Jean-Louis Cohen, “The Art of Zigzag: Le Corbusier’s Politics”

Jean-Louis Cohen, “The Art of Zigzag: Le Corbusier’s Politics”


Good evening, and welcome. For those of you
who may not know this is the 50th year of
Le Corbusier’s death– almost the 50th year. OK, and as a result a number
of events are happening. One of which is
Antoine Picon and I are giving a seminar on
the work of Le Corbusier. In addition to– partly
because of the seminar, and partly we wanted
Jean-Louis Cohen to come for a public lecture,
it was a very opportune time to bring Jean-Louis Cohen back. I just found out that
Antoine Picon, the first time he saw a slide of
the Villa Savoye it was projected by
Jean-Louis Cohen. Can you imagine? Imagine this little Antoine
looking at Villa Savoye. It’s an important
moment, and it’s because of things like that that
I get to introduce John-Louis, because if Antoine had
to introduced John-Louis he would black
out or some thing. Jean-Louis Cohen is the single,
most important, living scholar of Le Corbusier. Wouldn’t you love that
somebody could say something like that about you? Instead of like, I am the
single most important person behind this podium right now. But it’s true, I don’t
have time to prove it. I want to suggest some reasons. His record of research
and publication is vast, and I’m only going to mention
just a few recent ones on Le Corbusier. John-Louis was the first to
study the Russian works of Le Corbusier. This is actually not so recent. That was some time ago at
the beginning of his career, but the book that was published
out of that research in Russia is still unsurpassed. Most people still don’t even
have access to that material. John-Louis is the author
of the Taschen book on Le Corbusier in
the basic series, they call it, the kind of canon. He oversaw– in 2007 he oversaw
and wrote the introduction to a new and now
definitive translations of Toward an Architecture. With Tim Benton– you’ve seen
this giant, spectacular thing called Le Grand. It’s a book this big and
this thick of Le Corbusier that John-Louis prepared
with Time Benton. The Atlas of Le
Corbusier and The Atlas of Modern Landscapes–
this was 2013– both an exhibition, a major
exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art, and
then the catalog which is an overview and a
re-framing of Le Corbusier work in America. The exhibition was in
America, and then the catalog. There were a number of other
publications by other authors, but what you don’t
know is John-Louis was the adviser for all those. So and all of this
is– I’m not even mentioning the other work–
is against a deep background of architecture
and city planning. In much more broader
that he writes these. John-Louis was trained as an
architect and a historian. In fact, he was at UP6 in
Paris after the events of ’68, when– now, correct me,
but I think UP6 was still the kind of center
of the politics and the activism in the
architecture school. And John-Louis was there,
just during that time. Had a major impact on
education, not just in France, not just in Europe,
but also in the States. Berkeley, Yale, a
number of schools had events that kind of
emulated some of the events UP6. After that he got his PhD at
the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. Then he taught in
Paris until 1994, when he accepted the chair
of the Sheldon H. Solow chair for the history
of architecture at the Institute of Fine
Arts at New York University. In addition to
curating, being involved with a number of exhibitions–
not just of Le Corbusier but of other things–
he was appointed by the French
minister of culture to create the Cite de
l’Architecture, which was a kind of five year project
and, in a way, still emerging. It’s museum, research
center, exhibition center that just opened in 2007. Finally, John-Louis is a
very good friend of the GSD. He’s been on our
visiting committee more than a few years. He was really important
for Antoine and me, in his advice given when the PHD
program was still very young– the advice he give on that
and many, many other kinds of advice for the school. And it’s an absolute pleasure
to welcome Jean-Louis Cohen. [applause] Yes, Michael is right. I did the smallest book on
Le Corbusier with Taschen and advised for the largest,
which is not exactly, as I was saying to Mohsen,
a coffee table book. You put four legs and
you’ve got a table. So I’ve been occupied by
Le Corbusier for many years and I have yet to know why. It’s clear that when
dealing with Le Corbusier one deals not only with
architecture, was discourse, but with what an architect
is in today’s world, and this is what I
will discuss today. So many thanks,
Antoine and Michael, for the invitation under
the umbrella of Mohsen. I’m very happy to be here. Many thanks for
your introduction. These introductions always
seem to be funeral orations, but it’s better to hear
them when you’re alive. And yes, I am very
happy to be here today because I realized that
I had given my first ever talk in this building
exactly 30 years ago, when Harry Cobb was
running the program, and it was a great memory. So Le Corbusier, I would start
with an image of his last book entitled Mise au Point. Mise au Point was
published in ’66, one year after Le Corbusier’s death. Mise au Point
translates as focusing the cinematographic concept. Focusing means setting
the lens in order to have the greatest possible
sharpness on the topic chosen, while handling the depth of
the entire field photographed. Focusing is, therefore,
an operation of selection, which isolates during a
short moment a fraction from the field and
makes it visible. I would like, in
the spirit, to try to focus with a
certain sharpness some of the effects of
the political actions of Le Corbusier at different
moments in his trajectory, avoiding at once to dilute
them in a large vision of an extended context,
and avoiding also to focus on the only,
and very complex psychology of the character. Le Corbusier used, at the
end of his life, the metaphor of focusing, of mise au point. But he never clarified,
really, his very problematic relationship to politics. Le Corbusier had started to
acquire a worldwide visibility, and he was already considered as
a problematic political animal for the conservative
writers of the 1930s. This Swiss Alexander
von Senger on the left, Camille Mauclair, very
reactionary Paris journalist. He was considered as the
Trojan horse of Bolshevism. During the last spring,
2015, he has suddenly become a supporter, and even a
key player in French facists. It’s what Xavier de Jarcy–
a publicist, a journalist has pretended using
quite a large number of existing scholarship
to demonstrate his thesis without returning
to this old story of the 1930s, which I will mention later. Let’s just say that
there’s a long time that Le Corbusier’s
flirtation with the right had been unveiled. I’m thinking of the work of
[? mary ?] [? macleod ?], Robert Fishman in this country,
Stanislov [? funmos ?], [? remi ?] [? boduit. ?] But
these very delicate questions had never been brought in
front of public opinion except in Switzerland, by basically
anti-modern agitators like Daniel [? de ?] [? juillet ?]
