Monday, 2 August 2010

"La vie est sans pitié"

I have just returned from a teaching stay in Sigtuna, which is located some 40 minutes from Stockholm. I am now teaching at Bradfield College in the south of England. I have been reading a text about the highly influential architect Le Corbusier, written by the scholar and architect Kenneth Frampton. The book discusses some rather poignant points about his life.

Frampton tells us that Le Corbusier, finding himself in a post-WWII world, became involved with the idea of "intermediate technology", which he believed was capable of reconciling the split between modernization and local building culture wherever this could be found. In the last two decades this search led him to embrace pantheism, because he deemed it capable of "overcoming the confrontation between traditional culture form and the relentless onslaught of ever more volatile technology".

Le Corbusier's work is to some extent a reflection of his own rather bleak views on life, especially seen in the intersection of tragedy and the plastic lyricism of his later work, as encapsulated by his engraved saying that "La vie est sans pitié" (life is without mercy).

Being an influential figure in both Brazilian and Indian architectural development, he was far more reserved when it came to American culture:

"Le Corbusier had the temerity to declare that skyscrapers were too small and that Manhattan was a "fairy catastrophe" ... Although he was charmed by the utopian campuses of America, he was also disconcerted by the naïve, over-enthusiastic response that he elicited in places like Vassar, Cranbrook and Princeton

Le Corbusier became interested in the notion of a total work of art (Gesamtkunstwerk), as conveyed in the Phillips Pavilion in Brussels, where he collaborated with the musique concrète composer Iannis Xenakis. The Pavilion and its hyperbolic form, combined with Le Corbusier's poème electronique projected a kind of "cosmic synthesis" such as had previously been the exclusive province of the Church.

Finally, I am listening to The Boxer by The National, a band as good as the Magnetic Fields.

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