A blog on gigs, music, art and London.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

'Le Corbusier - The Art Of Architecture' at the Barbican

After seeing the Picasso exhibition I jumped on a number 23 bus and headed east towards the Barbican to see the current Le Corbusier show.

It proved to be an all-encompassing, versatile exhibition focusing on several different aspects of Le Corbusier's art. It had everything from architectural models, photographs, drawings, film, examples of his interior design as well as various objects and surrealist paintings. A true multiplicity of forms.

Throughout the exhibition the scale and breadth of his travel become apparent. He really did travel to most corners of the world in his pursuit of ideas and inspiration and examples of his architecture from Algeria, India, Argentina, Russia, USA, France & Belgium all feature prominently.

Some of his theoretical ideas come up first, specifically his utopian 'Plan Voisin' and 'Ville contemporaine de trois mille d'habitants' for Paris. These set the tone for the rest of the exhibition, immediately showing just how radically different and ambitious an architect Le Corbusier was. They could easily have come direct from some sort of dystopian science fiction novel such as '1984'.

Next up is his entirely self-prompted 'Plan Obus' for Algiers, in many ways an ostensibly crazy and impractical idea but one that demonstrated his quest to push back boundaries and come up with new, innovative, forward-thinking ideas.

His entry for the 'Palace Of Soviets' contest for an administrative complex for the centre of Moscow showed more of this ambition, the rigid structures complemented by an over-reaching arch (see below). He was not successful in winning the commission, but still a great project.

We soon start to see examples where his work was fully realised. His 'Notre Dame Du Haut' chapel in Ronchamp is a uniquely odd looking building whereas his Philips Pavilion building in Brussels is a spectacularly geometic construction. Iannis Xenakis designed the building along with Le Corbusier and Edgar Varese provided the music to the multimedia show inside with his 'Poeme Electronique'.

The highlight of the exhibition for me was the section on Le Corbusier's civic buildings in Chandigarh, India. I guess the fact that I spent a few hours in Chandigarh a few years ago sparked this particular interest. It was a fascinating project and further details can be found in the below links:


The drawings and models shown in the exhibition really provided a superb overview, especially of the scale and ambition of the project. The short extract from the film 'Un Ville A Chandigarh' contained some interesting footage, especially of the role of Indian women in the construction of the buildings. I would love to see the film in full but it appears difficult to track down. Unfortunately I was in India recently when it was shown at the Barbican as part of the exhibition.

Le Corbusier's Saint Pierre Church in Firminy, France provided one final example of his brilliant architecture with its beautifully irregular, geometric shape.

I found it a fascinating, informative exhibition. Sure, Le Corbusier's architecture was not perfect and at times some of his ideas appear naive and impractical . With the passing of time some of his buildings can even appear to border on the ugly, especially the large residential blocks, such as those constructed in Marseilles. However, as a radical, freethinking, progressive, modernist architect he is deservedly considered one of the greats of the 20th century.

iPod Playlist

Neko Case 'Middle Cyclone'
The Belbury Poly 'From An Ancient Star'
The Advisory Circle 'Other Channels'

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