and [? pierre ?] [? fray. ?] So this is contentious matter. Le Corbusier has been drawn
during the past season one side lead to the right. And what I want to
do today is, in order to follow the pattern of
zigzag which I’ve mentioned in my title, to try to draw an
artist on the hypothetical way to try to show other aspects of
his involvement with politics. I would like to this focus on
a series of specific moments in his relationship to
politics by identifying positions that keep returning
with a sudden frequency. The first position
is simply what I would call denigration, the
repeated affirmation that he’s not interested in politics. In a letter of 1927 he
wrote to his mother, I will never occupy
myself with politics. And here, I want to
just to underline how important– in respect
to the previous scholarship has been the publication
of thousands of letters by Le Corbusier. He has probably written 20,000
to 25,000 serious letters in his life. Among them, several
thousands to his mom, as he used to write her
at least every week in order to convince her
that he was the best son. That is, the other one, the
musician, was not the genius, he was. So this is very important,
and his mother died in 1960 at the age of 100 years. So he wrote to her for exactly
53 years, at least once a week. So count the number of letters. And in a message of 1930 to
Helene de Mandrot– Helene de Mandrot was with
the Swiss Madame who had hosted the first Congress in
the National Congress of Modern Architecture in la
Serraz– he accomplishes what I would call a
rather eliminating chromatic operation. “Politics, I am colorless, as
the groups created in support of our ideas are
Redressement francais, military Lyautey bourgeois”–
Lyautey was a very conservative reform-oriented military–
“communist, socialist, radical, league of nations,
royalist, and fastest. When one mixes all the colors,
as you know, we get white.” So Le Corbusier will have
a sort of manifest phobia for politics, but his
latent– if I may oppose, contrast according to a Freudian
figure, manifest and latent– his latent interest
is continuous. If he never clearly
joins a political force, he will never stop positioning
himself in relationship to the balance of power
at a given moment, while being, in his turn,
used by political forces. And I want to insist on this
aspect– using politics, being used by politics. The campaign of
public relationship which he had started in 1920
by publishing the journal L’Esprit nouveau, and
then by introducing his projects on
the Parisian scene has, at a very early moment,
made from him a public figure. A figure the press
cannot ignore. So each of the
configurations of the pattern of his political
affects must be read according to two perspectives. The one of the authors who
criticize or celebrate him– here, for instance, I had
mentioned the right wing guys, I will mention the left
very soon– and according to a perspective in
which he appropriates the discourse of his speaking
partners in politics. The first encounter between Le
Corbusier and French politics after World War I takes
place in the pages of the communist daily,
L’Humanite [inaudible]. The Belgian born art
critic Jacques Mesnil, who was very closely
related Henry van de Velde, discusses in 1920 the thesis
of a contemporary city of 3 million inhabitants. Mesnil considers,
“It is now obvious that we kept these societies no
longer capable of an evolution that would allow for a
tolerable common life, and that every problem dealing
with construction of cities is thus a communist
problem, and this should be considered under this angle.” However, he will consider
that Le Corbusier has remained on the ground
of actual observation, and criticizes the
idea of skyscrapers. Why, does he write, “Creating
the center a shadowy, totally insalubrious core,
when the solution of expending of urban surface
appears as more logical.” So in short, he’s a
supporter of a garden city. At that moment Le
Corbusier can be considered socially as a sort of small,
frustrated businessmen, after the bankruptcy of
his Alfortville brick factory, which you see here,
very well-analyzed by Tim Benton. He sees in the social movements,
in the social uproar, one of the causes of his failures. And this is what he writes
to the Swiss writer William Ritter, who was one of
these gurus at that time, after Le Corbusier
consumed a series of gurus. He ended up symbolically
killing all of them. The painter L’Eplattenier
who told him to draw, Perret, who told him
to build, Behrens who told him to
deal with industry, Ozenfant, who told him to be a
player of the Parisian scene, and Ritter who told him to–
Ozenfant who told him to paint, Ritter told him to write. They were all– he rejected all
of them, one after the other. But you will see that he
continues writing to Ritter. “The week,” he writes in
1919, “the final scene of a full year of hardy and
stubborn labor will be played. I gain the highest position. I gain a fortune. Everything is prepared and
accepted– a fabulous ascension in the highest spheres
of Parisian life.” He has made it in
Paris, his dream. “I will create my five
million company another one, built with my ideas
and my patterns, with stockholders who are like
the order of St. James for me. Five weeks ago a threatening 1st
of May had stopped everything. Yesterday, the strikers started
everywhere and everything will burst.” So you see the
frustration of someone who sees in the labor
movement a major, major risk. Le Corbusier had
a standing passion for modern and
concentrated capitalism. He had perceived it
when he was working for Peter Behrens in 1911. Behrens was, at that time,
designing the entire production and the facilities of Walther
Rathenau’s AEG, and L’Esprit nouveau, would be particularly
alert to the politics of Rathenau after the war,
before his assassination in 1920. It is interesting also to
note a coincidence which had escaped me when writing
the introduction to Vers Une Architecture, kindly
mentioned by Michael. The German title of the book is
Kommende Baukunst, architecture to come, and it’s very
striking to compare it with this very important
book in which Rathenau, still during the war, was
describing– was presenting what a new economy
could be for postwar Germany. So after this
experience in Berlin, which is absolutely
fundamental, Le Corbusier will address himself to the
managers of the organization age as Rathenau. At the same time he would,
in his projects– and I don’t need to show you a slide
of the Ville Contemporaine, Contemporary City. I don’t know if Antoine was also
struck by that slide when I was giving these lectures in Paris. If you have a mental slide
of the Contemporary City, you know that the center sort
of stuck corner of city crown, to use the term
[inaudible], are the glass towers of the managers. Le Corbusier had grown in La
Chaux-de-Fonds, the [inaudible] of a very modern and
well-organized capitalism which was also extremely
internationalized. For instance, the knowledge
of America– people in La Chaux-de-Fonds, who
were exporting the watches to this country was amazing. The business
people, the business of the entrepreneurs
in Le Chaux-de-Fonds were dynamic and
creative, and fighting with a very powerful
workers’ movement for the hegemony of a city. And in this context,
the fluctuations of municipal politics
will have an effect on the projects of young
journalist slash Le Corbusier as, again, demonstrated
in his correspondence. Can I have the next one? Yes, so here you
see, for instance, what he rise to Ritter at
the moment in which he’s trying to publish
his chronicles– the chronicles of his
journey to the orient. What you see on the top
is a very strange document which I have found in
the archive of Pierre Jeanneret, which is now
at the Canadian Center of Architecture. Le Corbusier published
Voyage d’Orient, The Journey to the East,
as a book only– well, he got published
after his death, and he was working
on it in 1965. But he had sent the
articles he had published in the local
newspapers to his dad, and his dad glued them, as you
see, on the catalog selling alpinisma gear, as he was
a very active alpinist. So it’s a sort of mock book
which was made by his dad, and which has never
been published or even this
exhibited to this day. It’s a funny thing. But Jeanneret is
particularly preoccupied with the idea of knowing where
