50 Things You Didn't Know About Le Corbusier

50 Things You Didn't Know About Le Corbusier, © Willy Rizzo
© Willy Rizzo

You know him for his round glasses, affinity for concrete and undying love for modernism, but do you really know Le Corbusier? Le Corbusier led his life not just as the 20th century's most influential architect, but also as an artist, socialite and theoretician. Taught by architects August Perret and Peter Behrens, criticized by the likes of Jane Jacobs and celebrated worldwide, Le Corbusier's legacy is undeniable. Dabbling often with controversy, Le Corbusier preferred the mantra “Architecture or Revolution,” designing structures that have been dubbed "anti-humanist." While some propose that his buildings collectively become a UNESCO World Heritage site, many call for their demolition. 

In 2015, 50 years after his death, the debate on the calibre of his controversial projects rages on. To mark a half-century since the death of architecture's concrete man, we've rounded up 50 little-known facts from his illustrious 78-year life. Dive into the details of Le Corbusier's wild affairs, adventures and architecture after the break.

1. Le Corbusier "obsessively preserved every letter, drawing and photograph for posterity." [Source: Le Corbusier: Ideas and Forms]

2. Before turning to architecture Le Corbusier was learning the trade of watchcase engraving. [Source: "The Beginnings of Le Corbusier's Education, 1902-07"]

3. In 1946 he traveled to Princeton, New Jersey and met Albert Einstein. [Source: Fondation Le Corbusier]

Le Corbusier and his architecture is featured on a Swiss francs banknote. Via archiveofaffinities.tumblr.com
Le Corbusier and his architecture is featured on a Swiss francs banknote. Via archiveofaffinities.tumblr.com

4. Le Corbusier and his architecture are featured on a Swiss franc banknote (10 Fr.). [Source: Swiss National Bank]

5. There are streets named after Le Corbusier in Argentina & Canada. [Source: Google Maps 1, 2]

People watching the landing of Zeppelin LZ 127. Le Corbusier traveled in the same aircraft from Europe to South America in 1936. Uploaded by Grombo~commonswiki. CC BY-SA 3.0.
People watching the landing of Zeppelin LZ 127. Le Corbusier traveled in the same aircraft from Europe to South America in 1936. Uploaded by Grombo~commonswiki. CC BY-SA 3.0.

6. In 1936, he traveled to Brazil on the Graf Zeppelin. The flight on this hydrogen-filled aircraft took nearly 5 days. [Source: Fondation Le Corbusier]

7. Le Corbusier "endorsed the direct relationship among architecture, urbanism and state in the belief that social reform would follow." His fellow CIAM members didn't necessarily share this belief. [Source: Le Corbusier in America]

8. In 1936 he designed a never-built stadium for 100,000 spectators. To be located in Paris, the project was called the National Sports and Entertainment Center and it would have been approachable by ramps. [Source: Fondation Le Corbusier

A still from a 1987 commercial for Kodak: featuring Bill Cosby, a dog, and a Corbusier-designed chair.
A still from a 1987 commercial for Kodak: featuring Bill Cosby, a dog, and a Corbusier-designed chair.

9. This 1987 commercial for Kodak features Bill Cosby, a dog, and a Corbusier-designed chair. The original model of the chair dates back to 1928, when Le Corbusier designed it for a house in a Parisian suburb. [Source: The Washington Post]

10. While traveling in the winter of 1907 he met artists Gustav Klimt & Josef Hoffman. [Source: Fondation Le Corbusier]

11. He submitted a design proposal in the competition for the never-built Palace of the Soviets in Moscow. [Source: Fondation le Corbusier]

12. His funeral was held in 1965 in the courtyard of the Louvre Palace. [Source: British Pathé]

13. In 1925, Le Corbusier's Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau is given an obscure location in the Exposition International des Arts Decoratifs et Industrielles Modernes because of “official hostility to it.” [Source: Le Corbusier in America]

