London show celebrates range of Corbusier talent

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A new exhibition at London’s Barbican Art Gallery illustrates the eclectic work and prolific career of Le Corbusier, one of the most influential modern architects of the 20th century.

An undated handout photo shows the "Le Corbusier: The Art of Architecture," exhibition at London's Barbican Art Gallery. REUTERS/Lyndon Douglas/Handout

“Le Corbusier: The Art of Architecture,” on show until May 24, captures the scope of the Swiss-born architect’s genius as he developed from a watch engraver and artist into a renowned author, painter, sculptor, designer and architect.

“This is the first exhibition that really looks at his studio practices and architecture practices side by side and how one fed the other,” explained Barbican curator Lydia Yee in an interview.

Le Corbusier built 75 buildings in 12 countries. He wrote 34 books, made 44 sculptures, completed hundreds of paintings and left behind thousands of letters and drawings when he died in 1965.

His work, characterized by its variety of modernist styles, is presented as scale models, images and in film clips in the Barbican exhibition.

Highlights include the geometric post-Second World War apartment complex Unite d’habitation in Marseilles, France. The structure was nicknamed the “Maison du Fada” (madhouse) after a critic of the project predicted its residents would become mentally ill.

The redesigned asymmetrical Church of Notre-Dame-du-Haut in Ronchamp, France, bombed during the war and rebuilt in the 1950s, was inspired in part by a crab shell.

Also on show is the model plan for Chandigarh, India. Le Corbusier designed a new administrative capital for the state of Punjab in 1950.

Charles-Edouard Jeanneret was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1887, the architect adopted the alias Le Corbusier meaning “the crow-like one” in 1920.

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“Le Corbusier is a pseudonym,” he wrote in a 1926 letter. “Le Corbusier produces architecture and that’s all. He pursues unmotivated ideas...He is an entity detached from the weight of flesh and blood.”

He proposed that town planning could help regulate human behavior in a positive way. In 1922, Le Corbusier conceived a utopian city made up of high-rise residential blocks on a grid formation as a “machine for living.”

“The materials of city planning are skies, space, trees, steel and cement - in that order and in that hierarchy,” Le Corbusier said. Many of his city planning ideas came from the need for post-war urban regeneration in Europe.

“He wasn’t just an architect, he was really a polymath - a thinker, an urban planner, he made books, paintings and sculpture, he was really a kind of a renaissance man for his time,” said Yee.

Le Corbusier - The Art of Architecture

Feb 19 - May 24, 2009

Barbican Art Gallery:

Barbican Center:

Silk Street

London EC2Y 8DS

Reporting by Julie Mollins; editing by Paul Casciato