After 7 topics or essays that dissect the problem

After
briefly mentioning his name and work in previous tasks, I thought it would only
be fair to finalize this series of reviews by talking about the man himself in
what is arguably his most influential book “Towards a new architecture” that is
surprisingly still relevant to architectural theory and practice after nearly a
century from its original publication.

Having
taught himself architecture through his own research, and working on his
theoretical architectural studies during a time of rapid technological
advancements and availability of new materials such as concrete, set up the
perfect scenario and environment for Charles-Édouard
Jeanneret to establish a clean palette and lay down the foundations of
what would ultimately become the modernist movement in architecture. (Le
Corbusier, s.d.)

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The main
argument presented in the book, which is laid out in the form of 7 topics or
essays that dissect the problem into easy to understand notions, refers to the
apparent stagnation that architecture had fallen victim to in the early 20th
century. Using examples of automobiles, planes and ship liners of the time
throughout his book, Corbusier identifies that these industries have moved
forward at unprecedented rates due to their successful solution to well stated
problems through experimentation, refinement and standards; this methodology is
what he argues the contemporary practice of architecture lacks. He claims that
it is instead swamped in extravagance and redundant decoration, thus breeding a
profession with the inability to provide suitable solutions for a rapidly
changing world. It is because of this inability to innovate and adapt to the
changing times that a problem arises, “architecture of revolution”. As society
and technology move forward, architecture must follow to avoid revolution. The
demands of the new century call for a standardization and subsequent
mass-production of the house but a standard cannot be set in the current self-absorbed
and nostalgic state of architecture. (Corbusier, 1923)

The
architect of his time seems disillusioned and no longer conscious of his
professions beginning or its tenets. It is because of this that Corbusier deems
it necessary to write his “three reminders to architects” and “regulating
lines” to remind his peers, in a somewhat arrogant way, of the primary forms
and the beauty and clarity in their simplicity. It is these geometrical forms
that become the solution to modern construction, as it is the engineer of his
time that coincidentally achieves architectural emotions through an
understanding of mathematics and economics that creates regulating lines. It is
the regulating line which gives the reassuring perception of order through a
clean and simple aesthetic, order leads to the pursuit of harmony through the
establishment of relationships between the materials and practicality, which
inevitably becomes the definition of architecture. (picture of regulating lines)

 

Corbusier detracts
the arts and crafts movement as it inherently goes against his theories and
ideas. It is accused of being nostalgic and deluded, and rightly so as it seeks
a form of escapism from the inevitable need of mass-production in the 20th
century. The demands of the new epoch cannot be satisfied through a traditional
and anti-industrial method. “towards a new architecture” perfectly rebuttals
this case and strongly conveys the importance of function with the famous
phrase “the house is a machine for living”, reinforcing his idea that a house
should primarily be for living in and that modern man should not clutter his
house with unnecessary decoration or be restricted by tradition. He believed
that the house was stuck in the past and that it was stifled by custom,
refusing to reinvent itself and adapt to new, more economical ways of
construction that had become readily available. He urged architects to free
themselves from the shackles of the past and exploit these new construction
techniques, the current way architecture was practised no longer provided
solutions to present-day problems due to its stubborn and lazy respect for
tradition. A modern problem could only be solved with a modern form of
architecture. The rest of the world moved forward through competition,
experimentation, innovation and the fixing of new standards. Corbusier argues
that architecture would have to adopt these economic principles in order to
recover from the trough it had landed itself in.

The Athenian
acropolis and the modern automobile, both entities from different times yet
linked together in the eyes of Corbusier, are stated in the book and perfectly
describe functionality and the solution to a well stated problem. A standard is
fixed through analysis and experimentation, he argues, the Parthenon having
reached its climax through refinement in precision and execution, passing from
a mere construction to a pinnacle of architectural design. Through these same
methods Corbusier states that the car is evolving (and still is today), it has
accomplished the simple function of travel and continually tackles and refines
the complicated aims of comfort and appearance through the establishment of a
standard.

Corbusier
applies this argument to the problem of the house. By successfully identifying
the primary function of the house one can then analyse the problem and
experiment with a solution to the issue, modern materials and construction
methods work to fix the new standard in architecture. Through the
standardization of the house comes the subsequent mass production of the house.
(picture unite d’habitation)

Through the
mass production of the house comes the reinterpretation of the street and the
town into a newly evolved plan. The initial concepts and ideas for what would
become the Unite d’habitation in Marseille is an example of Corbusier’s
reimagining of a city within a high-density housing block. The project provides
a large green area that surrounds the block of mass-produced houses allowing
its inhabitants plenty of sunlight and fresh air. The aims of the unite, he
argues, is to a perfect receptacle for the family that would provide its
inhabitants with a healthier lifestyle and contribute to the refinement and
creation of a better society, through a product of rigour and elegance. However
today it is evident that Le Corbusier’s legacy of Unité inspired apartment blocks that dot
the skylines of cities across the globe are hardly ever described with these
words anymore. They have instead been identified as incubators for crime and
the subsequent poverty that follows. These tower blocks seem to achieve the
opposite intentions that Corbusier had envisioned. Instead of providing a
better lifestyle they have exacerbated social problems by segregating their
inhabitants from the city.

However, we
should not detract the ideas and principles put forward by Le Corbusier because
of these failures, the notion of order through mindful planning is still very
much relevant now as it was during his time. The Challenges of healthy living,
noise pollution and public spaces which Le Corbusier had comprehensively
addressed, continue to be a major matter for both town planner and architects
today. His arguments and concepts may or may not be seen as an inevitable
affinity towards a brutalist, utilitarian style of architecture, but the
underlying argument of his writing brings attention to a new way of thinking
about architecture, one which meets the needs of a changing society.
Architecture or revolution. The last sentence of his book answers this
question: revolution can be avoided.