The Architectural Lesson of Cubism

Diamond; David
Into The Great Abyss, 13, LSU, Louisiana, 1996
Le Corbusier; Ronchamp
Copyright 1996, Louisiana State University, School of Architecture. 
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Offered through the Research Office for Novice Design Education, LSU, College of Art and Design, School 
of Architecture. 
David Diamond
A briar pipe [Le Corbusier, Towards a New
Architecture (New York, 1984) 269.1
"...the words 'modern architecture' re-
fer to a strategy about building which
erupted circa 1922-23, and its char-
acteristic physical gestures are excep-
tionally easy to surmise. At the level
of physique it displayed a visible
technophile enthusiasm and a visible
descent from the discoveries/inven-
tions of Braque and Picasso"
Colin Rowel
Why must architects understand Cub-
Just as perspective theory and tech-
nique remain vital for visual and spa-
tial artists since the Renaissance, so
Cubism has remained vital since the
time when the modern movement
passed from its heroic to its post-mod-
ern phase. while many of the politi-
cal, social and philosophical issues
surrounding the early modem move-
ment seem obsolete, the Cubist para-
digm for visual perception and repre-
sentation is not.
The physical .characteristics of mod-
ern architecture rely on the composi-
tional innovations of Cubism. But as
Cubism refers to both an artistic move-
ment involving many participants and
to a style, it is necessary to be pre-
cise about exactly what aspects of
Cubist painting influence exactly what
aspects of modem architecture. I will
argue that there were specific tech-
niques of representation that were
developed and practiced by Juan Gris,
and that Le Corbusier, who was famil-
iar with Gris' work, understood and
transposed those same techniques to
architectural design. I will establish
two categories of representation in
painting and in architecture: literal and
non-literal, along the lines of Colin
Rowe and Robert Slutzky's establish-
ing of two categories of transparency:
literal and phenomenal. I will then
demonstrate how, in his design for the
Pavillion de L'Esprit No ~ v e a u , ~ Le
Corbusier followed a pattern set by
Juan Gris, by translating painterly tech-
niques to architectural design. I will
conclude with an analysis of his Chapel
at Ronchamp.
In 1918, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret
adopted the name Le Corbusier. He
used Le Corbusier for all his subse-
quent architectural projects. In the
context of this essay, I will use the
name Jeanneret when referring to his
work as a Purist painter and to his col-
laboration with Amedee Ozenfant on
the journal L' Es~rit Nouveau, and Le
Corbusier when referring to his archi-
tectural projects.
Cubism: Analytical & Synthetic
A few definitions will help to clarify what
follows. Cubism refers to the artistic
production of a group of painters,
sculptors and poets, mostly working in
Paris between 1908 and 1920. The I
first World War interrupted artistic ac-
tivity, and marked a shift in stylistic
emphasis. The pre-war phase is gen-
erally referred to as Analytical Cubism
and the post-war phase as Synthetic
Analytical Cubism refers to a process
of analysis, or the painterly examina-
tion of the elements of still-life, portrait
or landscape subjects. This analysis
is recorded in the finished works.
These works, mostly by Braque and
Picasso, are characterized by a con-
trast between representational inci-
dents and the geometric frameworks
that both fragment and support those
be said to be contingent upon his ex-
periences with Cubism and Purism.
For Le Corbusier and Juan Gris, trans-
position or translation was the essence
of creative activity. Juan Gris' "trans-
lations" (Verre etjoumaland Le violon)
would be incomplete if all traces of the
originals were hidden. His many state-
ments about not breaking away from
the Louvre and about the methods of
the old masters are clues to an en-
lightened audience. His references to
lngres are not merely arcane personal
fetishes; they contribute to the constel-
lation of meanings that reside in his
For Le Corbusier, the Parthenon, the
Pantheon, Certosa, and perhaps
Palazzo Davanzati, contribute to the
constellation of social and plastic
meanings in the Pavillion de L'Esprit
Nouveau. The Certosa's pattern of
interlocked dwellings and gardens is
reinterpreted as a scaffold for the
Immeubles-Villas. The furniture of the
monk's cell at the Certosa and the stair
balcony from Palazzo Davanzati are
representational figures deployed
within structural and compositional
frameworks. Where most modem ar-
chitects would have made a figure of
the structural frame, Le Corbusier con-
ceals the frame, revealing its presence
only at key moments, when it is em-
ployed to bind together figurative ele-
The Chapel at Ronchamp
In the Pavillion de L' Esprit Nouveau
and in most of his subsequent projects,
Le Corbusier's work expressed a dia-
lectic between rational structure and
lyrical figuration. In his chapels at
Ronchamp and Firminy Vert, Le
Corbusier finally broke with the model
of Analytical Cubism by departing from
the understanding of grid as foil for
figurative events. At Ronchamp, there
are few regular elements (figure 27).
Remnants of an underlying structural
grid are completely concealed in the
fabric of the built work. While there is
a cross inscribed in the pavement, its
transverse does not square the main
axis. The raised dais, however, fol-
lows the outline of Le Corbusier's dia-
gram signifying both the day / night
cycle, and the collaborative activity of
the architect/poet and the engineer
(figure 28). Le Corbusier, attaching
particular significance to this diagram,
used it as a cover illustration for a num-
ber of publications immediately pre-
ceding his work on Ronchamp. This
same form is part of one of Le
Corbusier's painted recollections of
watching a young woman at prayer in
a cathedral during a storm (figure 29).
Le Corbusier writes:
"1 was impressed by the natural con-
centration of the simple ritual ex-
pressed in the gesture of her hands
with fingers interwoven, the low table
with candles and the broad forms of
her chest and head frankly staring at
the invisible object of her faith." j6
Le Corbusier used this diagram as
Juan Gris had used the silhouettes of
the bather and odalisque. The dia-
gram is used as a loose scaffolding
upon which Le Corbusier assembles
key figurative elements in his design
for Ronchamp. This system of geo-
metric scaffold and figurative event1'
is a transformation of the former fig-
ure / structure dialectic into one involv-
ing spatial and temporal zones. For
Christian theology, the diagram of day
and night may represent birth and re-
birth, fall and redemption, or crucifix-
ion and resurrection: all central
themes to Catholic liturgy. The day 1
night diagram may also represent the
primeval elements of nature, objects
of awe and pagan ritual. The diagram
may even represent a synthesis of dia-
lectical forces, linking cosmic and ter-
restrial events and serving to situate
a particular locus within the cosmol-
ogy of absolute concepts - the four car-
dinal directions, the horizons, and the
path of the sun.
At Ronchamp, site of current Christian
worship and ancient pagan ritual, Le
Corbusier assembled various ele-
ments within the church which mark
the sun's path, almost as a solar clock.
