Vers une architecture
, translated into English as Toward an Architecture
and commonly known as Towards a New Architecture
is a collection of essay
An essay is a piece of writing which is often written from an author's personal point of view. Essays can consist of a number of elements, including: literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. The definition...
s written by Le Corbusier
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier , was a Swiss-born French architect, designer, urbanist, writer and painter, famous for being one of the pioneers of what now is called modern architecture. He was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in 1930...
(Charles-Edouard Jeanneret), advocating for and exploring the concept of modern architecture
Modern architecture is generally characterized by simplification of form and creation of ornament from the structure and theme of the building. It is a term applied to an overarching movement, with its exact definition and scope varying widely...
. The book has had an undeniable lasting effect on the architectural profession, serving as the manifesto
A manifesto is a public declaration of principles and intentions, often political in nature. Manifestos relating to religious belief are generally referred to as creeds. Manifestos may also be life stance-related.-Etymology:...
for a generation of architects, a subject of hatred for others, and unquestionably a critical piece of architectural theory. The architectural historian Reyner Banham
Peter Reyner Banham was a prolific architectural critic and writer best known for his 1960 theoretical treatise Theory and Design in the First Machine Age and for his 1971 book Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies...
once claimed that its influence was unquestionably "beyond that of any other architectural work published in this [20th] century to date" (Banham 1960: 246), and that unparalleled influence has continued, unabated, into the 21st century.
The polemical book contains seven essays, all but one of which were published in the magazine L'Esprit Nouveau
beginning in 1921. Each essay dismisses the contemporary trends of eclecticism
Eclecticism is a conceptual approach that does not hold rigidly to a single paradigm or set of assumptions, but instead draws upon multiple theories, styles, or ideas to gain complementary insights into a subject, or applies different theories in particular cases.It can sometimes seem inelegant or...
and art deco
Art deco , or deco, is an eclectic artistic and design style that began in Paris in the 1920s and flourished internationally throughout the 1930s, into the World War II era. The style influenced all areas of design, including architecture and interior design, industrial design, fashion and...
, replacing them with architecture that was meant to be more than a stylistic experiment, rather, the architecture would be one that would fundamentally change how humans interacted with buildings. This new mode of living derived from a new spirit
Zeitgeist is "the spirit of the times" or "the spirit of the age."Zeitgeist is the general cultural, intellectual, ethical, spiritual or political climate within a nation or even specific groups, along with the general ambiance, morals, sociocultural direction, and mood associated with an era.The...
defining the industrial age
Industrial Age may refer to:*Industrialisation*The Industrial Revolution...
, demanding a rebirth of architecture based on function and a new aesthetic based on pure form.
The authorship of the book was complex. Le Corbusier co-owned L'Esprit Nouveau
with fellow purist
Purism was a form of Cubism advocated by the French painter Amédée Ozenfant and the architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret . Purism rejected the decorative trend of cubism and advocated a return to clear, ordered forms that were expressive of the modern machine age as documented in their 1918 book...
painter Amédée Ozenfant
Amédée Ozenfant was a French cubist painter.He was born into a bourgeois family in Saint-Quentin, Aisne and was educated at Dominican colleges in Saint-Sébastien...
. They co-signed many of the original essays as "Le Corbusier-Saugnier," and Ozenfant had been a close friend of Corbusier. Ozenfant denied having written the book, claiming that the essays were based on conversations the two had had together about theories written by Auguste Perret
Auguste Perret was a French architect and a world leader and specialist in reinforced concrete construction. In 2005 his post-WWII reconstruction of Le Havre was declared by UNESCO one of the World Heritage Sites....
and Adolf Loos
Adolf Franz Karl Viktor Maria Loos was a Moravian-born Austro-Hungarian architect. He was influential in European Modern architecture, and in his essay Ornament and Crime he repudiated the florid style of the Vienna Secession, the Austrian version of Art Nouveau...
. As the book became more known, their fight became more heated. Ozenfant began to claim not only more credit for authorship, but also that Le Corbusier had purposefully excluded him by dedicating the original edition to Ozenfant.
The English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...
Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. Whereas interpreting undoubtedly antedates writing, translation began only after the appearance of written literature; there exist partial translations of the Sumerian Epic of...
of the book has also been a source of controversy in regards to its change of style and very specific alterations to the text. The alterations have generated criticism and required correction, even as some of them began to define architectural language. A new translation was released in 2007 that is meant to be truer to the meaning Le Corbusier intention.
Toward an Architecture
consists of seven essays, three of which are further subdivided into three sections. Before each section, Le Corbusier placed aphoristic arguments, all of which appear in a list at the front of the book, as a sort of rhetorical aid. Most of the essays were published in L'Espirit Nouveau
previously, although Le Corbusier rearranged them from chronological sequence to focus on architects and clients, academic ideas and practical ones. Le Corbusier did this because the book targeted architects and professors, rather than the wealthy clientele who received L'Espirit Nouveau.
Aesthetic of the Engineer, Architecture
Le Corbusier begins the book with a fierce assertion: architecture is disconnected and lost in the past. On the other hand, he says, engineers have begun to embrace new technologies and build simple, effective structures that serve their purpose and are honest in construction. In order for architects to regain relevance, they must embrace the new artistic ideal. This artistic-spiritual element derives from a new way of life, manifested in architecture, which can stir a mind both rationally and emotionally in a way that a simply pretty building cannot.
Our eyes are constructed to enable us to see forms in light.
Primary forms are beautiful forms because they can be clearly appreciated.
Architects today no longer achieve these simple forms.
