AD Classics: Ville Radieuse / Le Corbusier

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Ville Radieuse (The Radiant City) is an unrealized urban masterplan by , first presented in 1924 and published in a book of the same name in 1933. Designed to contain effective means of transportation, as well as an abundance of green space and sunlight, ’s city of the future would not only provide residents with a better lifestyle, but would contribute to creating a better society. Though radical, strict and nearly totalitarian in its order, symmetry and standardization, ’s proposed principles had an extensive influence on modern urban planning and led to the development of new high-density housing typologies.

In accordance with modernist ideals of progress (which encouraged the annihilation of tradition), The Radiant City was to emerge from a tabula rasa: it was to be built on nothing less than the grounds of demolished vernacular European cities. The new city would contain prefabricated and identical high-density skyscrapers, spread across a vast green area and arranged in a Cartesian grid, allowing the city to function as a “living machine.” Le Corbusier explains: “The city of today is a dying thing because its planning is not in the proportion of geometrical one fourth. The result of a true geometrical lay-out is repetition, The result of repetition is a standard. The perfect form.”

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At the core of Le Corbusier’s plan stood the notion of zoning: a strict division of the city into segregated commercial, business, entertainment and residential areas. The business district was located in the center, and contained monolithic mega-skyscrapers, each reaching a height of 200 meters and accommodating five to eight hundred thousand people. Located in the center of this civic district was the main transportation deck, from which a vast underground system of trains would transport citizens to and from the surrounding housing districts.

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The housing districts would contain pre-fabricated apartment buildings, known as “Unités.” Reaching a height of fifty meters, a single Unité could accommodate 2,700 inhabitants and function as a vertical village: catering and laundry facilities would be on the ground floor, a kindergarden and a pool on the roof. Parks would exist between the Unités, allowing residents with a maximum of natural daylight, a minimum of noise and recreational facilities at their doorsteps.

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These radical ideas were further developed by Le Corbusier in his drafts for various schemes for cities such as Paris, Antwerp, Moscow, Algiers and Morocco. Finally, in 1949 he found a state authority that provided him with a “free hand” – The Indian capital of Punjab. In Chandigarh, the first planned city in liberated India, Le Corbusier applied his strict zoning system and designed the central Capitol Complex, consisting of the High Court, the Legislative Assembly, and the Secretariat.

The Legislative Assembly and the Secretariat in Chandigarh . Image© Nicholas Iyadurai

Perhaps the largest realization of Le Corbusier’s ideas can be witnessed in the conception of Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, which was constructed on a vacant site provided by the President of Brasil. Upon this tabula rasa (which Le Corbusier would have coveted), Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer designed a perfectly geometrically ordered city that segregated the monumental administration zones and the identical housing districts, owned entirely by the government. By implementing Le Corbusier’s principles, Costa and Niemeyer hoped to create a city that materialized equality and justice.

Construction of Brasilia, 1956 . Image © Marcel Gauthero

The Radiant City’s influence was not exclusive to the world of urban planning. In 1947, Le Corbusier designed the Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, which – inspired by The Radiant City’s Unités – contained 337 apartments in a single building, along with public facilities on the roof and ground floor. Due to the costs of steel production in the post-War economy, the Unité d’Habitation was constructed of exposed concrete and heralded the arrival of brutalist architecture. In the years that followed, four similar buildings were erected in France and Germany. This typology, which provided an answer to the Post-War housing shortage, was further adapted around the world in countless housing projects.

Unité d’Habitation in . Image © Vincent Desjardins

Today, in the aftermath of Modernism, Le Corbusier’s built cities are hardly ever described as Utopias. Brasilia, for example, has been harshly criticized for ignoring residents’ habits or desires and for not providing public spaces for urban encounters. In addition to this, the Unité-inspired apartment blocks, which lie on the outskirts of nearly every major city today, have become incubators of poverty and crime; most have been thoroughly remodeled or demolished.

