inside and outside, from 10 am to 6 pm except on Mondays. It is constructed of reinforced concrete and considered by many to be a modernist architectural manifesto.
On the west edge of Paris there are more of his major domestic works, the Maisons (Villas) La Roche and Jeanneret. The former is now home to the Le Corbusier Foundation and is a museum of many drawings and art works of Le Corbusier. Originally it was designed as a gallery to exhibit the art collection of the owner of the home, Raoul La Roche, that is built at a right angle to it, the Villa Jeanneret. They are located at 8-10, square du Docteur Blanche in the 16th district, and they can be visited from Monday to Saturday. Call them for the times, as it varies on some days of the week and it closes for lunch: 01 42 88 75 72.
If you wish to also visit Le Corbusier’s apartment and atelier (studio), it is located near-by at 24, rue Nungesser et coli, 75016 Paris. You can buy a twin ticket at the Villa La Roche that gives you entry to both sites. The apartment and atelier are not marked, so do not hesitate to enter the building numbered 24, and take the elevator to the top floor, where you will also enjoy nice views of the skyline of the west of Paris.
If you would like to visit some of the other La Corbusier structures in Paris, there are two that are privately owned and two that are functioning institutions that you may or may not (depending on scheduled activities) be able to enter to view the interior. Those that can only be viewed from the exterior are:
- Ozenfant House, 53 avenue Reille, Paris 75014
- Maison Planeix, 24 boulevard Massena, Paris 75013
Those that you may be able to visit the interior partially include:
- The Swiss Pavillion at the Cité Universitaire, 7 boulevard Jourdan, 75014
- The Salvation Army Foundation, 12 rue Cantagrel, 75013
If you would like to have us organize and perform a private full day tour of Le Corbusier sites that can be seen and visited in and near Paris, please contact us. We enjoy opportunities to expand our horizons and we are able to evoke many of the unique aspects of Le Corbusier’s works. We have also performed this tour to the satisfaction of several clients, even though it is not listed in our published repertoire of tours.