Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Le Corbusier, Homme de Lettres by M. Christine Boyer

Excerpt from Noah Chasin's review for
A massive undertaking initiated in 1993 and finally published 18 years later, M. Christine Boyer’s Le Corbusier, Homme de Lettres comprises nothing so much as an attempt to work systematically through the most significant output of the legendary 20th century Swiss-French architect, namely his written works. While his completed buildings scarcely number 60, he managed to write 50 books and thousands more letters, articles, and lecture notes. This is not to count his artistic output, which when added to the aforementioned represents an astounding creative and intellectual achievement, one more than worthy of his reputation. Boyer chose to focus exclusively on the 1907–1947 period, claiming debatably that the architect’s postwar writings were largely repetitive and derivative of his earlier work. Surely, given that Boyer needed 781 pages to examine those forty years, we can all be thankful (perhaps as was the author herself) that a limit was imposed.
Homme de lettres, most easily translates into English as “Man of Letters,”a nomenclature rarely chosen by the individual himself but more often bestowed upon an individual who is commonly regarded as a public intellectual. Nevertheless, Homme de lettres is the occupation that Le Corbusier chose to emblazon on his French carte d’identité. If one knows one thing about Corbusier, it is that he had no lack of confidence in his architectural acumen, so the refusal to identify as merely an architect was less limited by “either/or” than it was an expression, to paraphrase Robert Venturi, of “both/and.” Clearly he saw his vocation as one that went far beyond design and into the more metaphysical realm of the intellect, and, perhaps of greater importance, that this intellectual practice had a resolutely public dimension. Perhaps his desire to participate in a public discourse might even be termed a calling, given the fact that he chronicled his life (seemingly for posterity) from a very early age, largely through correspondence with a close group of friends and above all with his mentor and teacher from his school days in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Charles L’Eplattenier.

Seven sketches by Jean Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier). Princeton Architectural Press

Boyer makes a great and most valiant effort to construct a narrative from the hundreds of thousands of words Corbusier spilled, and slowly but surely, common themes emerge. They are not surprising for those who have scrutinized Corbusier’s oeuvre, but here these matters are given larger context. As a representative example, Boyer helps us see the relationship between the development of Corbusier’s ideas about the individual and society by uncovering his friendship and correspondence with George Henri Rivière, assistant director of the Musée d’Ethnographie. Through Rivière Corbusier learned of the work of legendary sociologist Marcel Mauss and of Mauss’ insistence on the importance of looking at everyday objects in order to discern the more elusive details of the society under investigation. Boyer demonstrates how Corbusier’s writings from the mid-1930s when traveling in South America reflect Mauss’ dictum, describing them as “inquiries into the lyrical materiality of objects and the magical mise en scène of cities.” We might extend Boyer’s analysis to Corbusier’s groundbreaking 1923 volume entitled Vers une architecture, in which Corbusier famously juxtaposed images of automobiles and steamships with classical temples so as to underscore his belief in the crucial yet delicate relationship between form and function.

Keep on reading:


  1. Y para ti, Myriam. ¿ No se podría pensar en "Femme de Lettres", apelativo más general , amplio y poético que "Mujer Arquitecta" y menos obvio que "Femme Artiste" ?

    le Corbusier creía que forma y función estaban relacionadas. ¿ Cuál es, por ejemplo, la forma de la velocidad: La de un coche, una moto, una rueda, un caballo o la de un avión ? ¿ O la de una esfera moviéndose en torno al Sol a 30 km por segundo; la Tierra ?

  2. Existen formas específicas de un momento en el tiempo, el tema me resultó muy interesante, y lo que pude investigar, al menos para mi tesis de forma urbana, fue a través de fractal spectrum o espectros fractales, donde tengo la posibilidad de detener la generación o desaparición de la forma, no olvides que las formas crecen pero también van desapareciendo por distintas razones. También es un tema que he tratado con un ingeniero chino que está haciendo su postdoctorado en EEUU, la posibilidad de evaluar las formas durante o luego de un terremoto. Lo que podemos mostrar, desde nuestras posibilidades, son representaciones de la forma en un instante dado. Te dejo el link por si te interesa
    No se puede pensar en Femme de Lettres porque el universo arquitectónico está tomado por los hombres, es una carrera muy machista, muchos suponen que una mujer no puede dirigir obras, pues yo a los 23 años, he tenido la oportunidad de tan jovencita, de dirigir a más de cien hombres bolivianos, paraguayos, lo cual no es fácil. Ninguno me faltó el respeto, al contrario, aprendimos mutuamente sobre sistemas prefabricados pesados. Entre las mujeres Zaha Hadid lleva la corona, pero ella es muy teórica y la vida le dió el dinero necesario para tener contactos y promocionarse.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...