14. Le Corbusier said the famous chaise longue he designed with Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand is inspired by cowboys with their feet propped up on tables. [Source: The Washington Post]

15. His plan for a "radiant city" (Ville Radieuse) was based on a plan by Madrid-based urban planner Arturo Soria y Mata and was first proposed in 1930 for Moscow. [Source: Wikipedia]

16. In 1935, Le Corbusier gave a lecture called “The Great Waste” (le grand gaspillage) in Chicago and Baltimore. He believed that the first machine age led to overproduction, waste and decadence. [Source: Le Corbusier in America]

17. He authored these words engraved on a sidewalk in Battery Park City: "A hundred times I have thought: New York is a catastrophe, and fifty times: New York is a beautiful catastrophe.” [Source: The New Yorker]

18. Though he’s blamed for the excess of mid-century urban renewal, Corb was unsuccessful in getting meetings with housing authorities during his visits to different cities in the US. [Source: Le Corbusier in America]

19. Le Corbusier saw his career as one full of failures; later in life he would say, “life is right and the architect is wrong.” [Source: Le Corbusier, 1887-1965: The Lyricism of Architecture in the Machine Age]

20. In 1938, Le Corbusier was trapped under a passing boat and the spinning propeller badly injured his leg. The large scar is visible in the famous photograph of Le Corbusier painting nude. [Source: The Charnel-House]

21. He claimed that a design for an urban plan of Rio de Janeiro was sketched from a plane. [Source: "The Cultural Politics of Aerial Vision: Le Corbusier in Brazil"]

Carpenter Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. via Wikimedia Commons
Carpenter Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. via Wikimedia Commons

22. Despite designing multiple projects to be built in the US, only one was ever realized: Harvard University's Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. [Source: Fondation Le Corbusier]

23. Guillame Jullian, a colleague of Le Corbusier, recalled, "[Le Corbusier] told me that the Visual Arts Center was to be his only American building, and that he would therefore put all his architectural elements in it."  [Source: The Boston Globe]

A full-scale model of Le Corbusier's "Voiture Maximum."
A full-scale model of Le Corbusier's "Voiture Maximum."

24. A full-scale wooden mock-up of Le Corbusier's 3-seater car (named "Voiture Maximum") was built by the famed Italian designer Giorgio Guigiaro for an exhibition commemorating Corb's 100th birthday. [Source: The Washington Post]

25. Swiss bank UBS dropped an ad campaign featuring the architect. His personal correspondence, which gained renewed attention following the publication of a biography in 2008, suggested that he was a "nazi sympathizer" and the bank chose to remove him from advertisements. [Source: RTS.ch]

26. The New York Times reported that the set design for Disney's Aida was inspired by Le Corbusier's architecture. [Source: The New York Times]

27. Of Le Corbusier's design for Chandigarh, India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said, "The most important thing about Chandigarh is not whether you like it or not but that it hits you on your head and makes you think." [Source: The Indian Express]

Le Corbusier's "Femme" sold at Christie's in Zurich for 3.1 million francs ($3.3 million) © Christie's via Bloomberg
Le Corbusier's "Femme" sold at Christie's in Zurich for 3.1 million francs ($3.3 million) © Christie's via Bloomberg

28. To date, the most expensive Le Corbusier work ever sold at auction is “Femme,” a wooden statue completed by Le Corbusier in 1962 and sold at Christie's in Zurich for 3.1 million francs ($3.3 million). [Source: Bloomberg]

29. Jørn Utzon, architect of the world-famous Sydney Opera House, had originally intended for a Le Corbusier-designed tapestry to hang inside the building. When Utzon left the project in 1966, he kept the tapestry that he had commissioned in 1958 in his own home. Nearly seven years after Utzon's death, in June of 2015, the Sydney Opera House bought the tapestry from Utzon's estate and announced plans to hang it in the main box office foyer. [Source: The Sydney Morning Herald]