he will publish his articles. He refuses– and
this is what one finds in his correspondence
with his master L’Eplattenier– to write in the conservative
paper Le National because he doesn’t want to
have too nationalistic profile. He tries to write in
the socialist newspaper [inaudible], but is
also very careful of not being identified to the left. So the conversation
with his parents leads him to be almost
passive in this respect. At the end of 1911, the election
of a socialist municipality seems likely in his
hometown, where he’s teaching in the local school. And what will happen is that
the socialist municipality will close the section
of the school in which he was teaching. So he will, at that
moment, completely abandon his
left-leaning positions, as he announces it to
Ritter in this letter. “It is both strange,” he
writes, “and hard to take note of a gradual
deformation of my thoughts.” Very lucid, self-conscious. “Upon my arrival here I believed
in the socialist and hated Le National. A socio– their boss–
has slowly, cowardly, murdered us through his
despicable, constant lies. So my socialism is
frightened, and doubts. No, Le National
doesn’t progress, but the abyss is
then still deeper. Nothing, because I have
been hit by a single man.” It’s also a moment
in which Jeanneret is extremely interested
in the German situation, and a part of his politics are
also inflected by his response to Germany. An important episode which has
been overlooked for many years is the episode in
which he starts writing an unpublished an even
an uncompleted book entitled, France or Germany? You see on the
right– and I think it’s quite interesting– you
see on the right the sketch of the book– sketch lay out. The idea was to have an album
we’ve with, on the left, the German colors– a frame of
German colors– on the right, the French colors,
and a sort of term by term comparison of
developments in decorative arts and architecture
from 1871 to 1914. So it’s very
interesting to see that, because when you
realize that Vers Une Architecture,
[inaudible] architecture, has nearly one third historical
photographs– when you realize that this book, the first book
on which Le Corbusier was going to work was a historical
consideration of city planning– that this
one was also a history– we have a young
architect who was also trying to be engaged in
historical interpretation. Jeanneret, who was
extremely drawn to very important reformers,
such as the industrialist Karl-Ernst Osthaus on the
left, would completely abandon Germany and
turn against Germany after the early
bombings of World War I. And he will, in particular, use
this in a rather chauvinistic matter. Sorry, he will use this
publication which he never completely finished. I’ve published all the elements
of the projects which he’s not shaped to the end as a book. He used his book to demonstrate
that if the Germans seem to be forward in terms
of decorative art and architecture,
it is because they had copied the early
French experiment and made them more consistent,
thanks to their organization. Good, 1917, 1918–
two revolutions in Russia and Germany
will be a real trauma for the young
adventurer Jeanneret is, as it is what he will write
to William Ritter again saying witnessing the victory
of the brute working class with its insolence
and, one the other end, the great power of money– of
finance– he wrote to Ritter, the ones who really know,
the ones who really work, the ones who are
rich by the spirit and the other ones
who are suffering. Clearly, himself. In a letter sent
to him, his mother discusses the
reflection these events had had on the peaceful
country Switzerland was. Also, a mini revolution. “Maybe you’ve read the papers
that Switzerland has just lived through lugubrious
days and that, if the Bolshevik conspiracy
had succeeded we would be like the unfortunate Russians.” Just imagine. “Yes, we’ve had the general
strike with all it entails. No more light, no
communications, no work. Everywhere, but
more severe here, as the city council
helped the workers.” The famous city council,
which was hated by Jeanneret. “However, the real Swiss woke
up, created its white guard, and calm has been restored
without any blood spilled.” The hostility of Marie-Charlotte
Amelie Jeanneret, Le Corbusier’s mother, against
the Bolsheviks will only grow, and she will
extremely violent when he will travel to Moscow in the
late ’20s, warning her younger son against the
risks he would face in Moscow with these Bolsheviks,
who were also all Jews, she wrote. The last chapter of Towards
an Architecture– Vers Une Architecture–
Architecture de Revolution is a very important
text in this context. This chapter has almost
been the [? epinomis ?] of the anti-book. The book was meant,
at a certain point, to be called Architecture ou
Revolution as this chapter. But what is exactly this
revolution, is the question. Is it the revolution which
has frightened Marie-Charlotte Amelie in Switzerland? Is it the revolutions of
Berlin, or Munich, or Budapest, or of the Bolsheviks? Le Corbusier– well,
still Jeanneret for a couple of months– opens
his heart to Ritter in 1919. “Unavoidably,” he writes, “there
will be revolt and revolution, crises, punctured abscess,
and an even greater sadness. In 1914 the world’s mechanism
was cracked, undermined. One has only to live with
one’s own satisfaction. Find all the
resources in oneself.” The small businessmen speaking. “Close the windows
in front of the dogs and expect a better tomorrow. Before the war, money was not
the exact measure of value. Today a chaotic infamy rules. The social ideal was beautiful,
but the march of a socialist is disgusting, discouraging. The sad, the neurasthenic,
and the tired ones will suffer indefinitely.” Really disgusted, and
now established in Paris under the name of Le
Corbusier, Jeanneret seems to wait motionless, a
social transformation which [inaudible]. He ruminates his rancor
against the agitators who are trying to develop–
to create uprisings among the exploited classes. In a handwritten note
which I have found, following the article of
Mesnil in L’Eplattenier he notes– a very
important quote– “Urbanization is a formidable
adversary of the agitator. It deprives him of his raison
d’etre, of his daily bread.” And this is exactly
where, here, that we find the source of a famous
conclusion of architecture or revolution, which I will
show you in the manuscript. You see the last sentence which
has been added with a pen. It was not on the typed script.
“Revolution can be avoided.” Revolution can be
avoided by what? By working on an organization
and by deterring the agitators of continuing their dirty job. So I think this is quite
an important element of the context. Mesnil doesn’t seem to be
scared by this declaration, and tries even to underline
the parallel attitudes both men have. “When you draw” and it’s a
very extraordinary sentence, “When you draw the plans
for a vast modern city, your eyes march in utopia
as we, when we plan–” we, for communists– “when we
plan a new society in defining our line we answer two needs
that are real and pressing. As you, when drafting your plans
and imagining your main roads. No architect can conceive of
a general plan of a big city without thinking about
the social system it is based upon.” So in a way, Mesnil
consolidates the ideas that Le Corbusier
will always have of being a sort of
revolutionary of modern times. As soon as the Bolsheviks are
really interested in himself, thanks to publications,
they read– Trotsky reads L’Esprit nouveau,
so Le Corbusier is very well known in Moscow, and
he’s invited in 1928 to work on a competition. He wins the competition for
the Central [? sayuse ?], it’s a story which
I’ve told elsewhere. Just to say one thing,
the Central [? sayuse ?] competition is probably the only
one in architectural history where all the competitors
met and signed together a statements saying, we
do not deserve a job, give it to Le Corbusier
because he’s the greatest. I don’t think this has ever
happened anywhere since. So anyway, he’s greeted by
a very enthusiastic crowd of colleagues and politicians. Here we see his big
lecture in Moscow, with Lunacharsky, who was
the people’s commissioner to education and a very old
revolutionary on one side, and Alexander
Vesnin, the founder of architectural constructivist
on the other side. So in Moscow he
will be extremely– he will feel extremely