The north facing chapel is illuminated
throughout the day by constant and
even light, reflected against the north-
27. Le Corbusier, Plan - Chapel at '
Ronchamp [Le Gorbusier. Roncharno: :'
Oeuvre de Notre-Dame du Haut (Germany,
1 975) 102.1
28. Le Corbusier's diagram symbolizing the
sun's path and the collaborative activities of
the architct and engineer. [Carlo Palauolo
and Riccardo Vio, In the Footsteos of Le
Corbusier (New York, 1991 ) 195.1
29. Le Corbusier, Woman with Candle, 1946
[Richard Ingersoll, A Marriaae of Contours
(New York, 1990) 30.1
30. Sun path diagram [by author]
31. Le Corbusier, Chapel at Ronchamp -
interior view of south wall [Le Corbusier,
Ronchamo: Oeuvre de Notre-Dame du Haut
(Germany, 1975) 30.1
32. Le Corbusier, Chapelat Ronchamp [Le
Corbusier, Roncham~: Oeuvre de Notre-
D a m e l (Germany, 1975) 62.1
33. Le Corbusier, Heidi Wever Paviiion -
model (Zurich, 1967) [Le Corbusier, Le
Corbusier: Volume 8 des ouevres completes
(Zurich Switzerland, 1973) 145.1
y+--' --, J \..-
Olagrarn ' A ' Diagram " B"
Diagram ' D '
34. Le Corbusier, The signs -drawn for his design for Chandigarh [Le Corbusier, &
Corbusier Ouevre Comolete 1946 - 1952 (Zurich Switzerland. 1953) 153.1
ern sky (figure 30). Marking thresh-
olds of day and night, the east and
west facing chapels are illuminated
briefly during the rise and setting of
the sun. The south wall, thick, bat-
tered, and pierced with pyramidal
openings, both shields the interior from
raking mid-day light and marks the
day-light hours with constantly chang-
ing patterns of light on the chapel's
interior (figure 31). The sinuous curve
of the roof line, seen from the north
west, seems to trace the sine curve
of the sun's path mapped against the
horizon (figure 32). This form re-
sembles a diagram which is one in a
series that Le Corbusier published as
the signs which symbolize the basis
of his philosophy. These diagrams
were designed for the great esplanade
in Chandigarh (figure 34).18 They
prominently feature four versions of the
sun's path. Diagram "A" is the sine-
curve symbolizing the sun's path
mapped across the horizon. It appears
in many projects, both as an element
in ornamental doors and tapestries,
and as. a building section at the Heid,
Weber Pavilion (figure 33) and else-
where. Diagram "B" maps the arcs of
summer and winter sun paths, as seen
from a fixed point on earth. This dia-
gram is used as the section for Le
Corbusier's church at Firminy (figur~
35). Diagram "C" symbolizes day and
night, and also symbolizes the inter-
woven hands of architect and engineer.
This is diagram is reflected in the struc-
ture of the Philips Pavilion (figure 36;
from the 1957-58 Brussels World Ex-
position, and is inscribed in the plan of
Ronchamp's indoor altar platform.
35. Le Corbusier, model - Chapelat Fiminy 36. Le Corbusier, Philips Paviiion [ed. Carlc
[Le Corbusier, Le Corbusier: Volume 8 des Palauolo and Riccardo Vio In the Footsteo:
ouevres comoletes (Zurich Switzerland, of Le Corbusier (New York, 1991) 194.1
1973) 42.1
Diagram "Do is the same as the third
but coiled, joining the ends of the day
1 night cycle in a perpetually revolving
hyperbolic paraboloid. This variation
of the sun diagram most closely re-
sembles the roof line at Roncharnp,
connecting the large chapel tower with
the prow that projects across the east-
facing out-door altar. At Zurich,
Firminy, Brussels and Ronchamp, Le
Corbusier's sun diagrams act as com-
positional scaffolds for architectural fig-
ures and events. At Ronchamp, ~e
or busier used the sun diagram as an
armature for figurative events exactly
as Juan Gris had used the odalisque
as an armature for still-life subjects.
As Stuart Cohen, Steven Hurtt,lg
Daniele Pauly 2oand others have
noted, the Chapel at Ronchamp also
embodies one of Le Corbusier's most
constant obsessions, that of the
Parthenon and its precinct, the Athe-
nian Acropolis (figures 37 & 38). For
Le Corbusier, the Chapelat Ronchamp
evokes both temple and temple pre-
cinct archetypes. Here, Le Corbusier
has assembled elements of his per-
sonal cosmology, using them as signs
that are rich with meaning and asso-
ciation, and as an itinerary of place
memories that embodies sublime plas-
tic sensation and universal architec-
tural truths.
To explore the Acropolis metaphor, we
may try to see Ronchamp's various ar-
chitectural figures as being separate,
as events encountered along the in-
door / outdoor pilgrimage route. The
whole of the chapel appears to be bro-
ken into parts, joined and separated
by its envelope, in a manner similar to
that at the Pavillion de L'Esprit
Nouveau. Side altars, confessionals,
pews, lectern, altar, and the south wall
may all be seen as nearly autonomous
events sited against the uneven ter-
rain of the hill-top sanctuary. The floor
slopes sharply towards the altar, call-
ing our attention to its unevenness.
The vertical elements, as if they were
architectural fragments transported
from elsewhere, are provisionally
joined by pivot doors, allowing visitors
to this site to "wander among the ru-
ins." Indeed, most architectural pil-
grims encounter Ronchamp as Le
Corbusier encountered the Acropolis.
Though both sites were designed for
sacred worship, they are ultimately
examined and understood as univer-
sal, cultural icons.
If we must imagine Ronchamp and its
setting as a temple precinct, the vari-
ous "temples" and "treasuries" of which
its fabric is composed must be exam-
ined as well. The easiest of the fig-
ures to recognize are the three side
chapels with their hooded light canons.
Each resembles both a briar pipe,
one of Le Corbusier's favorite "object
types," and, as oth,ers have noted, and
as Le Corbusier admits,. forms derived
from the Nimpheum or Sarapeum at
Hadrian's Villa. Le Corbusier sketched
these structures during his Italian jour-
ney i n 1911 and published the
sketches together with designs for a
chapel at Sainte Baume (figure 39).
A second figurative element, the south
wall of the chapel, recalls the thick,
white-washed masonry from the
Mosque of Sidi Brahim at M'azb (fig-
ure 40 ) and other Mediterranean
sources. 22 The wall's sharp turn and
39. Le Corbusier, sketches of Serapeum,
Hadrian's Villa (191 1) [Le Corbusier. le ~asse
B e (Paris, 1987) 70.1
40. Mosque of Sidi Brahim, M'zab, Algeria
[Daniele Pauly. "The Chapel of ronchamp as
an Example of Le Corbusier's Creative Pro-
cess," H. Allen Brooks, ed. Le Corbusier
(Princeton, New Jersey, 1987)140.]
41. Le Corbusier, sketch of the
'Philosopher's Wall' at Hadrian's Villa [ Le
Corbusier, Towards a New Architectur&(New
York,1984) 180.1
37. The Parthenon [Le Corbusier, Towards
a New Architecture (New York, 1984) 185.1
38. Le Corbusier, Chapel at Ronchamp -
sketch [Daniele Pauly, ronchamo: lecture
d'une architecture (Paris)]
42. Le Corbusier, Chapel at Ronchamp
[Le Corbusier, Le Corbusier Ouevrg
Com~lete 1952 - 1957 (Zurich Switzerland,
1 964) 24.1
43. Plan, Hadrian's Villa [Le Corbusier, &
wards a New Architecture (New York.1984)
44. Le Corbusier, site plan - Chapel at
Ronchamp [Le Corbusier, Ronchamo:
Oeuvre de Notre-Dame du Haut (Germany.
1975) 103.1
45. Sketch - Chapel at Ronchamp [by au-
rise toward its eastern promontory cre-
ate an illusion of deep perspective,
evoking another of Le Corbusier's
sketches from Hadrian's Villa, that of
the remaining wall of the Pecile, or
Greek portico (figures 41 & 42). It
should be noted that Hadrian designed
and built a country estate at Tivoli com-
posed of reconstructed fragments of
places and structures that he had vis-
ited during his travels and military cam-
paigns. The Serapeum was designed
to imitate the sanctuary of Serapis that
stood outside of Alexandria. The
Pecile was Hadrian's reconstruction of
the Stoa Poikile in Athens, famous in
Hadrian's time for its association with
the Stoic philosophers. Le Corbusier's
use of these elements from Hadrian's
Villa is identical to Hadrian's use of
them (figures 43 & 44). In each in-
stance, place memories and signifi-
cant architectural fragments aie re-
constructed in new settings, serving
different purposes. In each instance,
the elements have a double identity -
as function type and reference type.
