From buildings to urban planning to furniture, there may not be a more influential figure in modern architecture and design than Le Corbusier. Yet the man born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret in Switzerland in 1887 never attended university and had no formal architectural training. What he did have, however, was a voracious mind, and mentors who encouraged him during his teens and early 20s to travel around Europe and Turkey and draw draw draw.
In Voyage Le Corbusier, Jacob Brillhart, a working architect who teaches his craft at the University of Miami (and who mimicked Jeanneret’s travel routes as a student), has compiled more than 140 of Corb’s youthful travel drawings and analysed them as a teacher might, studying the artist’s evolution in terms of skill level but also subject matter, as he became the man who would help revolutionise 20th century design.
Firstly, Jeanneret’s work is beautiful. We see the veined underside of a leaf and sense its suppleness; we see the muted colors of a cloudy day along a river, with distant hills rendered elegantly by a single watercolor brush stroke. There’s an elegance to pencil pressure, gestural moments and color.
Brillhart notes Jeanneret’s ability to change drawing styles to suit a purpose. The blue tones inside the archway of the cathedral in Siena, Italy are painted with subjective emotion, while a different sketch of the facade takes on the hard objectivity of an architectural plan. A pinecone becomes an opportunity for fun abstract pattern creation, but lies next to a diagram of its skeletal frame architecture.
As the artist matured, he developed a visual shorthand: effective exaggerations and abstraction, and powerful simplification of form, drawing only the lines that needed to be drawn – something that would inform the modernist age to come.
As pretty as the book is, and as much as it is about Jeanneret’s observational and artistic skills, it also conveys Brillhart’s belief that drawing is an important way of knowing and a sadly vanishing skill. He laments the decline of ability in his students, and what he says is the thoughtful observation that goes with it – when one draws one must sit still, be quiet, and absorb. Flipping through the book, you can imagine the hundreds of hours Jeanneret spent soaking in not only the lines, but also the culture and history of Europe and Turkey. What did all that observation do for his mind, a mind that would help change the design world forever?