supported and boosted by the conditions,
in which he was able to build what
will remain his largest building until World War II. Corresponding with Ritter,
who in his belated paranoia, will see in this commission the
effect of a Freemason’s plot. Le Corbusier is then
presented in the Russian press by being the very
figure of the new man, and he will develop
extremely close relationship with some of the people here. In particular, with
Vesnin I found in Moscow, in the archive of
Vesnin drawings which he sent him in 1929. So there’s a little collection
of such purest or late purist drawings. In exchange Vesnin gave
him constructivist drawing, which was sold by the rather
uneducated leadership of the Le Corbusier Foundation at that
time, some 20 years ago. So now things are different. In front of what he would
call the plan factory. The plan factory, the
promised land of technicians. He will redefine, in
his own way, Bolshevism. Seeing in the term
bolshe– bolshe in Russia is the comparative for bolshoi,
which means great or big. It means greater. So he saw the notion
of great, which exalted him and pushed him to
over-bidding in his project. He was seduced by the
constructivist colleagues he met, and discovered in them
very high intentions which put the work over, above
a simple function of usage and giving to work the
lyricism that brings joy. So in fact, he used at that
time the constructivist in his polemics with
the functionalist like Hannes Meyer in a
sort of triangulation, which will be typical
of his relationships. Using Moscow for
his Western fights, using his Western
positions in Moscow. His relationship with
Moscow will extend. He will be consulted on
the destiny of a city. At that time he
reads– and this is one of the interesting aspects. Having people’s
libraries doesn’t tell us if they read the book. Finding hand written
notes tells us something. So in 1929, he reads
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract and
annotates with a pencil a passage in which
a philosopher– the Swiss philospher– described
the most perfect society one could think of. He writes in the margin,
“The matter you list USSR, but on the misleading
postulate which is essentially spiritualist, faith.” So for him, he
sees in Russia also a sort of centering on
faith during that time. The enthusiasm he has
for Moscow in those years is not paid back,
and his project called the Radiant
City for Moscow is criticized both in
Moscow and in Paris. And again, I’m returning to the
communist daily L’Eplattenier where the cinema critique
Leon Moussinac– who was a very important critic of
the world of decorative arts and cinema– affirms
Le Corbusier refuses to face the fact that only
the socialist revolution has created the conditions
of such freedom. “Le Corbusier turns a blind
eye to political problems. For him, it is enough to adopt
a radical republican stand. The mobilization of a soil for
the cause of the salut public. Le Corbusier doesn’t
believe in class struggle. Only one thing
counts, the plan.” And it is true that plan is the
name of a journal for which, in the editorial committee of
which Le Corbusier is active, together with a
series of reformers. And this is the nucleus of the
discussion of Le Corbusier cast as a fascist, because many
of the editors of Plans will drift to the
right over, and to be on the side of the hardest
faction of the [? viceroy ?] regime. Others will drift to the
left and to resistance. After Plans, Le
Corbusier was engaged in the publication of Prelude,
which you see on the left, and which celebrated, on one
hand, the ambiguous virtues of Italian fascists and
those of Bolshevism. So other left wing
critiques were very radical against Le Corbusier. One of them– and I don’t
have time today to discuss his role– was a very
interesting young architect from Germany–
born in [? elsas ?] and trained in Germany. His name is Roger Ginsburger. He has had a very important role
in Europe during those years, as he had married this young
woman on the left, Doris, who was the sister-in-law
of Richard Neutra. So Ginsburger or would become a
translator of Neutra in Europe, and would also publish the
first articles on Nutra’s work in Los Angeles in Europe. Then Ginsburger will publish
a very interesting book on France’s modern
architecture in Vienna. He will become an
agitator for the left, and this is what you see here. He write in a journal
called Commune, in which he discusses– he
says, in short, that after Le Corbusier’s project for
the palace of Soviet had been rejected that, in
the end, it was no one– well, this is very clear
statement. “Those who have nothing
else to do will have to decide whether the
Soviet Union would do better to talk of bourgeois
architecture in the manner of Le Corbusier or of
Nenot– the guy who had won the League of
Nations competition– or whether it ought to
prove which of the two is more bourgeois.” Very radical. Close to the positions
of Hennes Meyer in a way. Ginsburger will
completely vanish from the architectural
scene in 1933, and will resurface
as one of the leaders of the French
Resistance in 1945, and continuing his life
developing a political career. Good, so I wanted to insist
on this aspect of the plan. What Le Corbusier found in
the Soviet experience, which was also an object of
admiration for very broad political circles,
was the planed economy. And here we see how, in Prelude
1953, one of the editorial pieces is asking for
a plan after the model of a Soviet plan. But at this moment– at the
moment in which Moussinac and Ginsburger are in a way
criticizing very, very strongly as a sort of class
enemy, it is true that Le Corbusier has
turned towards Rome without abandoning all these
illusions in respect to Russia. And this is what we see here
in this amazing inscription of the complete second volume
to his excellency, Mussolini. “In memory of his harangue to
the young Italian architects in June, ’34, as I
was in Rome trying to prove that there can
only be unity in the human works through the
equivalence of a potential of creative energy.” This is pure jargon. What follows is clearer. “Every plagiarism and
every glance backwards can only bring death and mildew. With my respect
and my admiration.” So what is Le
Corbusier thinking of? He’s of course thinking of
the direct role Mussolini had in promoting the modernist
project for the station of Florence on top, in
promoting modern architecture for the post offices built
by the Italian state. And also, of
course, Le Corbusier was really connected
with Bardi, who had, in 1931 made this
propaganda collage largely derived from the
room of horrors, which was a page of
Towards an Architecture. So what one can say
at this moment is– and I’m returning
to Prelude– is that the interest for fascism,
for modern capitalists, and Bolshevists
sometimes coexisted. For instance,
[? lemure ?], who is one of the editors
of Plans and Prelude write, in 1929, the book
called [speaking french] A Conversation Under
the Eiffel Tower. And he celebrates in this book
three names, Le Corbusier, Lenin, and Citroen,
the car maker. So you see these convergences. And here we have
to focus on what is the most characteristic
aspect of Le Corbusier’s position. Like [? maricel ?]
[? leoute ?], to whom– the sort of figurehead
of modernizing– to whom he had sent
every one of his books, Le Corbusier was
elitist above all. He was systematically trying
to create a direct relationship with the leaders above
the political machines and the assemblies. Considering that
democracy could only be an obstacle to
his projects he would privilege other
forms of powers. The powers of corporations,
the power of industrialists, and will try
systematically to act on the advisors in a very
clever mode– very particular mode– on the advisers of
leaders of parties and states. So this is what he would try in
Rome, acting through Giuseppe Bottai, who was
one of the leaders of the modernizing
left wing of fascism, and this is what he
would try to do in Italy. And here I want to risk perhaps
more ambitious [inaudible]. The history of 20th
century architecture has been written according
to the following position. Totalitarian regimes use
architects to their benefit and manipulate them. And I would risk exactly
the opposite hypothesis. What it seems in the trajectory
of people like Le Corbusier, but also of
[? piacentini ?] in Italy, of people like [? jofan ?]