This overlay of meaning is similar to
the marriage of contours that Le
Corbusier and Gris employed in their
paintings, and is an example of Cub-
ist collage slrategy in architectural
Facing the south wall and main entry
to the chapel is a second entrance, at
the joining of the east and west facing
side-chapels. When seen together,
the side-chapels resemble an open
book, one of Le Corbusier's most fre-
quently used object types (figures 45
- 48). In the place where a block of
text would appear, a portal supports
the pulpit, where the words of the
apostles are read. The nave space, a
sacred ground for prayer and reflec-
tion, is framed by the open book and
the facing south wall (figure 49). This
space establishes a "narrative" within
the chapel and symbolizes one of the
great dramas of the Catholic faith: the
conflict between faith and reason. The
actors in this conflict are Le Corbusier's
symbols of the open book and the
philosopher's wall. They represent the
battle between the "word of God" and
the words of the philosophers, and the
perseverance of Christian faith in the
material world.
Having examined Ronchamp as
temple precinct, we must address
those characteristics of Ronchamp that
are temple-like. While many have writ-
ten about Rondhamp as one of Le
Corbusier's many interpretations of the
Parthenon, it is useful to trace the con-
tours of this metaphor very closely
from the forms of the church. Like the
Parthenon, the Chapel at Roncharnp
is designed for outdoor worship. The
chapel's exterior is both a protective
shelter for indoor worship and a back-
drop for outdoor worship. The outdoor
altar sits on a concrete pedestal, like
the peripteral aisles that frame the
Parthenon's cella (figures 51 & 52).
Curiously, Ronchamp is a "free plan"
building with only one column (figure
50). This column frames the northern
edge of the outdoor altar, and is one
in a series of elements that screen the
eastern flank of the chapel. The col-
umn also supports a projecting edge1
of the roof. There is an implied sym-
metry between east and south facing
walls, which rise together towards the
comer where they meet. The roof line
46. Le Corbusier, Chapelat Ronchamp [Le 47. Le Corbusier, Chapelat Ronchamp [Le
48. Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, Nature
Corbusier, Ronchamo: Oeuvre de Notre- Corbusier: Svnthese des Arts (Karlsruhe,
mo~ea/acrucheblanchesurfondbleu, 1920
Dame du Haut (Germany, 1975) 107.1 1986) 108.1
-formerly in the collection of Raoul La Roche
projects, sheltering the outdoor altar
below. This gable follows the contour
of a pediment wrapped around the
sharp prow of the south wall. If the
south-east corner of the chapel forms
a pediment against the sky, then the
outdoor altar space occupies the tym-
panum and its furniture acts as the
setting for a sculptural scene of battle
and triumph (figure 53). In "Apres le
Purisme," Robert Slutzky speculated
about the meaning of Cubist still-life
objects, as compared with traditional
"Thus pitchers, glasses, bottles, ca-
rafes, siphons, pots, dishes, dice,
boxes, lanterns, architectural mold-
ings, books, violins, and guitars be-
come actors on the stage of a still-life
theater ... Reclining guitars become
surrogate odalisques; bottles and jugs
double as orators and statesmen ... '24
If we compare one of Le Corbusier's
photographs of the tympanum of the
Parthenon with an edgewise view of
Ronchamp's outdoor altar, once again
there is an uncanny coincidence of
contour (figures 54 & 55). This visual
pun, though subtle and perhaps sub-
liminal, is the same sort of game that
Juan Gris engaged in when he trans-
formed the works of Corot and Ingres.
The tympanum figure may be subtle
and somewhat obscure. While I can
not prove that this or other figurative
elements at Ronchamp were premedi-
tated, their legibility and thematic con-
sistency within this project and
throughout Le Corbusier's work sug-
gests that they are not accidental. The
initial lines of Le Corbusier's early de-
signs for Ronchamp were plastic and
intuitive responses to both the physi-
cal and historic characteristics of a site,
and to the functional requirements of
the congregation. Though the general
siting and outlines for the design of the
chapel at Ronchamp were determined
early on, the figurative elements de-
scribed above emerge only after an
ongoing process of refining the de-
sign. This process of refinement
marks a conscious effort on the part
of Le Corbusier to translate architec-
tural memories and events across ma-
terial, spatial and temporal boundaries,
into the fabric of his design. Le
Corbusier impregnated the fabric of his
works with architectural figures. This
was intended by Le Corbusier as an
analogue to the harmonious orches-
tration of space that he found in na-
ture. As he stated in his essay "lnef-
fable Space":
"The flower, the plant, the tree [and]
the mountain stand forth, existing in a
setting. If they one day command at-
tention because of their satisfying and
independent forms, it is because they
are seen to be isohted from their con-
text and extending influences all
around them." 25
I have attempted to illustrate how the
characteristics of literal and non-literal
representation function in painting and
in architecture. My goal has been that
of demonstrating how Le Corbusier's
architectural development was influ-
enced by his familiarity with the paint-
ings of Juan Gris and by his own ex-
periences as a Purist painter. These
49. Le Corbusier, Chapel at Ronchamp 50. Le Corbusier, ChapelatRonchamp- de-
[Le Corbusier, Le Corbusier Ouevre tail [by author]
Cornolete 1952 - 1957 (Zurich Switzerland,
1964) 33.1
51. The Parthenon ILe Corbusier, Towards
a New Architecture (New York, 1984) 194.1
52. Le Corbusier, Chapel at Ronchamp
[Le Corbusier, Le Corbusier Ouevre
Cornolete 1952 - 1957 (Zurich Switzerland,
1964) 30.1
53. Le Corbusier, Chapel at Ronchamp [Le
Corbusier, Roncharno: Oeuvre de Notre-
Dame du Haut (Germany, 1975) 60.1
54. Le Corbusier, Chapelat Ronchamp [by
55. The Parthenon - detail [Le Corbusier,
Towards a New Architecture (New
York, 1984) 207.1
experiences led to Le Corbusier's
employment of archetypal forms in a
poetic rather than in a literal manner.
Le Corbusier's figurative elements are
not evident upon first inspection of his
works. They emerge only after pro-
longed exposure to a given work. The
use of non-literal figuration is central
to Le Corbusier's method of architec-
tural design, as it was for Juan Gris in
painting; Le Corbusier's means for the
application of non-literal figuration
were based on translating painterly
techniques into the practice of archi-
In the words of Richard lngersoll in his
Marriaae of Contours," ... critics and
architects generally treat [Le
Corbusier's artistic production] as an
amusing digression. Ironically, it is
quite possible to appreciate the art
works independently of Le Corbusier's
architecture, but what is not possible
is to understand his architecture sepa-
rately from his art." 26
The following excerpt, from Le
Corbusier's "Ineffable Space" seems
to have been written specifically about
his Chapel at Ronchamp:
"Without making undue claims, I may
say something about the 'magnifica-
tion' of space that some of the artists
of my generation attempted around
191 0, during the wonderfully creative
flights of cubism. They spoke of the
fourth dimension with intuition and
clairvoyance. A life devoted to art, and
especially to a search after harmony,
has enabled me, in my turn, to observe
the same phenomenon through the
practice of three arts: architecture,
sculpture and painting.
