14 Facts You Didn’t Know About Le Corbusier

by Willy Rizzo. Photos © Willy Rizzo.

Le Corbusier (October 6, 1887 – August 27, 1965) will forever be known as an icon of Modernism, but did you know that the man who changed the face of architecture led quite the colorful personal life?

In honor of his 125th birthday, take a moment to check out some Corbu classics (perhaps Convent of La TouretteRonchampVilla SavoyeUnite d’Habitation, or Villa Roche) and read on to learn more about the man behind the myth – Charles-Édouard Jeanneret.

Fun Facts About Le Corbusier (including what Salvador Dalí had to say about him. It isn’t pretty) after the break!

Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, relaxing on the Shukna Lake on a pedal boat manufactured by Pierre Jeanneret, c. 1950. Photo by Sureh Sharma.

Things You Didn’t Know About Le Corbusier

  • After meeting Josephine Baker on an ocean liner to Europe from South America, Le Corbusier drew nude sketches of the famous actress.
  • While Le Corbusier married a fashion model by the name of Yvonne Gallis, he maintained a long-term affair with Swedish-American heiress Marguerite Tjader Harris.
Unite d’habitation, 1952. Le Corbusier’s first large-scale housing project. Photo © Guzman Lozano

Le Corbusier and Urban Planning

  • Le Corbusier’s plans for Ville Contemporaine, a series of sixty-story, cruciform skyscrapers (never built) included plans for rooftop airports so commercial airliners could fly between skyscrapers.
  • Le Corbusier designed the first planned city in India – Chandigarh. The layout was based on the plans he conceptualized in his book La Ville Radieuse (The Radiant City), which itself was an update on ideas for Ville Contemporaine.
  • Le Corbusier’s theories as an Urban Planner have been hotly contested, perhaps none more so than by Jane Jacobs: ”Le Corbusier’s Utopia was a condition of what he called maximum liberty, by which he seems to have meant not liberty to do anything much, but liberty from ordinary responsibility.”
Chandigarh, India’s first planned city was designed by Le Corbusier. Photo by diametrik – http://www.flickr.com/photos/diametrik/

Le Corbusier and Politics

  •  Le Corbusier’s famous saying, “Architecture or Revolution,” came from his belief that an efficient, industrialized architecture was the only way to avoid class-based revolution. His arguments would solidify in his book, Vers une architecture (Toward an Architecture) and culminate in his most famous work, Villa Savoye.
  • In 1934, he was invited by  Benito Mussolini to lecture in Rome.
  • In the early 1940s, Le Corbusier was given an urban planning position by the Vichy government to oversee designs for various cities, including Algiers. When his plans were rejected, Le Corbusier withdrew from political life.
Villa Savoye, Arguably Le Corbusier’s most famous work. Photo © Flavio Bragaia

Le Corbusier and Art/Design

  • Le Corbusier adopted his pseudonym (a derivative of his grandmother’s last name) after publishing a manifesto, co-written with artist Amédée Ozenfant, called “Aprés le Cubisme.” Although he was working as a Cubist painter at the time, he felt that Cubism had grown too romantic; thus, the manifesto was his ode to a new artistic movement: Purism.
  • Although Salvador Dalí at one point considered Le Corbusier a “friend,” he was far from complimentary about him upon his death in 1965. He was quoted calling Le Corbusier‘s buildings “the ugliest and most unacceptable buildings in the world” and said that Le Corbusier’s “ death filled me with an immense joy. [...] Le corbusier was a pitiable creature working in reinforced concrete.” However, Dalí’s disdain didn’t stop him from putting flowers on Le Corbusier’s grave, as, in his words, “on the one hand I detested him but on the other hand I am an absolute coward.”
  • Le Corbusier collaborated with the architect Charlotte Perriand and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret to design iconic, modernist furniture. He was quoted as saying: ”Chairs are architecture, sofas are bourgeois.”
Convent of La Tourette. Photo © Samuel Ludwig

Le Corbusier and his Inspirations

  • Le Corbusier was taken with the image of the Open Hand, constructing many sculptures of it over his lifetime. He called it a ”sign of peace and of reconciliation[...] meant to receive the created riches, and to distribute them to the peoples of the world. That should be the symbol of our epoch.” See this cool interview with him discussing the 28-meter Open Hand sculpture in Chandigarh.
  • Le Corbusier’s design philosophy was heavily inspired by mathematical concepts used by Leonard daVinci, such as the golden ratio and the Fibonacci series, which he used as the basis for his architectural proportions.
Ronchamp, one of Le Corbusier’s most unusual works. © Cara Hyde-Basso
On August 27, 1965, Le Corbusier went for a swim, against his doctor’s orders, in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of his beloved summer home in the south of France. His body was found by bathers.
“Architecture is the masterly, correct, and magnificent play of masses brought together in light.”
Le Corbusier, Vers une architecture, 1923

Facts via Wikipedia

Cite: Quirk, Vanessa. "14 Facts You Didn’t Know About Le Corbusier" 06 Oct 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 19 Dec 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=278569>
  • Ben Dover

    Does anybody know a great architect that didn’t commit adultery? Or is this part of the curriculum?

    • Will I or Wont I

      With name like Ben Dover … one would think that you have the same strength and persuasion in your curriculum…

    • svenlo

      Tadao Ando?

    • joe king

      what a name ben dover funny guy

  • Taezaz Woldu

    PLEASE I NEED TO SEND ME THRUOGH EMAIL ADDRESS PLANS OF RESIDENTIAL AND OTHER TYPE BUILDINGS (MINOR)AND THEIR PLANS , SECTIONS & DECRIPTOINS WHICH EXPLAINS THEIR CHARACTER .MAY IF IT COMES TO ME EARLIER HAD BEEN HELPING ME THIS I AM IN A SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE
    BEST WISHES ,…I AM WAITING YOUR REPLAY AND ANY OTHER NEW THING
    I HAVE TO DO YOU JUST TELL ME THIS TIME I AM A UNIVERSITY STUDENT

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  • MarkM

    Fun article – great architect and designer. Love the quote on chairs and sofas!

  • TO

    “Facts” via Wikipedia,…

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  • Himanshu Upadhyay

    In Chandigarh open hand symbol is visible in buildings like Assembly and Secretariat but in the High Court building it is embedded in the front facade design. The reversing his three fingers as columns and two out stretched fingers spread as remaining areas of facade. Also the blue paint as water body. He probably wanted to suggest – don’t expect any justice here……

  • Dr. Spengler

    Well-researched and interesting.

    Oh wait, just plundered Wikipedia. Nice work there

  • Albertc

    Not just plundered Wikipedia. I’ve done extensive research and these facts came up quite often in books written on him and his projects.

    • Faryal

      can u give me your research data, need it for the presentation.

  • Dingbat

    Calling Chandigarh the first planned city is a bit presumptuous. It might be the first modernist planned city in India. Another fun fact about Corbu was his affair with Sri Lankan Architect Minette De Silva

    • e adams

      Curious. Chandigarh has much more to do with Mayer and Nowitzki’s plan (influenced by Clarence Stein who was a consultant on the initial plan) than any of Corb’s previous planning works. His buildings were truley unique; but the plan is highly derivative of the original plan by Mayer which was was of more reasonable scale; but lacked the monumentality of Corb’s final plan. You could argue that Chandigarh is closer to Radburn than to Ville Comtemporaine or Ville Radius.

  • MerlineMAy

    He should be dead before he wos born……… Thank You, but NO thak You for the modern arkitecture….