in Russia, and of many, many architects whose career
has spanned several political regimes, it’s
perhaps the opposite. That architects manipulate
the regimes, or at least use regimes to their own
goals without necessarily bending to their architectural
expectations or specifications. And this is what seems to be
the case with Le Corbusier. It is interesting to see
that after having tried to operate in Italy, he will
be a supporter of Republican Spain during the war. Under the pressure of a
circle of people around him– of Charlotte [? perion ?],
[? pierre ?] [? jeanren– ?] but also because he has come
closer to the French left. So this is painting which he
made in 1939 mourning the fall of Barcelona, which was the
Republican the capital of Spain at the end of the Civil War. He was also very close
to Josep Lluis Sert, and had connections
with the Republicans. He accepts, at that
moment, to be also a member of a committee created
in order to support refugees from Spain. In particular,
architects and artists. So he takes part to the
action of these groups. It is true that this
new attitude is largely over determined by
his new relationship with the French left. New relationship that take
place as soon as the left is coming close to the power. In the 1930s, a political
change take shape in France. The left is reorganized
in front of the rising fascist men [inaudible]. Le Corbusier will try to find
new speaking partners in order to introduce his ideas. Also, designing
new projects that will respond to the expectations
of his new political situation. Between the two world wars
the left, the French left, was made of three major parties. The first one was the radical
party, second the socialist, and the third, the
Communist party. The main leader of the radicals
was [? heir ?] [? uff, ?] a mayor of [? fleon ?], but
[? heir ?] [? uff ?] had already a pet architect. He was using the services of
[? turner ?] [? garnier. ?] One of the strongest supporters
of Le Corbusier in Paris in the ’20s was this guy–
a strange looking guy– de Monzie. A minister in multiple positions
during the third republic he was, in particular,
the one who– minister of
commerce– who pushed for the construction of the
pavillion of L’Esprit Nouveau in 1925. His former mistress,
Gabrielle de Monzie, was one of the patrons of one
of Le Corbusier’s major villas of the 1920s. The relationship of Le Corbusier
with the socialist party are from being mediocre. He knows the work of the
builders of social housing in the Paris region. And for instance,
in 1928 he had been active in trying to invite
to the first [french] in La Serraz–
[inaudible] who was one of the main organizers of
the programs of social housing. Here we see a piece of the
new socialist review of 1930 in which Dexionne
who was a rising star among the young socialists,
considers that Le Corbusier’s ideas are important. “The socialists must
be the first to approve of a plan [french] replacing
the miasma of our slums with a splendid city of labor.” Strange description
for city which had the skyscrapers of
managers in its center. “It is too bad that he
has–” he, Le Corbusier– “has only received, however, two
unfair comments and sarcasm.” Also, a revealing
little publication is, in 1934, a publication
of the major trade union, which has an
educational center to train union activists. And one of their publications
deals with architecture, and is entitled From
Pharaohs to Le Corbusier, and celebrates the
virtues of Le Corbusier’s criticizing the resistance
of public opinion. Le Corbusier also comes closer
in the second part of the ’30s, or a man called Andre
Morizet, the mayor of Boulonge-Billancourt
who shares his admiration for Haussmann. You see Morizet here. Another strange
looking character. And the book he
published in 1932 was the first book since the
late 19th century to discuss, in a positive manner– in a
constructive manner– the work of Haussmann Convergent
with what Le Corbusier he had done in
urbanism in 1925, we see him considering
that Haussmann had done great stuff instead
of the miserable tools he had. And he’s pleading, of
course, for a sort of hyper Haussmannization of Paris. Anyway, for Morizet, Le
Corbusier will design a grand square around the city all built
by [? tourney ?] [? garnier. ?] So another very
significant project. One of very few he would
design in the suburbs. The first project
Le Corbusier tries to promote in the
direction of the parties of the popular front–
a popular front which had been created for the
municipal election of 1935– is this project for
an urban renewal scheme in the center
of Paris, for an area called the insalubrious
block number six. Here you see this project,
which is a development of pieces of [french], adjusting
it to the division– to the real estate
situation of Paris. In the Paris
municipal council he will use the communist
elected officials. Thanks to the
friendly connection of Charlotte
Perriand, the designer working with him with a
series of left wing activists. After the victory of
the people’s front– of the popular front
in 1936 he will also contact the leaders
of the front. In particular,
the prime minister Leon Blum, affirming
that this project would be like grafting a
piece of healthy skin– of healthy epiderm–
into the old Paris. In more than we’ve–
Leon Blum is a socialist. The contacts he develops
with the most extremist party of the coalition–
the communist party– is very important. He will, from this
moment onwards, present himself as a left
winger attached to the success of the popular France program. And it is interesting that
he, maybe between ’36 and ’39, he will never stop
ensuring the government and the forces supporting it of
the importance of subscribing to his own program
of public works. Here, a letter to
Vaillant-Couturier in 1936, I think. “The popular front
has only one way to demonstrate that
something new has appeared in terms of social justice,
building right away in Paris examples
of housing that would reflect state of
the art modern technology, and are designed to put
at the service of man.” IE, this project, which was a
sort of smaller– much smaller, much reduced, and implementable
version of the [french]. In the same manner as he
had given to the Soviets advice in terms of Bolshevism–
when his project for Paris the Soviets had rejected,
he told the Bolsheviks that they were not
revolutionary enough. They were not true to
their own ideology. In the same vein he will try to
sell his projects to the people front. It is clearly to the left
wing of French politics that his project for a
National Center of Popular Festivities of 1936 is offered. And it is very true, as a lot of
the mystique of event coalition is related to these massive
rallies, such of the one you see here, which was very
important in developing the spectacular mass
movements of a period. It is also true
that Le Corbusier had seen other examples, which
he brought to the forefront in his reflections. For instance, in 1935
he had been in Zlin, then the shoe making
capital of the world in Czechoslovakia, where he had
seen the parades of the sports unions created by the shoemaker. But what is important is to see
how this project for a center is loaded. In the Oeuvre Complete of Le
Corbusier, edited by Max Bill, Bill will write, “Such a
center must be national. There are, today,
many circumstances in which a human crowd has to
commune unanimously in front of emotion produced by art. Music, lyrics, theater, mime,
decoration, and visual arts will find here new unlimited
spaces of expansion. New creations will emerge.” So in fact, the new regime–
this provisional new regime is extremely stimulating,
as he will again write in Des Canons,
des munitions in 1938. “An entirely new
frame would be created for festivities, not derived
from ancient other precedents. A civic tool of modern times.” Le Corbusier will try to promote
this project and nothing will happen, as the public works
he’s expecting are cancelled in favor of a production of
weaponry that the threatening Nazi Germany is
imposing to the country. Another consequence
of a popular France. [inaudible] is the creation of
the Maison de la Culture, house of culture, created by Louis
Aragon and Andre Malraux, two ministers, to second
being later one of the key makers of cultural
policies in the 1960s. For Maison de la
Culture, as you see here– this graph is
quite interesting, it’s shaped as a house. And you see that there
is a union of architects in which you find the names such
as Perret, [? lusa, ?] or Le Corbusier. There’s also an association
called Cine Liberte, which is important in my story. Why is it so? Cine Liberte, within
this framework in which artists, architects,
movie makers, writers were invited to work collaboratively
with Cine Liberte association, which was presided– which
was chaired by Moussinac, the cinema critic
I’ve mentioned before, would sponsor and produce
very important movies. One of them– two of them