"The fourth dimension is the moment
of limitless escape evoked by an ex-
ceptionally just consonance of the
plastic means employed.
"It is not the effect of the subject cho-
sen; it is a victory of proportion in ev-
erything - the anatomy of the work as
well as the carrying out of the artist's
intentions whether consciously con-
trolled or not. Achieved or unachieved,
these intentions are always existent
and are rooted in intuition, that miracu-
lous catalyst of acquired, assimilated,
even forgotten wisdom. In a complete
and successful work there are hidden
masses of implications, a veritable
world which reveals itself to those
whom it may concern, which means:
to those who deserve it.
"Then a boundless depth opens up,
effaces the walls, drives away contin-
gent presences, accomplishes the
miracle of ineffable space." 2'
I studied with Robert Slutzky at The
Cooper Union in the mid- 1970's. I am him for many of my for-
mative conceptions concerning the
relationships between painting and
architecture. I would call particu/ar at-
tention to four of his critical studies:
the two "Transparency" essays, co-
authored by Slutzky and Colin Rowe;
"Aqueous Humor" and "Apres l e
Purisme," written by Slutzky alone. I
. attended the history lectures of Colin
Rowe at Cornell in the late 1970's. Par-
ticularly significant for me are three of
his critical works: "The Mathematics of
the Ideal Villa," "La Tourette, " and @
laae City, the last of which was co-
authored by Rowe and Fred Koetter.
I owe special thanks to John Hejduk,
who led me to the works of Juan Gris
and Ingres, and in whose studio these
works were discussed, as were the ar-
chitectural works of Le Corbusier. Spe-
cial thanks to Dr. James Cascaito for
his assistance in editing this text.
1. Colin Rowe, The Architecture of
Good Intentions (London, 1994) 16.
2. The titles of architectural projects
and of paintings and works of sculp-
ture will be found in italics throughout
this study; the titles of essays will be
found in quotation marks. Book titles
will be underlined.
3. Gyorgy Kepes, Lanauaae of Vi-
sion (Chicago. 1964) 77.
4. Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky,
"Transparency: Literal and Phenom-
enal," Persoecta 8: The Yale Architec-
tural Journal (1 963).
5. Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky,
"Transparency: Literal and Phenom-
enal ... Part 11," Persoecta 14: The Yale
Architectural Journal (1971): 287 -
6. Richard Ingersoll, A Marriaae of
Contours (New York, 1990) 8.
7. Amedee Ozenfant and Charles-
Edouard Jeanneret, "On The Plastic,"
L'Esorit Nouveau. No. 1. For Anthony
Eardly's English translation see
Jonathan -Block Friedman, Creation in
S~ac e ( Dubuque, Iowa, 1989) 30 -
8. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Juan
Gris: His Life and Work (New York,
a 1968) 21 3 (note 135).
9. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Juan
Gris: His Life and Work (New York,
1968) 193.
10. Giuliano Gresleri discussed the
Parthenon and the Pantheon as pro-
totypes for the Pavillion de L'Esprit
Nouveau in the lectures he gave to my
New York institute of Technology stu-
dents at the Pavilion in June 1993 and
June 94.
11. Le Corbusier, Towards a New Ar-
chitecture (London, 1984).
12. Jonathan Block Friedman, in a
recent conversation with me, pointed
out the aspects of similarity between
the opportunities for views and expo-
sures in the Certosa and in the Pavil-
13. Charles Jenks, Le Corbusier and
the Traaic View of Architecture (Cam-
bridge, Massachusetts, 1973) 49.
14. The Palauo Davanzati was for-
merly a nobleman's house and is cur-
rently the Museum of the Antique
Florentine House. During the early
part of this century, it was a private
museum of antiquities.
15. In my same conversation with
Jonathan Block Friedman (see note 12
above), Friedman interpreted Le
Corbusier's balcony form in this way.
16. Le Corbusier in Richard lngersoll,
A Marriaae of Contours (New York,
1990) 12. lngersoll added: (same
page): "Though Le Corbusier men-
tioned several sources, such as a crab
shell found on a Long Island beach,
he never confessed to this drawing as
a direct source. The obsessive pur-
suit of this image, however, seen also
in [other paintings in this series], is an
essay on the mystery both of women
and of religious faith and must have
fueled his imagination in the church
17. Structure and event are terms that
derive from Claude Levi-Strauss' The
Savaae Mind, and were used by Colin
Rowe and Fred Koetter in their Col-
laae Ci . (Cambridge, Massachusetts,
1 978).
18. Le Corbusier writes: "One
evening, on the lawn outside the Rest-
House of Chandigarh, where Jane
Drew, Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry
and Le Corbusier have their base,
Jane Drew said: Le Corbusier, you
should set up in the heart of the Capi-
tol the signs which symbolise the ba-
sis of your philosophy and by which
you arrived at your understanding of
the art of city design. These signs
should be known - they are the key to
the creation of Chandigarh." Le
Corbusier, Le Corbusier: Oeuvre
comolete 1946 - 1952 (Zurich, Swit-
zerland, 1953) 153.
19. Stuart Cohen and Steven Hurtt,
"The Pilgrimage Chapel at Ronchamp:
Its Architectonic Structure and Typo-
logical Antecedents," Oo~ositions 19
1 (Winter l Spring 1980): 142 -
20. Daniele Pauly, "The Chapel of
Ronchamp as an Example of Le
Corbusier's Creative Process," in H.
Allen Brooks, ed., Le Corbusier
(Princeton, New Jersey, 1987) 127 -
21. In my conversation with Friedman
(see notes 12 and 15 above), he re-
marked on the similarity between Le
Corbusier's sketches of the Serapeum
of Hadrian's Villa and the form of a
briar pipe.
22. Daniele Pauly, "The Chapel of
Ronchamp as an Example of Le
Corbusier's Creative Process," in H.
Allen Brooks, ed., Le Corbusier
(Princeton, New Jersey, 1987) 140.
23. For a detailed discussion of col-
lage strategies in architectural design
and urban design see Colin Rowe and
Fred Koetter, Collaae City (Cambridge,
Massachusetts, 1978).
24. Robert Slutzky, "Apres le
Purisme," Assemblaae 4 (October
1987): 94 - 101.
25. Le Corbusier, "Ineffable Space," '
in his New World Of Soace (New York, k t
26. Richard Ingersoll, A Marriaae of 3
Contours (New York, 1990) 1.
27. Le Corbusier, "Ineffable Space,"
in his New World Of Soace (New York,
incidents (figure 1). Frequently, the
fragmented subjects are portrayed as
i f seen from many view points, to-
gether. Within the larger context of
shallow, layered Cartesian space, epi-
sodes of perspective illusion are frag-
mentary and de-emphasized.
Synthetic Cubism refers to a process
of synthesis, or the painterly recon-
struction of a subject after its fragmen-
tation or analysis. Building on the in-
novations of collage, including
Picasso's Guitar sculpture of 191 2,
Synthetic Cubism is characterized by
a shift in emphasis away from the dia-
lectic between framework and visual
incident (figure 2). In Synthetic Cub-
ism, it is as if the representational frag-
ments of Analytical Cubism were able
to stand on their own, supporting
themselves without the braces of an
articulated scaffolding. The new dia-
lectic is between two and three-dimen-
sional interpretations of surface. An-
other manifestation of Synthetic Cub-
ism lies in the appearance of recipro-
cal exchange between solid and void,
surface and volume, figure and field.