The pruitt-Igoe social housing development, built in 1954 and demolished in 1972 . Image© The Pruitt-Igoe Myth

Nevertheless, the idea of proposing order through careful planning is as relevant now as when Le Corbusier first published The Radiant City. Issues of healthy living, traffic, noise, public space and transportation, which Le Corbusier – unlike any architect before him – addressed holistically, continue to be a major concern of city planners today.

Cite: Merin, Gili. "AD Classics: Ville Radieuse / Le Corbusier" 11 Aug 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 19 Oct 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=411878>
  • JD

    One of the great mistakes is to judge Corbusier’s ideas by their intentions rather than their results.

  • David Malcolm Carson

    Le Corbusier has to be recognized as the greatest failure in the history of architecture. The death toll alone and the fact that these areas got so bad that they were demolished not even fifty years after construction . . .

    • MNO

      Sorry?? What areas are you talking about, please? What Le Corbusier building should be demolished now?

      As far as I know, Chandigarh is working really well. Have a look at the article in Wikipedia, for example (all the sources are indicated and seem to be pretty much reliable):

      “The city tops the list of Indian States and Union Territories with the highest per capita income in the country at 99262 (US$1,700) at current prices and 70361 (US$1,200) at constant prices (2006–2007).[6] The city was reported in 2010 to be the “cleanest” in India, based on a national government study,[7] and the territory also headed the list of Indian states and territories according to research conducted using 2005 data by Human Development Index.[8]“

    • David Huston

      Those ‘projects’ that are swaths of poverty and crime are not in anyway resemble Le Corbusier’s Unite in radiant city. Blame the developers not the visionary. I have done a study on St. Jamestown in Toronto, that has been criticized by former Toronto Mayor and Jane Jacobs who criticized Le Corbusier for these projects, but after studying it, they where nothing alike. The population is greater than Unite, and offer about a quarter of the housing options as Unite.

  • Witkowski Boguslaw

    Radieuse Catastrophy. But I would like to mention the revolting omission of Le Corbusier in the authorship of the plan for Chandigar, which concept and first plans has been done by Mtthew Nowicki. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maciej_Nowicki_(architect)

  • Daniel D

    fascist slums. enter landscape architects.

  • Odafe

    What can be designed and built for a 31m population , in a swampy, rain forest region, that intend to be an industrial hub?

  • Carl August

    Beautiful model, would love to see a higher res image so that I can see how it was made.

  • http://noithattinhte.vn Thachday kts

    Nhìn Le Corbusier thiết kế cả Đô thị mà như trong phim Inception .

  • cube

    i wish Ville Radieuse was built just to be demolished 5 years after nobody wanting to live there. Corbusier is the most overvalued Architect ever.

  • Bryan Dorsey

    The Ville Contemporaine is a notable piece of modernist design far beyond its incorporation of modern construction materials. It embraces the high speed means of transportation which was becoming popular in the 1920’s, leaves design far removed with the lack of ornament and separation from tradition, and ties in Le Corbusier’s political outlook and acceptance of capitalism in its elitist high-rise structures. Interpretation of the Ville Contemporaine emphasizes aspects portrayed throughout the career of Le Corbusier such as light and air, work and rest, straight axis and speed. With the failure of the plans that followed this modernist ‘dream’ Corbu once had, one can at least see its importance (negative or positive) in Modern architecture and the development in present day urban design.

  • Leah Engelhardt

    The Ville Radieuse was built around the idea of progress, change and hope. This purposed plan was supposedly, a utopia for the modern world. It was an example of how technology could provide a better lifestyle and therefore a better society. While many will argue that the plan was anything but a utopia; we can still see the influence of the Radiant City in urban projects today.

  • times city

    Blog very good

  • http://timescity.edu.vn Times city

    Interior very good

  • steppxxxz

    Its probably too easy to dismiss LeCorbusier’s projects because of a host of social factors beyond his control. He didnt design slums, the governments did.

  • http://timescity.edu.vn Times city

    The model design is great

    • Witkowski Boguslaw

      Great model but reality…?

  • http://timescity.edu.vn/ chung cư times city

    It’s really great
    Design a new architecture

  • http://maydongphucgiare.com/ may dong phuc

    very nice design and pro
    This is designed so the reader easily seen