were made by Jean Renoir. The first one was called La
Vie est a Nous, life is ours. The second one, La Marseillaise,
would be sort of a patriot film corresponding to the new
directions of the popular front in front of the rise of Nazism. And Cine Liberte
will also give– will the production facility in
which Jean Epstein will operate Epstein– was, with his
extremely curious triangular face– was an old
acquaintance of Le Corbusier. He had written in L’Esprit
nouveau already chronicles on cinema. In 1937 Epstein shot of film
sponsored by the main trade union, the general
confederation of labor, which was called
Liberte [french], the builders, the
heroes of which were unionists and two
architects, of Auguste Perret and Le Corbusier. [speaking french] It’s shot in the apartment–
[speaking french] his own apartment. [speaking french] [end video playback] The film is amazing. There’s only one copy surviving,
and I’ve been able to find it. It’s amazing
because it shows how much of the convergence
between what’s we’ve seen– the prophetic
discourse he developed and the prophetic discourse
of the left of that moment was real. Le Corbusier also participates
to other activities of the Maison de la Culture. In particular, he is engaged
in a very intense discussion with a series of
artists including people like [inaudible] and
others on the question of realism, which is
an echo of what is happening on the Russian scene. He continues to address, during
these very heated months, the leaders of the
people front and, in particular
Vaillant-Couturier, with very strange language. And here what appears is
that the positions which he will later develop under
[inaudible] for the evacuation of a transfer of the factories
and the working class away from Paris are
already positions that he tries to sell to the
communist leaders who find their voters among the workers. So in a way, he can not be
accused of being demagogic. In this respect he’s
even rather naive in proposing what he says
to Vaillant-Couturier. “Part of the working
class will find in a new milieu, new
conditions, allowing for the often-mentioned
exodus of industry. The cleansing of the unlivable,
illegal areas of Paris that have nothing to do there
will also be undertaken.” So a project, which is a
project of social cleansing, that these leaders had
no reason to endorse. He will also try
to mobilize some of the leaders of the
Maison de la Culture, such as the writer–
the former surrealist– Aragon, who had been one of the
founders of [inaudible] ’20s. In respect to his
own strategies– so we see here, for
instance, and this again consolidates what I’ve called
the triangular relationship with Moscow and the French left. We see here, for instance,
a letter to Aragon where he lists a
series of points to discuss in a
possible meeting. And he adds, the radiant
city in the USSR, and ask Moscow to
invite me, and ask Moscow to pay me $5,000– very
important, very important. It’s also one interesting factor
of Le Corbusier relationship inside this triangle of Paris,
Moscow, the left, that is still waiting for the fees of a
Central [? sayuse ?] which had remained unpaid since 1929. So he’s very eager to have
good contact with the Russians, who will end up paying this
money–$5,000 in pre-depression money– just before for the
outbreak of World War II. In 1937, Vaillant-Couturier,
whom I’ve mentioned already, dies aged 45 years. The Maison de la Culture–
he was the president of it– organizes a competition
to create a monument in a suburb in an
area of Paris where he had been active since 1929. The archives of Maison de
la Culture have been lost. I’ve just been able to
talk, some 25 years ago, with a guy who was the
secretary of the times, [? jean ?] [? nikola ?], and who
gave me some details about this competition. The monument planned
by Le Corbusier, and the other ones
have been lost, is really an impressive one. It is probably one of the first
in the history of architecture to have been planned
in relationship with this perception
from the automobile. As you see, it is not a memorial
made for the static viewer or for the pedestrian. It is made to be perceived from
a speeding automobile entering Paris. It’s is a sort of very
monumental [inaudible] on Paris. This is the– Le
Corbusier and [inaudible] write in their presentation,
no, the monument facing the road to Italy presents its
front– the term of front in relationship to popular
front is very cleverly chosen. It is offered from very
far to the travelers. It becomes the first
beacon of Paris. After it, one enters Paris. Therefore, it can
possibly send a message. So a very powerful monument
which will send a message. The message, as you
see here, conveyed by thee symbolical motifs. We see them already
on this drawing, which is a preparatory drawing,
and even more on this one. What are these? They are the head of the
speaker– Vaillant-Couturier, was a very famous speaker,
a very popular speaker– the hand of the speaker,
the book, each of them are playing a particular role. The head, in a way, connotates
the recognized skill of a speaker. The book, his literary
abilities, and the hand has a particular role. This is related– the
hand of the speaker is related to a particular
speech delivered in 1936 by the main leader of
the communist party, Thorez, which was a key turning point
in the politics of the moment. Speaking at a radio
station called Radio Paris, Thorez had said, “We
hold out our hand to you Catholic worker,
employee, artisan, peasant, although
we are secular, because you are
our brother and you are overwhelmed by the
same cares as we are.” So in a way, what Le
Corbusier was referencing in this project was a
particular political gesture which could only be
interpreted as coming from this moment in
which the left was aspiring to expand its ranks. At the same time, what
is also significant is that this theme
here is probably– I’m not 100% sure– the first
sculpture that Le Corbusier ever designed. He would start designing
sculptures during the war and working with the Bretton
woodworker [? savigna ?] to produce them. And we see in this that
the hand had already been present–
the idea of a hand had already been present
in previous works. On the left you see
this 1930 painting in which you already have
the hand sort of frame box. Here, the block is present
again and holds together book, hand, and head. And the box will
continue its life in further works of
sculpture– implemented ones. But this convergence is here,
I think, very, very important. The jury of the competition
is composed of the movie maker Jean Renoir, who was part
of the Maison de la Culture. The interior architect
[? francois ?] [? jordan ?], extremely important in France
at that time, and Moussinac, and according to what has
been said to me by [? jean ?] [? nikola ?], the
project was dropped– Le Corbusier’s project was
rejected because of Moussinac, who had not forgotten their
discussions of the early 1930s. What follows is a
war, a world war, which starts in
September of 1939. The Communist party
is banned, and yet. Le Corbusier frequentations
are mentioned by a series of people, and
lead to police inquiry. So this is document found in the
archives of the Paris police, compiled on May 18th, 1940. The very day in which Philippe
Petain becomes vice minister in the government
of Paul Reynaud. An anonymous information
had signalled that the two Jeanneret cousins,
Le Corbusier and Pierre, were notorious communists. However, the conclusion
of the report is negative. And what follows is, of
course, a complete change in French politics
with the inauguration of the collaborationist
regime of Vichy. The left wing parties– for the
most part the left wing members of parliament, the
ones still free, as the communists
have been arrested, vote against this government. The others support
the government, including people like Anatole de
Monzie the whom I’ve mentioned. And Le Corbusier writes probably
to his mother that the regime is endorsing his idea. So talking of zigzag,
this time he finally has a feeling that his
ideas were listened to. This book, he writes
to her in 1940, his book rejected
by the communists seems to be the very letter
of Vichy’s guiding ideas, and he insists on this period
in which no more talks, no more rallies, no more meetings. The end of podium
speeches and rallies. The end of parliamentary
eloquence and sterility. Revolution will be achieved. Revolution again, but a
different revolution, probably, will be achieved on
the road to order and not outside of
the human condition. So in this new context,
Le Corbusier’s elitism finds new development, and his
heroes, Hausmann and Louis XIV here become, again, an
object of celebration. Yet, discussing his role
during the Vichy period is something that would
require many seminars and many lectures,
and I will not be able to discuss
this in detail today. My personal response to
Le Corbusier’s engagement with Vichy– it was not
a criminal engagement. The racial lows of