Literal and Phenomenal
Literal transparency defines a mate-
rial quality of surfaces as being pervi-
,ous to light and view. Phenomenal
transparency describes the overall or-
ganization or structure of a composi-
tion and is characterized by a dense
layering of orthogonal spatial zones.
The concept of phenomenal transpar-
ency was inspired by Kepes' definition:
"If one sees two or more figures partly
overlapping one another, and each of
them claims for itself the common
overlapped part, then one is con-
fronted with a contradiction of spatial
dimensions. To resolve this contradic-
tion one must assume the presence
of a new optical quality. The figures
are endowed with,transparency; that
is, they are able to interpenetrate with-
out an optical destruction of each
other. Transparency however implies
more than an optical characteristic; it
implies a broader spatial order."
Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky were
the first to examine how Cubist paint-
erly devices operate in painting and in
architecture. In Transparency: Literal
and Phenomenal," they established
the criteria for recognizing the quali-
ties of phenomenal or spatial transpar-
ency. Their second essay, 'Transpar- ;
ency: Literal and Phenomenal ... Part
11," demonstrated how an architec- '
turai framework may play a figural role
in composition, facilitating topographic
strategies and establishing multiple re-
lationships between groups of archi-
tectural members and ornament in a
way that is similar to the figural and
spatial ambiguity characteristic of Cub-
ist and Purist still lifes. These two es-
says describe the compositional
frameworks that support the analyzed
and synthesized material of Cubist 1. Georges Braque Le gueridon. 1911-
figuration. The question of figuration, formerly in the collection of Raoul La Roche
or representation, bears further criti-
cal examination for a deeper under-
standing of Cubist and Purist painting
and the implications therein for the de-
velopment of Le Corbusier's architec-
tural strategies. .,
Le Corbusier and Purist Paris
Charles-Edouard Jeanneret moved to
Paris in 1917 where he met Amedee
Ozenfant. Through Ozenfant,
Jeanneret became acquainted with the
Cubist circle of artists and their works.
In their collaborative journal, CEs~ri t
Nouveau, published between 1920
and 1925, Jeanneret and Ozenfant
published articles featuring the theo- .
ries and works of Picasso, Juan Gris,
Leger, and others. Ozenfant and
Jeanneret also assembled a collection
of works by these artists for Raoul La
Roche, who would soon commission
Jeanneret / Le Corbusier to design for
him a house containing a gallery for
his collection. This collection included
at least twelve of Juan Gris' best paint-
ings executed between 1916 and
1918, and a number of Purist works
by Ozenfant and Jeanneret.
2. Juan Gris Bouteille. ioumal etcomootier.
Before he arrived in Paris, Jeanneret
had completed a handful of buildings
in his home town, La Chaux-de-Fonds.
I 915 - formerly in the collection of ~ i o u ~ L=
Roche [ed. Ulrike Jehle-Schulte Strathaus,
Le Corbusier und Raoul La Roche (Basel,
Switzerland, 1987) 64.1
3. Corot Woman with a Mandolin, 1865
[James Thrall Soby, Juan Gris (Ipswitch,
England, 1958) 68.1
4. Juan Gris Woman with a Mandolin (after
Corot), 191 6 - formerly in the collection of
Raoul La Roche [ed. Uirike Jehle-Schulte
Strathaus, Le Corbusier und Raoul La Roche
(Basel. Switzerland, 1987) 69.1
They were in a progressive vernacu-
lar style and were omitted from his
"And yet after a century of sensibility,
Ouevre comolete. Between 1910 and
and prior to certain CUBISTS, only
might have escaped our notice. Be-
tween 1920 and 1925, Le Corbusier
evolved an approach to architectural
design that continued to be fruitful
throughout his long career. His artis-
tic and architectural growth stemmed
directly from his deep understanding
of Cubism, especially the works of
Juan Gris, and his own experiences
as a Purist painter.
Juan Gris, Le Corbusier & L' Es~r i t
Juan Gris arrived in Paris in 1906 and
soon connected with Picasso and his
Cubist circle. Though he began as a
graphic artist, by 191 1 he was explor-
ing Cubism along with Picasso,
Braque, and Leger. During World War
I, Braque and Leger were mobilized,
leaving Picasso and Gris as the only
members of this group practicing dur-
ing the 191 4,- 191 8 war. After the war,
some believed that the Cubist experi-
ment was over or had failed. Ozenfant
and Jeanneret criticized Cubist art in
the essay "Apres le cubisme," attack-
ing it on the following grounds:
"1) it had become nonrepresenta-
tional; 2) it had become obscure; 3) it
used inappropriate titles; and 4) it
made false claims to approximating
the fourth dimension.."
"Apres le cubisme" notwithstanding,
the editors of L'Esorit Nouveau con-
tinued to promote the work of a select
group of Cubist painters (Picasso,
Gris, and Leger). They did so either
because this group had not, in retro-
spect, transgressed the "rules" of good
painting as badly as their followers, or
because they saw a way to legitimize
and promote Purism as the next avant-
garde. But Purism, in competition with
Dada and Surrealism, was more tra-
dition bound. The following Purist tract
is excerpted from "On the Plastic,"
published in L'Esorit Nouveau in 1920:
into account. Why? As we come to
know the lives of these artists and as
we consider their works, we note the
dogged tenaciousness that they have
brought to bear to achieve this foun-
dation. Their foundation is identical,
as it is identical to that of POUSSIN,
of CHARDIN or of RAPHAEL. We are
compelled to conclude that all the re-
cent movements based on the glorifi-
cation of sensibility, on the liberation
of the individual and his detachment
from contingencies, from the "tyranni-
cal" conditions of the metier (compo-
sition, execution) collapse lamentably
one after the other. This is because
they had renounced, or been blind to
the physics of art. The painters today
would appear to seek only to elude the
laws of painting, and architects the
laws of architecture. Physical and ter-
restrial man seeks to evade the con-
stant conditions of nature, and that is
rather ridiculous."
Le Corbusier and Ozenfant were not
alone in adhering to the "laws of paint-
ing and architecture." The following is
excerpted from one of Juan Gris' let-
ters to his principal dealer, Daniel-
Henry Kahnweiler:
"...There seems to be no reason why
one should not pinch Chardin's tech-
nique without taking over the appear-
ance of his pictures or his conception
of reality. Those who believe in ab-
stract painting are like weavers who
think they can produce a material with
only one set of threads and forget that
there has to be another set to hold
these together. Where there is no at-
tempt at plasticity how can you con-
trol representational liberties? And
where there is no concern for reality
how can you limit and unite plastic lib-
The following excerpt, written by Juan
Gris, was also published in the pages
of L'Esorit Nouveau:
"Though in my system I may depart
greatly from any form of idealistic or
naturalistic art, in practice I do not want
to break away from the Louvre. Mine
is the method of all times, the method
used by t he old masters: there are
technical means and they remain con-
Literal a nd Non-literal in t he Work
of Leger & J ua n Gris
If we turn our attention to some of Juan
Gris' works from 191 6 to 191 8, we may
better understand his interest in the
old masters. In 1916, Gris painted
Woman with a Mandolin (after Corot)
(figures 3 & 4). Both Gris' and Corot's
pai nt i ngs cl earl y depict a s e a t e d
woman with a stringed instrument.
