Of Note Le Corbusier’s Landscape
“Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes” reframed the architect’s conceptualization of landscapes and included the paintings “Blue mountains” (1910) and “Plan for Buenos Aires” (1929), among others.
by Charissa N. Terranova
It is a propitious time to revisit the lifework of the Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier (1887–1965), particularly as his approach relates to landscape. Ecological crises, global warming, and sprawl urge a refashioning of 20th-century modernism that focuses on land, site specificity, and the limitations of natural resources, and Le Corbusier’s work has always been about landscape’s many splendors, artificial and otherwise. The recent Museum of Modern Art show “Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes” reframed Le Corbusier according to his dynamic conceptualization of the landscape. Guest curator Jean-Louis Cohen reminded us that landscape in Le Corbusier’s work “retained nothing of the literal,” but rather was “edifying…because it generated analogies and metaphors….” Landscape as a theme in Le Corbusier’s work
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composition of geometric forms is reminiscent of his early work — hermetic forms rest in a garden of eucalyptus trees. “Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes” was an overt foray into revisionist modernism for the purposes of scholarly excavation. Ultimately, it was an academic retelling of his story, not revolutionary in manner or intention. The show was put together with a careful eye for detail and a scrupulous will to recover projects that had gone by the wayside over the years,
Author of “Automotive Prosthetic: Technological Mediation and the Car in Conceptual Art”(University of Texas Press, Jan 2014), Charissa N. Terranova is a professor, writer, and critic based in Dallas.
INSTALLATION VIEW OF THE EXHIBITION “LE CORBUSIER: AN ATLAS OF MODERN LANDSCAPES” COURTESY THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK. PHOTOGRAPH BY JONATHAN MUZIKAR. “BLUE MOUNTAINS” (1910) AND “PLAN FOR BUENOS AIRES” (1929) COURTESY THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART AND THE FONDATION LE CORBUSIER, PARIS. © 2013 ARTISTS RIGHTS SOCIETY (ARS), NEW YORK / ADAGP, PARIS / FLC.
covers a vast scale — its a matter of mountains, cars, concrete, and otherworldly imaginings. Through this looking-glass, the Villa Schwob (1916–17) and Mundaneum (1928) constitute a play between artificial and natural geometries, classicizing right angles, the primordial ziggurat, and the jagged, upright angles of the Alps. In urban plans for São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (1929) and the Plan Obus for Algiers (1932), a sinuous line molds landscape through architecture combined with transportation engineering. Similarly, an automotive landscape is at the root of Le Corbusier’s “Monument to the Memory of Paul Vaillant-Couturier” (1938–39). With an open hand gesturing outward and a long cantilever over the road, the monument to the communist leader was designed for Paris suburb Villejuif and intended to make an impression on motorists driving by. In Ilôt Insalubre No. 6 (1935–36), Le Corbusier conceptualized architecture in medias res: design in the middle of grassy green things; building as play between utility and place; the machine in the garden. The enormous wooden model for the Capitol Complex of Chandigarh (1951) brought home the importance of the artificial ground datum. Stained dark reddish brown, it read as a giant sculptural plane, a man-made plenum for reinventing urbanism, form, and place. The designs for an Olympic Stadium and Sports Center for Baghdad (1955–80) harked back to the strict modernist precepts of the Athens Charter (1933). A project from the last decade of his career, its
such as the conceptual Maisons Monol (1919), stone Villa de Mandrot (1929–31), singular Roq and Rob housing schemes (1949–55), visionary National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo (1954–59), and farsighted Computational Center for Silvetti (1961–64), to name just a few. With more than 320 objects, including drawings, paintings, maquettes, films, and reconstructed interiors, the show was expansive and densely packed. Without the aid of a pick-me-up along the way, it might have been exhausting. But the payoff of experiencing this one-time coalescence of objects was worth tired legs and aching feet. The four organizing themes of the exhibition — the landscape of found objects, domestic landscape, architectural landscape of the modern city, and vast planned territories — tied together harmoniously the exhibition’s many profound attractions. It was not a political show, neither a prise de parole for global warming nor a cri de coeur for the Kyoto Protocol. Nonetheless, the ecological stakes were palpable. With melting glacial poles weighing on the collective consciousness and the limitations of petroleum making themselves felt, it was the right time for a landscape-oriented review of Le Corbusier.