Arquitectura Viva
Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Shadows of Le Corbusier

Luis Fernández-Galiano

Le Corbusier continues to pass from lights to shadows. In 2015, the 50th anniversary of his death coincided with the publication of three books written by François Chaslin, Xavier de Jarcy, and Marc Perelman that examined his links to the Vichy regime (see review titled ‘Las grietas del mito’ in Arquitectura Viva 176), sparking a big scandal. Four years later, in the spring of 2019, a motion initiated by Jarcy and Perelman has demanded in Le Monde that the French State stop honoring his figure, suspending subsidies to the Paris-based foundation that safeguards his legacy, canceling the project for a museum in Poissy, and removing his statue in this commune, associated with the architect because that is where he built Les Heures Claires, the canonical Villa Savoye. A few months earlier, with 2018 drawing to a close, a devastating book had been published, coordinated by the same Jarcy and Perelman, where eight authors from five countries showed the darkest side of the master from La Chaux-de-Fonds. This, in time with a brilliant book by Chaslin – who was one of those authors, but who would refuse to sign the damnatio memoriae – where the architect and critic used a detailed reconstruction of the 2015 Le Corbusier affaire to reflect on the contemporary world, interspersing erudition and poetry with an unexpected series of mostly line drawings of birds among which flap the wings of the great artist who imagined himself a crow.

The collective book on the Swiss-French master begins with a stroke of a drum: Le Corbusier was modern architecture in the way that Heidegger was the paradigm of thought. And though this is later nuanced, comparisons with the rector-Führer of the University of Freiburg are nourished by the architect’s close ties to the Faisceau of Georges Valois (the French Mussolini), his stay in Vichy, the anti-Semitic remarks found in his letters, and his October 1940 hail to Hitler as someone who could “crown his life with a great work: the construction of Europe.” Mary McLeod had already explored his ominous political dimension in several articles of the early 1980s, but the 1997 piece by Marc Antliff that is reproduced in the volume shows Le Corbusier’s influence on the aesthetic criteria and urbanistic ideas of the French fascist party, while Jarcy and Perelman extend the theses in their respective books by exploring his debt to eugenics, and his fascination with a totalitarian biologism that would lead from the Plan Voisin of 1925 to the disastrous ‘grands ensembles’ built in the 1950s and 1960s or the generic ‘Bigness’ of Koolhaas. In the final article, Frank Zöllner denounces the anthropomorphism of the Modulor, which he relates with Ernst Neufert’s systems of normalization and proportion, ‘the module of fascism,’ advocated by him and Albert Speer as tools of ‘total war’ in 1943. Despite his national-socialist affiliations, Neufert continued his career in Germany after 1945, and in 1951 he was part of the circle for reflection on the reconstruction of the country that invited Heidegger to deliver ‘Building Dwelling Thinking,’ the philosopher’s famous lecture that so many quote from while eluding its context.

In contrast with this genuine ‘black book,’ and curiously published by the same house – which in addition to technical credits and features, always presents a detailed breakdown of the costs of a volume, in rare exercise of transparency –, Chaslin’s delicious book tackles the figure of the Swiss-French architect with the same empathy he demonstrated in Un Corbusier, and again with a literary skill bordering on the ‘barroquism’ that earned him the adjective now used as a title, Rococo, which also resounds with the crowing and chirping of birds that in the manner of a divertimento inhabit the uncut folds of each copy. After using the letter opener to free its over 500 pages, what comes to one’s attention is an assessment of the 2015 affaire, with headlines from newspapers and magazines of half the world included; a kaleidoscope of intellectual and lyrical considerations that quotes or evokes two hundred books listed in a chronological bibliography, which stretches from the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Book of Genesis, Aesop’s Fables, or Confucius all the way to Alain Minc, Peter Sloterdijk, or Alain Finkielkraut; and a drawn ornithology that proves the sharp eye and talented hand of the author, who extends his graphic journey with a selection of his own sketches of several buildings by Le Corbusier: a giant figure who did flirt with fascism, but also worked for the Popular Front of Léon Blum, and whom Rococo treats with the complexity he deserves, serving also as a good excuse to polyphonically represent the literary and artistic universe of François Chaslin.

Jarcy & Perelman (Eds.)
Le Corbusier, zones d’ombre
Éditions Non Standard,
Paris, october 2018
272 páginas

François Chaslin
Rococo, ou drôles d’oiseaux
Éditions Non Standard,
Paris, november 2018
520 pages

Arquitectura Viva 215

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