Exhaustive biography of one of the most innovative and influential architects of the 20th century.
Cultural historian Weber (The Clarks of Cooperstown, 2007, etc.) had access to reams of revealing correspondence between Le Corbusier (1887–1965) and his mentor, Swiss music critic William Ritter; his wife; his American mistress; and his parents, especially his mother. Drawing on these archives, the author has produced a vivid, nearly day-by-day account of the architect’s peripatetic professional life and his previously undisclosed personal one. Born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret in the Swiss Alps, he attended art school there; excerpts from the letters reveal his early struggles to free himself from a provincial background, his sexual frustrations and his volatile personality. He moved to Paris at age 29, soon adopted a new name and with the artist Amédée Ozenfant began promoting the artistic movement of Purism. A sculptor and painter as well as a visionary architect, Le Corbusier produced dozens of works on art, architecture and city planning. Weber clearly illustrates the development of his theories about the use of architecture to transform the human condition by combining modern industrial materials such as concrete, steel and glass with nature and light to provide ideal environments for all. The author quotes freely from correspondence that shows Le Corbusier to have been opportunistic, proud and authoritarian, willing to reshape facts to suit his vision of himself and holder of a long grudge against America. At the same time, he was generous and imaginative, fiercely attached to his mother, an ardent lover of female beauty. Weber visited most existing Le Corbusier buildings, which he describes here in glowing terms. L’Unité d’Habitation, an apartment complex in Marseille, is “a turning point in the history of how human beings live”; the General Assembly building in Chandigarh, India, “represents an apogee of imagination and courage”; the chapel at Ronchamp, is “a miraculous realm beyond total comprehension.”
The deeply felt tribute to Le Corbusier’s work is enriched by Weber’s engrossing, entertaining portrait of his complex personality.