Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, initially trained as a painter but ultimately became the most famous modernist architect of the 20th century. Le Corbusier first studied with Peter Behrens, best known for his factory aesthetic in modernist architecture. During that time, he may well have met Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, both of whom were interested in developing a more spare style of construction based on a functional aesthetic formed by materials and structure rather than applied decoration. Early on, Le Corbusier also became interested in the philosophy of Purism, defined by a painter, his friend Amédée Ozenfant. Purism was a utopian ideal whereby art could be used to change the world. Art was therefore not just an aesthetic pursuit but could also elevate people to a higher level of social order.
   With this thinking, Le Corbusier turned his attention to urban planning in the hopes of establishing a prototype for a healthy, clean, and well-organized modern city that would be an improvement over the noisy, crowded, and dirty cities that grew out of the Industrial Revolution. His city plans were laid out on a grid, with a uniform style, skyscrapers, broad avenues, and large parks. Unlike the Italian Futurist city plans, such as those of the same era by Antonio Sant'Elia, Le Corbusier's more practical city designs always sought to include nature. A theoretician as well as an architect, Le Corbusier wrote Vers une architecture in 1923 to express his ideas on the creation of an architecture befitting its time and place rather than echoing the buildings of the past. This treatise has mistakenly led scholars to consider Le Corbusier an anti-classical architect, but the timeless and universal aspects of classicism are instead the center-piece of Le Corbusier's early work. In addition, he was the founder of the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM), which had a profound influence upon architecture across Europe in the first half of the 20th century.
   In the 1920s, he began to design a series of private homes. During this decade, domestic architecture was an important topic of discussion in Paris, where a need for quickly constructed, inexpensive housing was in conflict with the continued desire for more traditional homes. Most of Le Corbusier's houses are therefore done in the International style, which developed in Europe after World War I as a simple, geometric mode that could transcend national boundaries. Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye, built in Poissy-sur-Seine outside of Paris in 1929, epitomizes this style and has become an icon of modern architecture. This home was built with the domino construction system, which consisted of reinforced concrete slabs elevated onto a central core of six very slender steel piers spaced apart like the dots on a domino. The square-spaced living quarters are then elevated onto a colonnade that continues around all four sides, thereby creating a floating effect much like a modern stilt house. Cars could park beneath the porch in a three-car garage, and one could then enter the home through the central core, which has a stair leading to the living quarters above. One long continuous window wraps around the square building, while a terrace is designed on the roof. Circular dividing walls add movement to the otherwise linear plan of the building.
   Le Corbusier's homes were painted pure white, and with their elevation above ground, they were meant not to echo their surroundings, but to transcend them. The white concrete used in many other International style buildings can be interpreted as relating to the enduring white marble of antiquity, while the unifying use of squares and circles reveals clearly understood geometric shapes in a form of rationality, which is an inherently classical notion. However, one marked difference from classicism is in the proportions of the piers. In looking at the Villa Savoye, one might at first wonder if the thin-steel encased, free-standing pilotis are really able to support the thick upper living quarters of the villa, but this visual effect of weightlessness perhaps reveals a confidence in modern structural advances that allows for an inversion of the classical visual hierarchy of registers. These buildings recall a stripped-down version of classicism, which came to be seen as the essence of the International style. Buildings such as Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye were therefore increasingly described as "iconic" because of their ability to transcend time and place.
   After designing a series of private homes, Le Corbusier was commissioned to construct an apartment building in Marseilles, France, called Unité d'Habitation (1946-1952). Here he used béton brut,or raw concrete, which allows for a more economical style later called Brutalism. His city layout of Chandigarh, India, in the 1950s, reveals Le Corbusier's expansion upon his modernist ideals on a large scale. There he created a loosely formed grid of government buildings for this new regional capital. Although most of these buildings follow the geometric principles of the International style, the Assembly Building in particular demonstrates the more expressive use of concrete that characterizes Le Corbusier's late works. His church Notre Dame du Haut, located on a hill in Ronchamp, France, was completed in 1955 in the style of Expressionism. Le Corbusier remains today a seminal figure in the establishment of a modernist philosophy of architecture, one that dominated architectural design through the 20th century.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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