30. The Chilean surrealist painter Roberto Matta--father of artist Gordon Matta-Clark--worked for Le Corbusier in the late 1930s as a draughtsman. [Source: "Towards Anarchitecture: Gordon Matta-Clark and Le Corbusier"]

31. In 1956 he turned down a teaching post at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. [Source: Fondation Le Corbusier]

32. In 1926, Le Corbusier was engaged in a utilities-based standoff with the authorities at Pessac, near Bordeaux, over his workers' city of 40 houses. Authorities disliked the design and colors so much they refused to connect the public water supply to the complex, and the buildings sat uninhabited for six years. [Source: Biography]

33. In 1956, at the behest of King Faisal II, Le Corbusier designed a gymnasium for the city of Baghdad. It was built 13 years after Le Corbusier's death and named after Saddam Hussein. [Source: Wikipedia]

34. One of Le Corbusier's greatest inspirations was a Carthusian Monastery, the Monastery of Ema near Florence. After visiting it in 1907, he wrote: "In the musical landscape of Tuscany I saw a modern city crowning a hill." The layout of the monastery would go on to influence the layout at La Tourette. [Source: Utopias and Architecture]

35. In 1929, Le Corbusier took a flight from Buenos Aires to Asuncion del Paraguay Co-piloted by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the aeronaut-turned-writer famous for "The Little Prince." [Source: Metropolis]

36. From around 1918 onwards, Le Corbusier was nearly blind in one eye, and was known to argue that his glasses should therefore be half price. [Source: Le Corbusier]

37. The fact that Philip Johnson's glasses were so similar to Le Corbusier's isn't a coincidence. In 1934, taking inspiration from Le Corbusier's signature, Johnson designed his own glasses and had them made by Cartier. [Source: The New York Times]

Le Corbusier's fur-covered copy of Don Quixote. Source: Le Corbusier, Architect of Books via Google Books.
Le Corbusier's fur-covered copy of Don Quixote. Source: Le Corbusier, Architect of Books via Google Books.

38. Le Corbusier and his wife had a dog--a black-haired schnauzer named Pinceau (Paintbrush). [Source: Fondation Le Corbusier]

39. When Pinceau died, he skinned the dog and bound an issue of Don Quixote with the dog's fur! [Source: Le Corbusier, Architect of Books]

40. The self-educated architect told the BBC in 1951 "I am anti-school. I am going to confess to you that I left school at 13 because schools were very mean in the past, they were no fun." [Source: "Le Corbusier Parle ... 1951"]

Le Corbusier made headlines in The New York Herald Tribune upon arriving to the USA.
Le Corbusier made headlines in The New York Herald Tribune upon arriving to the USA.

41. When he arrived in New York the first time he made headlines because he thought the skyscrapers should be "huge and a lot farther apart." [Source: Le Corbusier: Elements of a Synthesis]

42. Le Corbusier's office had no windows and was air-conditioned, a kind of cell. This way he believed his clients would speak concisely and objectively. [Source: The Architect Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom]

43. In 1934, he was invited by Benito Mussolini to lecture in Rome. [Source: Thresholds]

44. 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.” [Source: The Death and Life of Great American Cities]

45. After meeting Josephine Baker on an ocean liner to Europe from South America, Le Corbusier drew nude sketches of the famous actress. [Source: Josephine Baker: The Hungry Heart]

46. 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. [Source: Wikipedia]

47. 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.” [Source: The Architecture of Ugliness]

48. 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. [Source: Wikipedia]

49. 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. [Source: Urbanism and Utopia: Le Corbusier from Regional Syndicalism to Vichy

50. 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.” [Source: The Le Corbusier Guide]

Correction update: an earlier version of this article stated that Arturo Soria y Mata was from Barcelona (point 15). He was in fact from Madrid, and the article has been updated to reflect this.

Cite: AD Editorial Team. "50 Things You Didn't Know About Le Corbusier" 27 Aug 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <http://www.archdaily.com/772274/50-things-you-didnt-know-about-le-corbusier/>