Monday, July 13, 2015

Corbusier - an architect prostituting himself or a fascist?

At a time when the old ideologies of the left and right seem to have become less useful as a guide through a rapidly changing world than ever , the sport of trying to pigeonhole folks into the one or the other has become ever more popular. It appears to be particularly entertaining with historic figures, especially those in the Olympus of fame. Architects are no exception.
Le Corbusier (Le Monde)

Corbusier Ville Radieuse model (NYT)

In fact, architects have thrown around ideological terms with particular fervor in a sad tradition of calling each other's designs communist or fascist, usually without a good understanding what those terms mean. That, in turn is because many architects understand themselves as artistic creators somehow free of lowly politics, which makes them politically naive and subject to speculation what their true colors were. 

That gets is to Corbusier and a current exhibit about him in the Centre Pompidou Paris. Was he a humanist, a totalitarian or are political savage who didn't properly chart the political turmoil by which he was surrounded in the time between the Russian Revolution and the end of WW II? 

This debate is in high gear in France, a place where, unlike the U.S., a political debate is always in season. This debate is fueled by three new books about Corbusier, none too respectful of the iconic architect. As Le Monde correctly observed, if Corbusier was a fascist, he was also a Leninist, an internationalist, a plutocrat  who once had declared himself a socialist. In short, he did what many architects do if they have the ambition to build big things: He economically prostituted himself and told the powers to be what they wanted to here. 

I argued in a recent article that the modernists where utopians and idealists. I lumped Corbusier into the group, in part because of his participation in the Weissenhof exhibit about modernism. Hitler hated that exhibit, no clear proof that Corbu was no fascist, but maybe at least circumstantial evidence? 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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