Theory and Design in the First Machine Age

By Reyner Banham | Go to book overview
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17: Vers une Architecture

LE CORBUSIER'S FIRST book on architecture, which was to prove to be one of the most influential, widely read and least understood of all the architectural writings of the twentieth century, was put together in the last months of a long pause in his architectural activity--the articles in L'Esprit Nouveau, from which it was contrived, had all appeared by January 1922, some months before that year's Salon d'Automne brought him in contact with the client for whom he built his first Modern house, the little villa at Vaucresson. So great was the change that had come over his architectural ideas in this pause, from 1917 to 1923, that he has subsequently suppressed the work of the earlier phase, though in 1921, before the Citrohan project had taken its final form, he was still sufficiently pleased with the last of these early works, a house at Chaux-de-Fonds, to have it published at length in L'Esprit Nouveau, and to use it to make a point in Vers une Architecture.

Indeed, for a house of 1917, it was nothing to be ashamed of. It shows a similar kind of brisk, up-to-the-minute eclecticism to that of Gropius's Werkbund Pavilion at Cologne, three years earlier, though one of its stylistic sources may have been the reasons for its later suppression from the Corbusian canon. He records that the client, seeing a project of Perret's among a portfolio of Le Corbusier's own designs said

Faites-moi quelque chose de semblable (Make me something like that)

and the resultant building, though far from semblable, is unmistakably Perretesque in its general conception, which may well have been an embarrassment to him after he changed his attitude to Perret in 1923. However, the design has other sources as well; the Beaux-Arts tradition has been laid under tribute for much of the detailing, the overall massing bears a striking (if coincidental) resemblance to Philibert del'Orme's gate-house at Anet, though the treatment of the apsidal wings seems indebted more directly to Hoffmann's Villa Ast, and the general layout of the interior is markedly Wrightian, a double-height living room, with an access-balcony serving the bedrooms, forming the central volume of an open cruciform plan, in


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Theory and Design in the First Machine Age


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