Vichy, banning the Jews almost completely
from architecture were passed and implemented
by an association of architects of which Le
Corbusier was not a member. Or he was not a
leader of it, so he was not– he did not implement
the policies of Vichy. Unlike people who were
doing reconstruction plans, he was not doing
reconstruction plans. He was not doing– working
at normalizing and cleansing the profession. He was simply, as many
people who later will end up in the resistance,
believing, buying the pseudo-revolutionary
agenda of the first years of the government. So in order to measure his
situation, what should be done is not what
[inaudible] has done, which is a collage of quotes. I’ve done that also today,
to a certain degree. What needs to be done is to
consider the entire spectrum of archetects’ positions, in the
manner I have done on a broader base with my book
and show Architecture in Uniform several years ago. So see who were the
absolute criminals. There were some of them who
were punished after the war. Who were the absolute heroes
who were shot by the Germans, or put in jail? Who were the opportunists, the
cynicists, or the indifferent? Basically, most
of the architects. So until such a
broader work is done there is no way we can really
appreciate Le Corbusier’s positions. So after the war
everything starts again, and Le Corbusier moves
again to the left. In an article of 1945, Leon
Blum, former prime minister and future prime minister
of postwar France, again considers
that Le Corbusier is one of the possible– one
of the most promising figures for postwar France. He mentions in these
article of “La Cite Future,” the future city. He mentions two
figures, interestingly. Maria Montessori,
the Swiss teacher, and Le Corbusier,
two Swiss heroes. Le Corbusier tries on his side
to reconstruct a relationship with the communists. He will use his former contacts. For instance, he will send to
Roger Ginsburger– remember Ginsburger, the brother-in-law
of [? nutras ?], who had become a vice president
of the parliament. He send him a copy of his book,
The Three– [speaking french]– The Three Human Settlements. Ginsburger has given me his
copy, which had remained uncut. So he had not read it. He tries to sell his
project in [inaudible], but the local left
wing organizations resist the idea of creating
an entirely new city, and are begging for some
sort of reconstitution of what had existed. At a time in which the
communists in the west are subscribing– they
are obliged to do so– to the program of
socialist realism under pressure of the
Soviets, Le Corbusier remains strangely popular
among the French communists. He’s celebrate now fully
in the page of a newspaper, in the little magazines–
there are little magazines that are not featured in Beatrice
Colomina’s anthology, many of them. In the little magazines,
the communist students of [speaking french]
celebrate his virtues. In this context, and
I’m almost finished, his main political partner
is Eugene Claudius-Petit– a former teacher turned member
of parliament and minister of reconstruction– who
can be located center left on the political map. He would be the only
politician to trusting him, to a point of
engaging him to build many of the buildings
of the city of Ferminy where he was a mayor. On his side, Le Corbusier
will not give up, and will try to recycle the
projects he had developed for the popular front. In particular, he
will try to sell to Andre Malraux, former
director of the Maison de la Culture and minister of
culture of the [? daigle ?] government, his center of
popular manifestations of 1936, without succeeding. In 1962, in a letter– and
this is my last image– in a letter to
Claudius-Petit, he will express his fears
that– he is, at that time, working on the creation of
the foundation, which is still existing today– and he
expresses his fears in respect to the politicization of
this foundation and right. “I’ve never been in politics,
while respecting those who are in it– the good ones.” Not the bad ones. “I’ve had
a political gesture, that of the open hand, the day
one of the two parties that divide the world
for the sake of two different natures
forced me to take side, following a moral obligation.” What is interesting here,
and this is my conclusion, is to realize that
Le Corbusier had been able to manipulate
the meaning of the hand in an extremely clever way. Initially, the hand was clearly
the hand the communists handed over to– handed
out to the Catholic, and this was clear to
everybody in French politics. By rotating it and giving it two
faces, a sort of strange hand which has a front and
maybe another front on the other side,
he was able to– and you know that in Chandigarh,
monument of the open hand is sort of radar that rotates
on the sort of airport that Chandigarh is. So in neutralizing the
communist connotations he had been able to
put it at the service of a sort of vague, postwar,
humanistic discourse. Everything thus seems
as if Le Corbusier had had a totally one sided
view of politics, refusing more or less firmly
according to moments, to be [inaudible] by the
leaders of parties or states. He has never stopped to
consider them as relays, as intermediaries
for his own project, or as stimulating force
for his architectural idea. Taking the Protestant
petit bourgeois he was, taking the
hand handed out by Thorez to the
Catholic worker, he depoliticized it to make a
symbol of harmony out of it, as well as a signal of
his own contribution to the transformation
of the world. So if there’s something to
be learned from this story, it is not only Le Corbusier’s
extreme, what I would say, ambiguity in the
following every meander, every zigzag, every
meander of politics while pretending not to. While pretending to be white,
remember the letter to Monroe. And at the same
time, what is amazing is the ability that
a series of forces have had to capture his ideas. And this brings me
back to my hypothesis, the power manipulating
architecture, or architecture
manipulating from hand with– from the Latin for
hand– architects manipulating politics. Thank you. [applause] Jean-Louis will take a
few questions, comments. Thank you so much
for this lecture. First, I must note the irony
of this notion of zigzag given the donkey’s path, of course. I mean, I don’t know
if you intended this, I just wanted to point this out. My question is,
even though you make a very compelling case that,
yes, of course Le Corbusier flirted with these different
political ideologies and sides according to the
circumstance, when I read between the
lines of your lecture I get the sense that,
at the end of the day, there is one side that
he does lean more toward. And as I understand it,
I would describe that as a kind of bourgeois
center leftism. A kind of maybe decreased,
or slightly less ambitious socialism. I think it’s very
difficult, very difficult. I’m well informed
about socialism despite all the
deviations in the Soviet Union and the related states. It is also about
democracy, and it is clear that Le Corbusier
was never a Democrat. If there’s something he never
was, it is a Democrat– never. He always considered
that Parliaments, assemblies, people, were
really impediments to design. So he could subscribe
to a left wing agenda if he had the contact with the
top leaders or with the right, but he was not a Democrat. In this respect, I
would not put him– I could put him on the
side of a position which can be considered, in the
European context at least, as more left than right, which is
the idea of public ownership, the development of
state intervention. So I think he subscribed to
the idea of a welfare state, and a state which would
guarantee some basic rights, but not through the
exercise of democracy. And as for zigzag– yes, I
should have insisted on this– there is very– here
I have to mention the work of my old
friend Stani von Moos who very, very
humorously remembered, I think in the book called Le
Corbusier Before le Corbusier that one of the fundamental
readings for every Swiss in child in his generation
was Les Voyages en Zigzag by Rodolphe Topffer,
a Geneva born author. So the idea of zigzag
was embedded in a way. And we could also talk of
the [inaudible] meander. So in a way, the
figure of the meander of the complex trajectory
of ideas and people is inscribed in
the history there. I have to start again. Thank you for that
typically beautiful talk. And just a little footnote to
Etienne’s comment, the title also made me think of the
title of Gunter Grass’s novel Crabwalk. But the difference
there is that here’s the artist dissimulating
his own culpability in the guise of an artist
and taking this crabwalk through the 20th century. Here it’s a borrowed
term from the historian, and it makes it more incisive. But my question– and
I totally understand if you’re not interested
in answering this– but Le Corbusier’s advice
from his mother regarding the Bolsheviks and their
underlying racial character, it’s curious if
