Saturday, 30 August 2014

Corbusier laid bare

What gems of insight you find when you play silly games with Google!  Here is the guy who turned management of his public image as the greatest modern architect into an art form, doing art as you may never have imagined him.

It's le Corbusier, embellishing the walls of the admirably minimalist house of his neighbour Eileen Grey, in the summer of 1939.

Grey, now belatedly acknowledged as a major talent of classical modernism in design, worked almost exclusively with furniture and interiors. Not least because she was a woman in a misogynist world, she was never truly recognised in her lifetime. This house, the holiday retreat she built for herself and her lover, critic Jean Badovici, appears to have at least fascinated Corb, but given that his wall-sized doodles were done while Grey was away, and without her permission, some would say that he was jealously appropriating her architectural masterpiece.
There is increasing attention in the design literature to the general problem of devaluing the contribution of women in key practices, and indeed as in Grey's case, epochal movements in architecture.  See my earlier post Inconvenient women, if you don't think that it is a problem still with us today.

Looking at images of Villa E-1027, it is not hard to understand why Le Corbusier might have had a love/hate relationship with it. While he had to live with his own dogmatic declaration that a house is a machine for a living in, she derided his pompous aphorism and championed the sensual pleasure of habitation. The exquisitely site-specific house was an embodiment of that confrontation with Corbusier's universalist sentiments.

The house fell into abject disrepair before its recent rediscovery and apparently successful restoration. The story, supported by other period images, is admirably captured on a couple of websites:
By the way, for the article that came up in response to my query 'nudity and architecture', and which buys into the same convenient mis-attribution of the house to Le Corbusier, go here.

Equally, I should point out that the search terms 'nudity and architecture' were not prurient; I wanted something to help me reconsider the relationship between  form/structure and embelishment.  Which I guess was itself motivated by the wrappers coming off Gerhy's first building in Sydney, earlier this week.

Until I get around to actually writing the blog post, I should acknowledge the entirely serious 'hits' one does find, if not quite in the abundance one hopes.  The most engaging of those has been 'Looking backwards, looking forwards: delightful delays', the second chapter by Gevork Hartoonian in 'Walter Benjamin and Architecture, the book he edited.  It is remarkably readable, in spite of the density of citations in the best art-historicist tradition.  You don't have to rush out and buy the book; the extract that comes up on Google Books is complete.  See it here.

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