Building Futures

07.24.13

Le Corbusier's Ouija Board

The Daily Pic: In 1918, the budding architect painted his vision of how the built world would someday look.
"The Fireplace" by Le Corbusier
(Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris; © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris/FLC)

This 1918 painting, called "The Fireplace", is by Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, a.k.a. – in his later architect avatar – Le Corbusier, and it's now in his survey show at MoMA in New York. What's (obviously) fascinating about this domestic still life is how much it presages the building ideas that Corbusier came up with later: The casting down of classic ornament in favor of simple geometric massings placed in the surrounding landscape – and devoid of rich urban fabric, which was the tragic flaw in Le Corbusier's work in planning. This early painting already has the unpeopled froideur that his critics complain of in his buildings. (But which I think has been slightly overstated – there's a contemplative upside to living in and among minimal sculptural forms.) By channeling Le Corbusier, "The Fireplace" manages to blow all of Jeanneret's later paintings out of the water, making them look awkward and decorative.

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