le corbusier building

Le Corbusier: The Opportunist Architect and Possible Fascist

We know them for their artistic genius. But, a number of famous artists have truly questionable morals. And some are downright awful humans. For instance, the Italian Renaissance painter Caravaggio was sued for beating a man with a stick. He assaulted another with a sword, and also committed murder. The list of questionable artists is long. Today we’re going to take a look at famed 20th century architect, Le Corbusier. Not a murderer, but all signs point to fascist.

Le Corbusier the Creative

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret better known as Le Corbusier was an architect, designer, painter, urban planner, writer, and pioneer of modern architecture. Le Corbusier came from a family of creatives, his father enameled boxes and watches, and his mother was a pianist and teacher.

Le Corbusier is a titan in art and architecture history, a pioneer of modern architecture. He built stark, sterile, and cold buildings on his theory that “A house is a machine for living in”. He has 17 works on Unesco’s world heritage list. And, his work in furniture design led to the Le Corbusier lounge chair, arguably the most famous design in the world.

Le Corbusier coined the phrase, “human-limb objects.” Le Corbusier defined human-limb objects as, “Extensions of our limbs and adapted to human functions that are type-needs and type-functions, therefore type-objects and type-furniture. The human-limb object is a docile servant. A good servant is discrete and self-effacing in order to leave his master free. Certainly, works of art are tools, beautiful tools. And long live the good taste manifested by choice, subtlety, proportion, and harmony”.

If you had not guessed from the previous paragraph, Le Corbusier’s was a utilitarian. He believed building and design was about function over all else. But, his constructed environments often neglected equity and our natural environment. Corbusier’s designs go against contemporary thinking surrounding the built environment.

For example, Le Corbusier’s vision for Plan Voisin, sparked controversy after he suggested destroying historical parts of Paris to build it

Fascism and Design

Architecture unlike the other fine arts physically shape entire cities and environments. But architects job status is often dependent on whatever regime is in power. So, was Le Corbusier a fascist or just an opportunist? And does the distinction even matter?

In the 1930-40’s, Le Corbusier developed close ties with Pierre Winter, a leading doctor in the Revolutionary Fascist Party. Both Corbusier and Pierre Winter, worked together to create the urban planning journals Plans and Prelude. Consequently, in Plans and his private correspondence, Corbusier outlined his support of Italian Fascism and Nazism.

When the majority of artists fled Europe during WW2, Le Corbusier stayed. He was involved with the Vichy government for 18-months following the fall of Paris. (The Vichy government censored the press, prohibited divorce, made abortion a capital offense and arrested and deported 13,000 Jews to camps. 4,000 of these individuals were children that the Gestapo did not demand.) Corbusier even “declared himself in favor of a corporatist state on the model of Benito Mussolini,” (according to BBC News).

Which brings us to the question, can we or should we disassociate the artist from the art?

In 2015 when the French government announced plans for a museum dedicated to Corbusier, questions rose about celebrating an architect with documented fascist ties. Scholars in defense of Corbusier explain his actions as part of his shifting politics. They say his politics were a means to an end. More about job security and opportunity than his core beliefs. Does that make any of us feel better about it?

It’s easy to look back on history and question certain decisions. But, any direct fascist or nazi association (no matter for what end) places the person in a dark space on a disturbing path. Some of these people may see the error of their ways, but others will not. Did Le Corbusier? It doesn’t appear that way, but we cannot say for sure.

Should we celebrate his art? Should we think of him as an architectural propagandist? Was he visionary? Or was he dystopian? Let us know what you think.

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