you can elaborate the milieu for that comment. Yes, well this is another story. So I think we can– so
let’s bring some sandwiches and some drinks. Maybe something we
can address tomorrow. I’ve been asked about four
years ago by the [? ministry ?] of Zurich to write a report
on Le Corbusier and the Jews. Because why? Because The Le
Corbusier Center, which got built by the gallery
owner Heidi Weber in the 1960s– it was completed
after of Le Corbusier’s death– it was built on a piece of land
lent by the city of Zurich, and with a concession
for 50 years. So the city has now
taken back the place, and they were afraid of having
to face a campaign which eventually happened. But less on the anti-Semitic
than– and with the Vichy situation, which
is another issue. So I scanned all
the correspondence of Le Corbusier
with his mom, who was really very [inaudible],
and with all sorts of people, and his dealings–
his public dealings. Le Corbusier never had– unlike
many, many French intellectuals and critics of the time– never
made any public anti-Semitic statement. He was not, as I said, on the
side of the Vichy politics. But there are, nonetheless,
a series of facts. He was brought up in the city
of La Chaux-de-Fonds, in which all the bosses of the
watchmaking industry were Jews, who had all come
from [inaudible], including some cousins of mine,
to a certain degree. And so his dad’s job
was to enamel watch faces– white faces of watches. So it is very likely that
every evening his dad would return home and
say, these bloody Jews, they don’t like my work. They think I’m late. They think I’m too expensive. They don’t pay me. So he was brought in this
atmosphere in which there was sort of primary class–
what I would call primary class anti-Semitism, as all
the bosses were Jews. And this filters. After that, Le Corbusier
was supported by many– by the generation of the
kids of these people. All his first
clients were people who were the younger generation
of his Jewish watchmakers, so you had nothing
to complain about. But this remained,
and this is probably what informed the position
of his mother for many years to come. After that, he had some– this
is the most problematic period in which clearly he
was not– I mean, don’t forget what Europe was,
what France was at that time. There is a French
saying which I like The question is, what
is anti-Semitism, and the answer is, it’s hating
the Jews more than needed. So I want to say that that
mild, almost caricatured anti-Semitism based
on the stereotypes was one of the most frequent
positions in most of Europe at that time. So in the case of Le
Corbusier, it was there. I’m not denying it. It doesn’t lead him
to public statements, and even less to participating
to racial marginalization, and even less to
weirder politics. In 1940, there is
another episode in which he takes– after having
at some point being approached by people in the
Zionist movement. There is very
interesting PhD recently made in Israel about
Le Corbusier’s dealings with the Zionist movement. Because Zionists–
he considered Zionism as a possible resource for
jobs, so he tried to approach and was approached by
some Zionist leaders who, at that time, were
envisioning– in the ’30s, it was not clear that Palestine
would be the Jewish homeland. People who were envisioning
of Zionist projects elsewhere, so it was associated with them. At the time when
the war broke out, and when the Vichy
government passed the first racial
government he say, I’m sorry for the–
basically, it’s not a quote, it’s a sort of paraphrase–
he said basically, I’m sorry for the Jews. It’s really horrible. And he was, by the way,
absolutely no pro-Nazi because his anti-Germanism
was totally rabid. So no one he would have
supported in Germany. Even if once he
made the hypothesis that Hitler could have
won the war, which is what to every normal person could
imagine before Stalingrad in 1942. Everyone would think that
Hitler had a chance of winning. So he said, I’m
sorry for the Jews. It’s really very, very bad,
and really it’s horrible. But they have been looking for
it with their thirst for money. So in one sentence he voices
the old stereotype, and at the same time takes
a distance in respect to what is happening. So anyway, this is a story which
needs– this report has not been published. I can give a copy to
Michael, who can circulate it if you’re interested. And I think it might
answer your question. So, if we are to accept your
proposition that 20th century architecture’s
relationship to politics was not one of servitude
but one of opportunism, then that somehow
tells us that you believe that
architecture in fact managed to produce its project. So you have the belief that in
fact Le Corbusier, regardless of the politics that he would
proclaim through his discourse, his architecture had an agency. And so you have been
talking about the politics of Le Corbusier as
a speech, but not as an architectural project. So my question to you is,
if one was to analyze, now, Le Corbusier through
is architectures, through his plans, through
his visions of the city, what kind of
architect do we have? What kind of politics
are we looking at? And I think that maybe it’s
a different conversation. It’s a different conversation. So here we don’t need two
hours, we need a week. Well, and we need also
to give less credit to Le Corbusier than
what is usually done, because he was extremely
able at bringing– and this is a great
skill for an artist or for a writer– able
at putting together in a manifesto-like format
which were in the air. If you start analyzing where
the Plan Voisin comes from, you have to see it through
the filter of Germany, of discussion on the metropolis
in Berlin, and on high rises after the American model
in Berlin before 1914. So many, many other
idea come from the work of [inaudible] in our
Utopian architect in Paris had version of a century. So Le Corbusier’s
ability to, in a way, to cook with many ingredients
extremely refined dishes is amazing. And it is probably more so
than in his architecture, which is more genuine and, in
the end, more self-referential. But frankly, I would–
and this is always something I’m trying
to do– I’m not putting the city planner and
the architect at the same level. The only implemented city plan
by Le Corbusier is Chandigarh. Basically, what is it? It is, with the exception
of a sculptural complex of a capital, it is
a reinterpretation of a plan of Albert Mayer,
which came from the garden city tradition. So in fact, the implemented city
planning is not revolutionary. The ideas he had about the
reorganization of a big city were, to a large
degree, frightening. And I don’t consider
that they have– they might have a
relevance in making us aware of the importance of
infrastructure, for instance. His discussion of
a parkway, which is something which have done
and mention in the MoMA atlas is really interesting,
because it gives us a view of how he envisioned
the city of infrastructure. But I would not give him
much credit for that. Unlike the credit I give him for
his politics and architecture. So for me, there–
and this is the sphere in which the relationship
with politics was minimal. And don’t see it, frankly,
in the domestic architecture. I see it to a certain degree
in the development of the Unite d’Habitation, a project
which he had already sketched in the mid ’30s,
which he refined during the war and finally sold to the
post-war democratic governments. So complex– I’m not
pretending to have the answer, and we have to
accept not to have a clear answer in front of
such a profuse and, in a way, overwhelming oeuvres. Thank you. So I think we can
all envy the students tomorrow who get to continue
this in the morning. I want to give my very
warm thanks to Jean-Louis. [applause]

4 thoughts on “Jean-Louis Cohen, “The Art of Zigzag: Le Corbusier’s Politics”

  1. This is a high level lecture. Thank you so much for posting it. Remembering my courses of history of architecture, I understand why I had to redo my homework on "Urbanisme", Le Corbusier's book promoting his "plan voisin". Now I know I should have made a third try.

  2. The inability of these researchers to decide which part of the political spectrum Corbusier belongs on derives not from an ambiguity in Corb's feelings – he was decidedly a totalitarian, the ultimate statist and central planner – no the difficulty of placing him on the Left or the Right comes from the failures of the traditional Left/Right political spectrum to accurately encompass all political viewpoints. A more useful model with which to evaluate political leanings is the Nolan Chart, which tracks both Left/Right as well as Statist/Individualist – it is a diamond shape, a two dimensional chart instead of the typical one-dimension normally used. Though still not perfect, it is a much more powerful tool for understanding the politics of a given philosophy.

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