While Gris borrowed his subject from
To better understand Gris' movement
away from literal figuration, we may
compare Gris' work with two paintings
by Leger which wer e inspired by
Ingres. In a n open letter, also pub-
lished in I 'Esorit Nouveau, Fernand
Leger acknowl edged l ngr es a s a
source of form in his work. In Legrand
dejeunerof 1 921 (figure 5), Leger' s tu-
bular figures recline in an exotic mod-
ernist spa. While this composition
could have been entirely of Leger' s in-
vention, I suspect that he reworked
5. FernandLeger Legmddejemec
Ingres' Le bain turc of 1863 (figure 6).
In the earlier painting, lngres had rec-
reated a harem scene where seat ed
and reclining figures ebb and flow in a
s e a of erotic luxury. In the foreground,
there is a small still life. A bather with
a mandolin is rendered in more vivid
fleshtone than that of her companions.
Corot, he was not interested in ren-
Fiering solid, textured figures in three-
dimensional space. What is instruc-
tive is how Gris s a w Corot, and how
Gris used what he saw. Gris delights
in the alliteration of cutviinear forms
at the center of t he panel - the body
of the mandolin, t he woman' s ample
upper arm, the swell of her breasts.
In his own painting, Gris offers us both
a multiplicity of views and a form of
"color separation" where clues relat-
ing to form ar e strangely disjointed.
Contour lines exceed the color fields
they bind, volume rendering appears
arbitrary and disassociated from un-
@ derlying forms. If Picasso and Braque
analyzed the constituent parts of their
sitters and still lifes, Gris analyzed the
constituent parts of visual perception.
Gris borrowed a great deal from Corot:
his subject, his geometric scaffolding,
and t he particular details of a silhou-
ette. But Gris took compositional lib-
erties. The central zone of his panel
depicts an ar ea where sitter and her
instrument merge, their contours spill-
ing into one another, their anatomies
mutually interdependent, linked by
plastic means. In this painting, Gr i
moved away from literal figuration.
This pair of paintings, by Corot and
Gris, may act as a Cubist "Rosetta
St one, " identifying a pattern after
which other translations of Cubist and
Purist technique ar e possible.
While s h e s e e ms t o belong t o this
group of odalisques, the others recede
from- her into a sort of classical sculp-
tural frieze, blurring the distinction be-
tween where the figures end and the
architectural ground begins. Leger' s
Le grand dejeuner also features a still
life in the center foreground, and again
a bather in more vivid fleshtone than
that of her comfianions. Rather than
holding an instrument, s he balances
a teacup upon its saucer atop a n open
book. Leger's women are placed in a
setting that is part sauna, part plumb-
ing supply house and part decorative
ar t s showr oom. While Leger a s -
sembles a framework of figurative geo-
metric elements for his geometric con-
cubines, there is little ambiguity be-
tween figures and grounds. Except-
ing only the areas where the shaded
volumes of his three women a r e adja-
cent to similarly shaded drapery or
cushions, there is no difficulty in sepa-
rating foreground, middleground and
background from each other, or figures
from their architectural interior. Leger's
figures, in their clinical spa, ar e more
modest than those of Ingres, whose
figures embrace in an erotic confusion
of limbs. In the areas most likely to
offer Cubist illusion, Leger resolves
ambiguity by contrasting cutvlinear fig-
ures against straightlinear grounds.
Leqer is more literal than Gris in his
6. J.A. D. lngres Le bain turc, 1863
use of figurative elements. Figures
and grounds remain distinct; t he set- 7 . Fernand Leger La baigneuse, 1931
8. J.A.D. lngres La GrandOdaIisque, 1814
[ed. Debra Edelstein, In Pursuit of
Perfecction: J.-A.-D. Inares (Bloornington,
Indiana, 1983) 126.1
9. Juan Gris Verre et journal, 191 7 -for-
merly in the collection of Raoul La Roche [ed.
Ulrike Jehle-Schulte Strathaus, Le Corbusier
und Raoul La Roche (Basel, Switzerland,
1987) 65.1
tings are often described with clear
foreground, middle ground, and back-
ground, and his citations from Le bain
turc are direct.
In his La baigneuse of 1931 (figure 7),
Leger once again used the Le bain turc
as a model. By this time, Leger had
substituted a Surrealist landscape for
his earlier modemist interior.' Leger's
bather is an unmistakable amalgam
of two figures from Ingres' Le bain turc.
Though Leger tends towards integrat-
ing figure and ground, his woman in
the dunes remains isolated, apart from
her surroundings, less integrated than
Ingres' bather (in Le bain turc) who
finds herself in a sea of concubines.
Leger opts for spatial clarity and re-
mains literal in his use of figures. Juan
Gris had already demonstrated non-
literal figuration in his Woman With
Mandolin (after Corot). In the center
of this painting, Gris succeeded at
translating the same sense of ambi-
guity, the confusion of limbs, that we
found among Ingres' figures. It is pri-
marily Gris' development of non-literal
figuration that nourishes the develop-
ment of Synthetic Cubism and serves
as a paradigm for Le Corbusier's Pur-
ist aesthetic and his architectural de-
Two additional paintings by Gris will
further illustrate his use of non-literal
figuration. After Woman With Man-
dolin (after Corot), Gris returned to his
familiar repertoire of still-life objects.
Gris, like Leger, struggled with ques-
tions of interpretation and represen-
tation. Though Cubism for Gris was
an art of representation, he always un-
dermined representational elements
by commingling them with their set-
If Leger used Le bain turc for inspira-
tion, then Gris must have laid earlier
claim . t o Ingres' Baigneuse de
Valpin~on (figure 10) and La Grande
Odalisque (figure 8). If we compare
Gris' Verre et journal (figure 9) with
La Grande Odalisque, Gris seems to
have borrowed both his geometric
substructure (the crossing diagonals
of the panel) and his palette from
similar piling up of figures and ele-
ments towards the center, which in turn
buckles, folding inward, as the
odalisque's knees dig into the cush-
ions of her-divan. A leap of faith may
still be required to accept that the sen-
suous remnants of an analyzed still life
signify La Grande Odalisque in any
direct way. But the particulars of that
still life suddenly appear less arbitrary,
and begin to loosen from the rigid di-
agonal symmetry of the panel. Two
rendered balls evoke either puffs of
smoke or genitalia, until we look at
Ingres' Grande Odalisque and see that
these forms are breasts. The sugges-
tive concavities and convexities of
Verre etjournalmirror the right foot and
buttocks of the Odalisque. The news-
paper fragment "LE" echoes the jew-
eled belt beneath the reclining figure
and the fragment "ALn seems to fol-
low the curtain folding into depth, or to
follow the outstretched legs of the
Odalisque seen in plan. If Gris bor-
rowed liberally from Corot, he "stole"
from Ingres. In a series of paintings
executed between 1916 and 1920,
Gris used the Grande Odalisque for-
mat as a scaffold for his still-life sub-
jects. Unlike Leger, Gris' use of Ingres'
figures is not literal. The Odalisque is
transformed through some secular
transubstantiation, where "flesh and
blood" are turned into "bread and
In another series, Gris used a vertical m
format, turning the reclining guitar I
odalisque into a seated violin I bather.
Le violon of 1916 (figure 11) is drawn
with crisp precision, and with a palette
limited to black, gray, white, and a
woody brown-orange. There is almost
no modeling. The picture is organized
about an orthogonal gridding that os-
cillates between readings of four
squares and nine squares, further ani-
mated by a pair of off-center diago-
nals. As in Verre et journal, there is a
tension between classical foreground
/ middle ground I background disposi-
tion, surface geometry and coloration.
There is a slippage between figural ob-
jects (violin, bow, sheet music), and fig-
ural pigment (the brown-orange band
that cuts through each spatial layer).
