LE CORBUSIER: The Architect of Modernism

Le Corbusier teaching - Photo by arkinet

The Early Years

Le Corbusier was born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret in 1887 at La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland. His parents were Georges Edouard Jeanneret, a watchmaker and enameller, and Marie Charlotte Amélie Jeanneret-Perret, a music teacher. This Swiss-born artist eventually acquired a French citizenship and pseudonym: Le Corbusier. While he had no formal training as an architect, his talent was such that he designed numerous structures throughout Europe.

Le Corbusier – Photo by Omer Tiroche Gallery

Jeanneret first studied watch engraving under Charles L’Eplattenier at the L’Ecole D’art in 1900. L’Eplattenier inspired him to go into architecture. In 1904, Jeanneret entered the Advanced Decorative Arts course. A year later, a member of the board of L’Ecole D’art commissioned him to work with architect René Chapallaz to design and build a villa. In 1907, he travelled to Italy to see the Charterhouse of Ema in Galluzzo and visited Bologna, Siena, Padua, Gargano, and Venice.

Afterwards, Jeanneret travelled to Vienna, where he developed the plans for Villa Stotzer and Villa Jacquement. He then worked as a part-time draftsman for Auguste and Gustave Perret in Paris in 1908. The following year, he returned to La Chaux-de-Fonds to supervise the Stotzer and Jacquement villas construction.

He was then commissioned by La Chaux-de-Fonds L’Ecole D’Art to research decorative arts in Germany in April 1910. In the winter, he worked in Berlin for Peter Behrens’s architectural practice. There, he met the architect of Dresden’s Hellerau Garden City, Heinrich Tessenow, in 1911.

Together with a friend, Jeanneret travelled to Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Bucharest, Belgrade, Tarnovo, Gabrovo, Kasanlik, Istanbul, Mount Athos, Athens, and southern Italy. It was during this trip that he had made numerous notes, drawings and sketches, and took hundreds of photographs. He then used these notes for articles in a magazine in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Feuille d’avis. Eventually, Jeanneret returned to L’Ecole to set up a new section of the school with his mentor, L’Eplattenier.

The Acropolis, Le Langage des Pierres – Photo by Institut Français de Grèce

In 1912, Jeanneret published Étude sur le mouvement d’art décoratif en Allemagne (Study of the decorative art movement in Germany), the result of the commissioned study in 1910. He also built a villa for his parents in Rue de la Montagne, the villa Jeanneret-Perret. He also built the Villa Favre-Jacot in nearby Le Locle. A year later, his 10 watercolours Le Langage des Pierres (The Language of Stones) were in an exhibit at the Salon d’Automne, Paris. During this period, he also received his certificate of competency for teaching art.

Jeanneret then traveled to Cologne for the Deutscher Werkbund conference and exhibition, where he began his studies on his Dom-Ino concrete house in 1914. He occasionally travelled to Paris in 1915 to study in the Bibliothèque Nationale Print Room and work on his manuscript La construction des villes. In 1916, he was hired to build the Scala Cinema (La Chaux-de-Fonds) and Villa Schwob.

Life in Paris as Le Corbusier

He finally left his hometown in 1917 to move to Paris, which became his home until 1933. There, Jeanneret opened his first architecture studio at 20 Rue de Belzunce. He also worked from April 1917 to January 1919 as a consultant for SABA (Société d’application du béton armé).

In the City of Lights, Jeanneret met his contemporary artists, including Pablo Picasso, George Braque, and Amédée Ozenfant. He and Ozenfant had works in the Purist exhibition at the Galerie Thomas in 1918. It is also in Paris where he went into a partnership with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret.

In 1919, Jeanneret, together with Ozenfant and Paul Dermée. launched the magazine L’Esprit Nouveau. It is during this time, around 1920, that Jeanneret adopted the pseudonym Le Corbusier, a name derived from Lecorbesier, the name of his maternal grandfather. Le Corbusier became the name he used for his architectural persona.

