Modern master: Le Corbusier, 50 years on
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier, sits alongside Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe in the reputational VIP lounge of 20th century architecture. (Le Corb is the one with the big round glasses, Lloyd Wright is in the floppy fedora and Mies puffs on a cigar. Icons need their props.) But if Lloyd Wright was the man of the flat prairies, of long horizons and open (mostly domestic) spaces; and Mies, the Bauhausian who bought great glass boxes to meaty, muscly Chicago, redefining corporate architecture in the process; then Corbusier is the arch European modernist and master planner, the man who hung out with Fernand Léger and then launched his own post-cubist artistic movement (tagged ’purism’, it never really took off), designed a roomful of iconic furniture – working with Charlotte Perriand and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret – and then plotted high rise living and built a city from scratch at Chandigarh.
Along the way, he met the singer Josephine Baker on a cruise ship and sketched her naked (Baker that is, not Corb) and designed what might be the most beautiful of post-war buildings, the Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France. He died on 27 August 1965 at the age of 77. It’s a measure of his reputation that the US president Lyndon Johnson paid tribute, declaring ’His influence was universal and his works are invested with a permanent quality possessed by those of very few artists in our history.’ Pravda, meanwhile, stated that ’modern architecture has lost its greatest master’.