Ingres. Further attention reveals a When compared with the Louvre's
Baigneuse de Valpinqon, also by
Ingres, many of Gris' details fall into
place, as a tit for tat parody of the clas-
sic figure.
We may speculate about Gris' mo-
tives. His production quotas may have
been too onerous. Cribbing from the
old masters may have been expedi-
ent. Or it may have been a manifes-
tation of insider information current in
Cubist and Purist circles. Gris may
have been testing his dealer and his
audience. Regardless of his motives,
he succeeded at expanding and en-
riching the modernist repertory, and at
nourishing Cubist painting when the
benefits of previous innovations
seemed exhausted. At some level,
Jeanneret understood what Gris had
achieved, as is evidenced by his own
use of non-literal figuration and its sub-
sequent impact on his architecture.
Verre et journal and Le violon were
among twelve paintings by Juan Gris
in the collection assembled by
Jeanneret and Ozenfant for Raoul La
Roche. This series, typified by these
two paintings, represented a new para-
digm in painting. The classical nude
figure, centerpiece of the Renaissance
tradition, was reinterpreted in a mod-
ernist idiom. Just as Raphael, in his
School of Athens (figure 12) dressed
his contemporaries as Greek philoso-
phers, Juan Gris dressed oriental
odalisques as soda siphons and vio-
@ lins. Juan Gris' technique became a
model for translating the classical
canon into the modern; for Le
Corbusier, this technique would be-
come a model for translating the es-
sence of classical architecture without
the orders.
Le Corbusier & the Pavillion de
L'Esprit Nouveau
Le Corbusier designed the 1925
Pavillion de L'Esprit Nouveau in a man-
ner similar to the way in which he de-
signed his Purist still lifes(figure 13).
The Pavilion is composed of discrete
architectural figures, similar to Purist
projects from the twenties (figure 14).
But surprisingly, within the fabric of Le
"object types." The figures are: a cube-
like apartment unit, from the 1922
Immeubles- Villas, and a drum-like, il-
lusionistic diorama, advertising Le
Corbusier's Plan Voisin for Paris. In
the Pavilion, the diorama sits within a
double-shelled rotunda, open along
one axis to illusionistic renderings of
the Plan Voisin. The dwelling unit and
the diorama are autonomous events
that are linked by entry and circulation
passages, light cannons, and plastic
means, wedding their separate parts
and functions. Giuliano Gresleri has
noted that the cube and cylinder are
iconic forms that, for Le Corbusier,
evoke particular architectural arche- 10. J.A.D. lngres La Baigneuse de
types, the Parthenon and Pantheon.lo ValpjnPn, 1808 fed. Debra Edelstein,ln
-rhese are forms that Le Corbusier ref-
Pursuit of Perfecction: J.-A.-D. lnares
erenced in his critical writings, espe-
(Bloomington, Indiana. I9831 l20.1
cially in Towards a New Architecture.ll
The Pavilion is therefore a kind of hy- , .
brid that joins together the two great
archetypal monuments of western ar-
chitecture. The cube and cylinder also
represent the two archetypal organiz- :i
ing strategies: the Cartesian grid, pre-
ferred by the Purist painters, and con-
centric / radial geometries, upon which
perspective geometry relies.
The subjects for Gris' Cubist still lifes
and Jeanneret's Purist still lifes were
manufactured objects and musical in-
struments, employed for their anthro-
pomorphic and allegorical qualities.
- 1
.- .? r. 4. y
. .. -1.. .
Jeanneret used a geometric underlay &..- :L --= .--
to generate a lattice of aligned edges
and shared contours that fragment his 11. Juan Gris Le violon, 191 6 - formerly in
subjects. From the transparent over-
the collection of Raoul La Roche [ed. Ulrike -
lay of forms he fused new clusters of
Jehle-Schulte Strathaus, Le Corbusier und
elements, merging separate identities
Raoul La Roche (Basel, Switzerland, 19B7)
into new hybrid elements. In the
Pavillion de L' Esprit Nouveau, the
cube and drum are joined in like man-
ner. In plan, a regular structural grid
is employed, similar to that used in
nearly all of Le Corbusier's residential
~orbusi er' s aichitecture, if columns $
are expressed at all, the grid frequently
IS not. Individual structural members
may be revealed for plastic effect, but
perception of a structural system is
k1-m --
suppressed. It is here that Le
12. Raphael School of Athens, 1 509 [ed.
departs from the Jean Leymarie, Who Was Raphael?
modernist's rationalist rhetoric, his own (Geneva, 967) 70.]
included, and gives priority to plastic
effect. For Le Corbusier, the struc-
tural grid acts in the same manner as
the geometric underlays in his Purist
paintings. The structural framework,
in both instances, is revealed at sig-
nificant moments as the ligature join-
ing manufactured artifacts or architec-
tural fragments. The allusive frag-
ments operate at many scales, simul-
13. Le Corbusier, Pavillion de L'Esprit taneously, and their use reveals Le
Nouveau (Paris, 1925) [Giuliano Gresleri, Corbusier's painterly techniques trans-
L'Esorit Nouveau (Milano, 1979) 94.1 posed to architecture.
14. Le Corbusier, Plan - Pavillion de L'Esprit
Nouveau (Paris, 1925) [Le Corbusier, &
Corbusier Ouevre Com~lete 191 0 - 1929
(Zurich Switzerland, 1964) 100.1
At the Pavillion de L'Esprit Nouveau,
Le Corbusier employed figurative
strategies at a variety of scales in-
cluding that of the ensemble (cube and
cylinder), that of the rooms within the
apartment, and that of the furniture.
Though the cube and cylinder may
refer to the Parthenon and Pantheon
archetypes, other models operate at
more intimate scales. It is well known
that the Certosa at Ema was the pri-
mary social and formal model for the
lmmeubles- Villas project (figure 15).
The interlock of an "L" shaped unit with
a private outdoor garden offered a
variety of views and exposures within
an essentially party wall plan, where
each unit had just one outside expo-
sure.12 It may be suggested that the
Certosa model is the primary figure
that resides in the scaffolding of the
structural grid. The grid also acts as a
scaffolding for a number of object / ar-
tifacts of Florentine derivation. Fol-
lowing the Certosa model, Le
Corbusier readapted the spare fur-
nishings from a typical monk's cell for
use in the Pavillion de L'Esprit
Nouveau. The furnishings derived
from the Certosa include the storage
niche in the main room, the front panel
of which folds down to form a study
desk, and an arch-shaped niche in the
loggia, which likely held a devotional
figure (figures 16 & 17). These ele-
ments are reinterpreted as fixed patio
furniture, cast in place as table and
shelf. Almost surreal in their figural
quality, these artifacts appear as traces
of life within the dwelling (figure 19).
Arrayed along the terrace wall, they link
indoor and outdoor living rooms in a
manner that would connect objects in
a Purist still life. The transposition of
these elements to mass housing
evokes the Certosa's presence in for-
mat, ritual, and detail.
At the edge of the master bedroom,
another parapet overlooks the living
room and large window to the exterior
(figure 20). The balcony is screened,
as is the outdoor terrace, with sliding
metal panels, partly revealing and
partly concealing private activities from
more public spaces (figure 18). Here,
Le Corbusier employs a nesting of hi-
erarchies where the relationship be-
tween individual and group, between
enclosure and openness, between pri-
vacy an'd exposure is repeated and ad-
justed to reflect a range of complex
social and plastic relationships. The
Certosa suggested a model for an ideal
society, one in which individual, fam-
ily, and community were each given
explicit and interrelated spaces. The
benefits enjoyed from mass produc-
tion and distributed to residents in the
form of large, spatially developed
apartments, followed another model.
