Saturday, 16 May 2009

As the crow flies

I've been to the Barbican a number of times but on every occasion I'm always impressed by the grandeur of this arch-modernist concrete clash of apartments and capital 'C' culture. With birds singing and fountains flowing in the geometric ponds it does feel like a utopian paradise (if you can afford it mind you).

With utopia on my mind I was appropriately primed for an exhibition on probably the most high profile utopian architect of them all, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret! Or Le Corbusier to most people (which translates to 'The Crow-like One', hmmm....). The exhibition was biographical, covering his early influences and his key works throughout his life. All the big ones were there like Plan Voisin, Unite d'Habitation, The Radiant City etc etc

Plan Voisin aka 'How to Butcher Paris in One Easy Step'

Unite d'Habitation in Marseille - this one actually worked, people LIKE living there

The Radiant City - a model of social alienation and destructive car dependency

Le Corbusier would be familiar to anyone who has come within a scale ruler's length of an architecture or urban planning class but it was nice to have them all in the one spot. In this way it's much easier to appreciate his life-long mission to create a perfect form, be it a building, city, chair, whatever.

Besides his greatest hits, I found his rough sketches and contemplative doodles very interesting. I'm so used to seeing the finished product that it was nice to see evidence of the creative process. It somewhat humanises Le Corbusier's god-like auteur image. As a god-like auteur Corb has been analysed to bits so I won't go into that here, but this IS a blog and I have an opinion so here goes: While his ideas are noble and the execution of those ideas are flawless, his designs treat people as elements of a machine and have no regard to how humans actually behave. Culture, society, desire, 'soft' humany things, are subsumed by the juggernaut of rationality. Consequently, he designs sublime and elegant buildings which perfectly fulfill an abstract function but the assumptions behind that function are flawed and out of touch with reality. Corb is an architect's architect, not a people's architect, and that makes him a dangerous influence on our built environment.

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