Friday, November 20, 2009

City Journal on Le Corbusier

Theodore Dalrymple has an article in City Journal called The Architect as Totalitarian: Le Corbusier’s baleful influence.  From the intro:

Le Corbusier was to architecture what Pol Pot was to social reform.  

Wow!  There's something to be said for telling the reader where you stand.  More:

Unfortunately, he turned his gifts to destructive ends, and it is no coincidence that he willingly served both Stalin and Vichy. Like Pol Pot, he wanted to start from Year Zero: before me, nothing; after me, everything. By their very presence, the raw-concrete-clad rectangular towers that obsessed him canceled out centuries of architecture. Hardly any town or city in Britain (to take just one nation) has not had its composition wrecked by architects and planners inspired by his ideas.

Dalrymple reviews several recent book about Le Corbusier, an exhibition in London and Rotterdam, and some of Le Corbusier's own writings, including The Radiant City.  It's an interesting read.

Le Corbusier was an architect whose vision had broad implications for urban land use planning.  As Dalrymple says, he had a plan for Paris that "if carried out, the plan would have changed, dominated, and, in my view, destroyed the appearance of the entire city."  His "Radiant City" was one of the major utopian approaches to planning from the first half of the 20th Century, along with Ebenezer Howard's Garden City, and the City Beautiful movement associated with Daniel Burnham and the World's Fair approach.  Will Cook, who has posted on Jane Jacobs' Death and Life of Great American Cities, must surely have come across one of my favorite Jacobs lines, her characterization of all of these utopian ideals together as the "Radiant Garden City Beautiful." 

All of these utopian ideas for city design and land use were well-intentioned but would probably not incorporate the same priorities and preferences that we might have today.  Does that cast any doubt on the viability of contemporary comprehensive ideas and designs for land use planning?

Matt Festa

Architecture, Books, Housing, Planning | Permalink

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