Working by calculation, engineers employ geometrical forms, satisfying our eyes
by their geometry and our understanding by their mathematics; their work is on the direct line of good art
A mass is enveloped in its surface, a surface which is divided up according to the directing and generating lines of the mass; and this gives the mass its individuality.
Architects today are afraid of geometrical constituents of surfaces. The great problems of modern construction must have a geometrical solution.
Forced to work in accordance with the strict needs of exactly determined conditions, engineers make use of form-generating and form-defining elements. They create limpid and moving plastic facts
The plan is the generator. Without plan, you have lack of order and wilfulness. The plan holds in itself the essence of sensation. The great problems of tomorrow, dictated by collective necessities, put the question of 'plan' in a new form. Modern life demands, and is waiting for, a new kind of plan, both for the house and for the city
Le Corbusier argues from historical evidence that great architecture of the past has been guided by the use of what came to be known in English as "regulating lines." These lines, starting at significant areas of the main volumes, could be used to rationalize the placement of features in buildings. Le Corbusier lists off several structures he claims used this, including a speculative ancient temple form, Notre-Dame de Paris, the Capitol in Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...
, the Petit Trianon
The Petit Trianon is a small château located on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles in Versailles, France.-Design and construction:...
, and lastly, his prewar
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...
neoclassical work in Paris and some more contemporary modern buildings. In each case, he attempts to show how the lines augment the fine proportions and add a rational sense of coherence to the buildings. In this way, the order, the function, and the volume of the space are drawn into one architectural moment. Le Corbusier argues that this method aids in formalizing the intuitive sense of aesthetics and integrating human proportions as well.
Le Corbusier claims in the text that no architects trained in the Beaux-arts
technique use regulating lines, because of contradictory training, but most of the Grand Prix architects did use them, even if they were supplementing the basic techniques.
Eyes That Do Not See
The section that likely has been the most influential, it carries the running argument that the spirit of the Machine Age
The Machine Age is a term associated mostly with the early 20th century, sometimes also including the late 19th century. An approximate dating would be about 1880 to 1945. Considered to be at a peak in the time between the first and second world wars, it forms a late part of the Industrial Age...
has already begun to produce works that embody its principles. Moreover, these have come into being because of properly examining the need and the refinement of solutions for those needs.
Using the formal simplicity born out of engineering necessities he saw in the gargantuan ocean liners of the day, Le Corbusier argued that modern people, practical men of action, had grown tired of the old aesthetics of luxury, and were concerned with new, powerful forms of beauty. The new beauty merely had to be developed from honest construction, repeating his admonition from "Aesthetic of the Engineer, Architecture." In this case, the honesty can be achieved by building according to purpose and employing an architecture that celebrates the accomplishments of technology.
In the second lesson, the issue of heavier than air flight becomes a tool to show that architecture must be developed from needs that are properly determined. Only after the "question" of the need is properly proposed can a suitable solution be made. For example, most of the attempts to mimic nature to create flight resulted in disaster, because humans could not do what birds and bats do. Instead, Corbusier argues, it was only after the understanding of aeronautics
Aeronautics is the science involved with the study, design, and manufacturing of airflight-capable machines, or the techniques of operating aircraft and rocketry within the atmosphere...
and the properties of lift
A fluid flowing past the surface of a body exerts a surface force on it. Lift is the component of this force that is perpendicular to the oncoming flow direction. It contrasts with the drag force, which is the component of the surface force parallel to the flow direction...
were crudely discovered that humans could achieve flight. The question was not, how can man copy flight, but rather what is the easiest way to achieve flight. The airfoil
An airfoil or aerofoil is the shape of a wing or blade or sail as seen in cross-section....
is a product of artificial, rational, and industrial processes. Further development of the original designs has refined the airplane to work better.
Having established a problem, he then defines both "dwelling" and "room" in austere terms, sardonically referring to contemporary villas as buildings in which one stores furniture and living is incidental. Instead he proposes five axioms as principles to begin design on. Firstly, chairs are for sitting on - the furnishings are purposeful. Electricity provides light. Windows are for lighting a room and looking out. Paintings are made for meditation - not decoration. Lastly, homes are made to be lived in and enjoyed. Because architects and clients have been ignoring these principles, moral problems have arisen. People live disconnected from the world and each other, bored at home, and constantly seeking diversion. Furthermore, they are separated from the spirit of the Machine Age.
In the most famous section of Toward an Architecture
, Le Corbusier states that the architects must develop standardized forms, which they might refine in function and aesthetics, thus allowing for continued progress and refinement. Famously, Le Corbusier compares the development of the Doric temple to the development - he would say refinement - of automobiles over twenty years. The statement is only provocative at face value, and the underlying principle is simple: using a standard purpose, the form can be refined, possibly into being classic
The word classic means something that is a perfect example of a particular style, something of lasting worth or with a timeless quality. The word can be an adjective or a noun . It denotes a particular quality in art, architecture, literature and other cultural artifacts...
The Illusion of the Plan
The plan proceeds from within to without; the exterior is the result of an interior. The elements of architecture and light and shade, walls and space. Arrangement is the gradation of aims, the classification of intentions. Man looks at the creation of architecture with his eyes, which are 5 feet 6 inches from the ground. One can only consider aims which the eye can appreciate and intentions which take into account architectural elements. If there come into play intentions which do not speak the language of architecture, you arrive at the illusion of plans, you transgress the rules of the Plan through an error in conception, or though a leaning towards empty show.
- Le Corbusier. Toward an Architecture. Translated by John Goodman. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2007
- Le Corbusier. Towards a New Architecture. Dover Publications, 1985.