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Le Corbusier in Detail

Le Corbusier in Detail

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Published by: Abdul Malik on Jan 06, 2011
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were to be cast on site.108

For Le Corbusier pisé, connected with the
earth, was a material charged with enormous symbolic potential. ‘Life
within this pisé has perhaps a total dignity and gives back to men of
the machine civilisation the sense of fundamental resources, human and
natural’.109

His enthusiasm for vaults seems to have been fuelled by
an interest in living beneath the earth, in catacombs and in caves –
indeed he invariably chose to cover his vaulted roofs in grass, ostensibly
because of the cooling benefits achieved in this way, but also for more
mnemonic purposes. Le Corbusier hoped that the materials and forms
of his buildings would act upon their inhabitants in a subliminal way,
encouraging and reinforcing particular modes of existence. The scheme
for the housing at La Sainte Baume provides a case in point. The interior
finishes of each earth built house were to be simple in the extreme –
timber and quarry tiles contributing to the primitive feeling of the whole –
the roof covered in grass. In his own copy of Ernest Renan’s La Vie de
Jesus Le Corbusier underlined the words, ‘the founders of the kingdom
of God are the humble’.110

It seems that by creating such elemental
homes Le Corbusier hoped to instil in those that lived within them an
appreciation of a simple and ascetic existence. Indeed, he wrote of the
interior of La Tourette ‘the interior displays a total poverty’.111

The earthern
architecture of the La Sainte Baume houses would evoke simultaneously
the cave of Mary Madgalene, the spiritual heart of the scheme, and the
tomb, the catacombs of ancient Rome acting as a precedent for the
complex as a whole.112

In an ‘aspect géométral de la cité, faisant face à

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Standardization and unity

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Figure 1.14 House from La cite permanente at La Sainte Baume (c. 1950)

la chaine des rochers’, a drawing in the Oeuvre Complète, the Permanent
City appears like a wall of tombs, each house occupying two arched
bays (Figure 1.14). Embodying a return to ‘terre mere’, the materials of
the building suggest a narrative of birth and death entirely in keeping with
the scheme as a whole. To live within what Stirling called the ‘consistently
subdued light’113

of a vaulted home was to live within the earth, to be
reminded of death, the architect’s intention being to focus the attention
of the inhabitant upon ‘the transience of our lives and the irreparable loss
of time’.114

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