Vers Une Architecture, 1928 – Photo by Zucker Art Books

In Paris, Le Corbusier became busy with exhibits like his paintings at Galerie Druet and at Rosenberg Galeriede l’Effort Moderne with Ozenfant, lectures, publishing articles and books Vers Une Architecture (published in English as Towards a New Architecture in 1927) and L’Urbanisme (1924) and of course numerous architectural projects. Some of those projects include Villa Besnus in the suburbs of Vaucresson, the Paris Ozenfant studio, Maison Citrohan, Immeubles Villas, the Pavillon L’Esprit Nouveau, and Villa Savoy. He also designed an apartment building with a penthouse and studio where he stayed with his wife, Yvonne Gallis, a model from Monaco.

Le Corbusier Furniture

Le Corbusier conceptualized new ways to classify furniture, which he outlined in his book L’Art Décoratif d’aujourd’hui. Furniture, according to Le Corbusier, could either be type-objects that fulfill a basic function, or type-furniture that were universally applicable.

Le Corbusier and his cousin opened a studio in Rue de Sèvres in 1922. His partnership with cousin Pierre Jeanneret would last until 1940. The two experimented on furniture design, together with architect Charlotte Perriand in 1928.

This collaboration resulted in chairs with chrome-plated tubular steel frames meant for the pavilion for Barbara and Henry Church as well as the Maison La Roche. The line was expanded to include a table, a chaise lounge, and some storage units when they were exhibited at the Salon L’Automne. The installation was called Equipment for the Home.

LC1 Sling Chair

Le Corbusier LC1 Sling Chair In Natural Pony – Photo by Modern Selections, Inc.

Thinking that traditional furniture with their frames buried in thick padding belonged in the past, Le Corbusier and his partners designed a sleek chair stripped of excess. The chair, with its tubular steel frame, paired with natural hide was a piece of functionality and elegance. It is one of LeCorbusier’s notable pieces, with the back attached to the frame by a rod that allows it to tilt whenever the user shifts.


Replica of Le Corbusier LC2 Petit Modele Armchair – Photo by Designer Seating

LC2 Petit Modele Armchair

The LC2 and LC3 lines were known as “cushion baskets”. These modernist responses to the traditional club chairs have exposed steel frames, instead of being buried in the cushions. The frames serving like a basket to the thick, durable pillows, it is a piece that combines comfort with the International style’s industrial rationale and elegant minimalism.


LC4 Chaise Lounge

LC4 Chaise Longue by Le Corbusier – Photo by Design Within Reach

Also known as the “relaxing machine”, this long chair follows the body’s natural curves. This surprisingly comfortable chair seems to float on its supports. Its movable frame allows numerous sitting angles, going from upright to full recline.

Le Corbusier’s Legacy

Le Corbusier was perhaps the most influential 20th-century architect and designer. He was also a painter, an urban planner, a writer, and a theorist. His design philosophy centered on harmony and proportion and saw his modular system as a continuation of the works of Da Vinci and the like.

He played an immense role in the birth of modern architecture, thanks to his writings. His Five Points of Architecture contains the most direct set of architectural theories, which Le Corbusier never failed to apply and incorporate in the creation of his numerous villas. He was also one of the originators of the International style, alongside Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. His works were featured and continue to remain in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Le Corbusier, however, left a mixed legacy. He is reviled by some critics for the monotony of his brand of modernism and the drabness of government districts he helped propagate. In addition, his socio-political ties were quite complicated, while his ideologies and political positions remain controversial. For example, one of his patrons was the Vichy regime, which worked with the Nazis in the Second World War. As a result, some would label the architect as a fascist. Even his biographers find him quite a difficult and controversial topic to discuss that expecting an amicable end to the discussion may seem overly optimistic.

Despite these controversies, Le Corbusier’s talent is unquestioned. His furniture is still sought out to this day, while his works and theories continue to be studied. The Foundation Le Corbusier, which he established before his death in 1965, continues to keep his legacy alive.