Charles Jenks, in Le Corbusier and the
Traaic View of Architecture,13 cites the
15. Le Corbusier's drawing of a monk's cell
from the Cerfosa di Ema [Le Corbusier. le
passe a reaction ~oetiaue (Paris, 1987) 80.1
16. Cerfosa di Ema, detail from a monk's
cell [Le Corbusier. le ~asse a reaction
poetiaue (Paris, 1987) 81 .]
17. Cerfosa di Ema, detail of monk's cell
[Giuliano Gresleri, L'Esprit Nouveau (Milano,
1979) 61 .]
18. Le Corbusier, Pavillion de L'Esprit Noweau (Paris, 1925) [Stanislaus von Moos, L' Esprit
Nouveau: Le Corbusier und die lndustrie 1920 - 1925 (Berlin. 1987) 134.1
Paris restaurant Legendre, where
Jeanneret and Ozenfant frequently
lunched, as the model for the balcony
used in the Maison Citrohan, which
was a precedent for the Pavillion de
L'Esprit Nouveau (figure 21). While
the double-height living area in the
Irnmeubles-Villas unit is similar to that
of the Maison Citrohan, the balcony
at the Pavillion de L'Esprit Nouveau is
different. At the Restaurant Legendre,
the balcony mezzanine is distinct from
the dining area that flows underneath.
The balcony at the Pavillion de L'Esprit
Nouveau was modified from the ver-
sion published in the Immeubles-W-
/as project. In the earlier version, the
balcony was nearly closed from the liv-
ing room below (figure 22.). In the bal-
cony wall there was a small, traditional,
punched-window, unusual in Le
Corbusier's work. Beneath it, facing
the living room, there was a some-
what kitsch window box. While this
element may have been used to sug-
gest the indoor / outdoor character of
the living room, and a cozy domestic-
ity that the grand piano and wall
mounted still-life objects failed to
arouse, it also sdered the bedroom
from the spatial continuum that is
manifest in the later Pavilion. At the
Pavillion de L'Esprit Nouveau, in the
zone behind the balcony parapet,
space appears denser. The stacked
bedroom and dining room belong to a
zone of simple domestic activities,
each sub-space lit by a similar hori-
zontal window, overlooking the private
terrace. On the wall between terrace
and living room, up to the height of
the balcony, Le Corbusier partly re-
19. Le Corbusier Pavillion de L'Esprit 20. Le corbusier Pavillion de L'Esprit
Nouveau (Reconstructed in Bologna, 1977) Nouveau (Reconstructed in Bologna, 1977)
[GiulianoGresleri, L'Es~ritNoweau (Milano, [Giuliano Gresleri, L' Es~rit Nouveau
1979) 157.1 (Milano, 1979) 157.1
21. Restaurant Legendre [Charles Jenks,
Le Corbusier and the Traaic View of Archi-
tecture (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1973)
22. Le Corbusier's sketch - lmmeubles-Vil-
/as [Le Corbusier, Ce Corbusier Ouevre a
com~lete 1910 - 1929 (Zurich Switzerland, 1
1964) 42.1 I
23. Section - Palauo Davanzati
24. Stair balcony - Palauo Davanzati [pho-
tograph by author]
25. Stair balcony - Palazzo Davanzati [dia-
gram by George Cumella]
26. Le Corbusier's sketch -Atrium - Maison
La Roche [Le Corbusier, Le Corbusier
Ouevre Com~lete 191 0 - 1929 (Zurich Swit-
zerland, 1964) 62.1
veals the structural system by recess-
ing and coloring the panels between
expressed vertical members. The fac-
ing wall is smooth. The terrace wall
articulates the division of a double-
height wall into single-height bands
and structural bays. The facing wall,
undivided, articulates the whole. It re-
lates to the double-height living room
and the huge, industrial-sash studio
window behind the viewer. In this
manner, these two facing walls split,
one articulating the parts, the other
binding them together in a perceivable
whole. Within the Pavilion both read-
ings have presence, suggesting a spa-
tial or phenomenal transparency of in-
tersecting volumes.
The Palazzo Davanzati14, another
Florentine antecedent, may have
served as inspiration for this develop-
ment in the balcony parapet. Within
the palazzo, a switch-back stair gives
access from the public loggia and
courtyard at street level to the upper
four levels of the house (figure 23).
The main living levels are the second
and third, requiring greater ceiling
heights than the levels above, and less
than that of the public street level.
Therefore, the flight of stairs shortens
as one ascends. At grade level, a
stone stair and landings occupy two
spatial zones, that of the central court
and that of a stack of secondary
spaces accessed from the main living
salon at each level. On levels two and
three, the stair runs fill the central sec-
tion and the landings penetrate into
these tall secondary rooms. Ceiling
height is sufficient for the landing to
serve as a balcony overlooking the
room (figures 24 & 25). Though I have
no evidence that such a device ex-
isted, one may easily imagine a cur-
tain or panel that shielded these ser-
vant spaces from the gaze of family
members and visitors to the Palazzo,
as Le Corbusier's sliding metal pan-
els screen the bed room and terrace
at the Pavillion de L'Esprit Nouveau.
Furthermore, there is a stair riser in
the center of the balcony / landing at
the palazzo. This required a corre-
sponding step-up in the parapet, cre-
ating the same curious silhouette that
is evident at the Pavillion de L'Esprit
Nouveau. I believe that the projecting
stair landing 1 balcony at the entry hall
in the Mai son La Roche was Le
Corbusier's first use of the Davanzati
stair, where its processional role was
the same, though its form was simpli-
fied (figure 26). This form, apart from
its processional role, may play a key
part in Le Corbusier's repertory of
forms. For Le Corbusier, the cubic bal-
cony signified the most minimal space
in the minimal house,15 a surrogate in-
dividual used to articulate a telescop-
ing hierarchy of scales. Within this
setting, several elements generate a
profusion or confusion of scales and
imbue Le Corbusier's work with a sen-
sation of Cubist illusion: the small pro-
jecting shelf (for exhibiting a miniature
figurative Cubist sculpture), the out-
door living room balcony, the bedroom
balcony, and the terrace parapet. At
the Pavillion de L'Esprit Nouveau, the
stepped parapet and its protruding
shelf also suggest a spatial extension
(along x, y, and z axes) that was char-
acteristic of Purist composition.
These three examples (the Parthenon
/ Pantheon model, the Certosa, and
the Davanzati stair) serve as both for-
mal frameworks and non-literal figures
within the composition of the Pavillion
de L'Esprit Nouveau. Within a matrix
of overlapping spatial zones, these
plastic elements emerge as figures, al-
ternately forming spaces for particular
activities and establishing spatial and
temporal connections. The Pavillion
de L'Esprif Nouveau represents an ar-
chitectural counterpart to the works of
Juan Gris. Le Corbusier translated the
techniques of non-literal representation
from painting to architecture.
'To summarize: the plastic means of
Juan Gris and Le Corbusier's implicit
rules of painting and architecture are
techniques of translation. If Le
Corbusier's rules are understood, a
subject may be transposed across ma-
terial, spatial, and temporal bound-
aries. For Gris or Le Corbusier, sub-
ject may refer to compositional struc-
ture, representational figures, or
space(s) of illusion. In this way, the
work of Gris may be said to be archi-
tectural, and that of Le Corbusier may

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