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Top 10 Ways Le Corbusier Ruined Architecture

Hot take.

Le Corbusier is the most repeated name in the Architectural world. I haven’t taken a single architecture studio or lecture class that didn’t mention something about him, and with justifiable reasons — his contributions ripple and affect our built environment to this day.

Some say it may not be accurate to say that Le Corbusier “ruined” architecture, as his contributions and impact on architecture and design have been widely debated and are subjective to personal opinions based on how much influence he has in our world.

It is that very influence that inspired this list that I have been holding back for 10 years, all the way back when I started my architectural journey.

A young Le Corbusier

1 —Be Wealthy. Be Man. Be White.

Corbusier never had formal architectural education. He learned everything by going to the library, working with renowned local architects for a few years, and making most of his early mistakes with his parent’s wealthy friend’s houses. After he got sued, he took a break, traveled the world with friends, and was able to just paint and explore himself as an artist for two years. He wrote books and hung around the right people that were already part of his social circle, with his family and family friends investing in his ideas and endeavors.

None of that would be possible in the early 20th century if he weren’t a white man that’s from a wealthy area of France and had contacts he grew up with money to spend.

Image credit: Jacob Brillhar

2 — Cultural Appropriation & Erasure while Traveling

Corbusier had a famous traveling moment in which he went to the Balkans, Turkey, Greece, and several other areas in the Middle East. When he returned from the trip, he came back with clarity of mind and his famous five points of architecture that all architectural students have shoved down their throats. When presented, they are meant to be evidence of Corbusier’s remarkable visionary talent. The thing is… they were almost word-by-word descriptions of traditional Turkish Architecture. The main difference was his use of concrete instead of local Turkish materials, but the idealistic components of them were passed as his own when they were in fact influenced almost verbatim from his “Journey to the East”.

AD Classics: Ville Radieuse

3 — The Architect’s Vision is more Important than the Result

Corbusier made a lot of assumptions in his career, and because he created momentum and manufactured credibility with ease, he got away with a lot. While he pioneered many modern concepts in his practice, the place of origin was a very narrow field devoid of much nuanced. He was allowed to make massive assumptions and implement them in both architectural and urban planning, making many mistakes with socio-economic ripples. Like the Radiant City, for example.

This brings me to the next point,

4 — With enough Fame, Idealism is Compensated

Le Corbusier was not a misunderstood, tortured artist. He enjoyed his fame and reputation during his lifetime. While certainly some thought of him as being a bit eccentric, and to be fair he was criticized while alive, he was otherwise well commissioned and stimulated throughout his life and career. Many architects suffer from the sweet fruit of idealism, and I am no exception, but Le Corbusier had no issues convincing the world to pursue his ideas even when they didn’t work. Even posthumously, people turn a blind eye to some of his lofty goals that blatantly come from a place of idealism and privilege.

Couvent Sainte-Marie- de-la-Tourette, 1953

5 — Glamorization of Modernism

The Industrial Revolution, and by consequence the 20th century, was a time of great innovation and desire for simplicity. Long gone were the days of mass ornamentation in buildings, which was passé and old. People were aching for clean lines, monolithic and simple spaces that were less rigid and adaptable as time passed. These were all great concepts to strive for in an age of uncertainty, rapid change, and wars. Modernism wouldn’t have been possible without concrete, and if there is something that we owe Corbusier is that his obsession with concrete allowed its usage to be proliferated more quickly.

The moment the wealthy do something, it trickles down to the masses. Concrete had a very alluring price tag, but lack of ornamentation had an even better price tag. Now structures were simple, straightforward to build, and financially accessible to the middle classes. You couple that with mass media of celebrities constantly enjoying these new type of structures, and the glamour of Modernism is numerically inevitable.

If you have read so far, you might think — ok what is wrong with that? Well, the problem is that it was unrivaled, unchallenged, and therefore became the standard of architecture. Once it was the standard the inflation of prices went up, the mass production of concrete increased to an environmentally damaging level and all other forms of buildings were ignored. For the masses, modernism was reduced to white boxes without any personality, and the concrete urban hellscape known as “International Style” proliferated, well, internationally.

Concrete is an amazing building material, but we are using it one-dimensionally. Those boxes Corbusier drew were meant to be theoretical at best, not the end all be all of architectural forms. You have Corbusier to thank for the soulless

Book Cover

6 — Black & White = Luxury

The lack of ornamentation permeated to color. Suddenly the use of color was complicated and devoid of elegance. It was all about raw materials, and if you must color something – white would do the trick with the occasional black contrast. Through the 20th century the economy of this decision became devoid of its original conceptual stature – and instead became a tool for manufacturing sophistication and elegance. In reality, it was hiding plain old stinginess in the built environment. This served developers and builders well — the client thought they were getting a higher end product with less effort and money, but eventually the luxurious connotation would drive the prices up. So you would get less quality, lower effort architecture for the same price as pro-ornamentation days. The consumer got the biggest L, but they wouldn’t even be aware of it.

This would have incredible ramifications — like decrease need for craftsmanship, and therefore many skilled laborers disappeared. Since there was no demand or profit to be made, a lot of people stopped doing it. This would end up contributing to the huge shortage we see today in mason workers, carpenters and skilled laborers.


7 — Branding & Creative Cults will Ensure your Perpetuity

Corbusier’s contribution are measurable and important, his cult on the other hand borderlines in psychoticness. Regardless, sometimes the fan club gains more power than the creator and the obsession with Corbusier has not only ensured his perpetuity in history, but the creation of stereotypes that have damaged the architectural practitioner’s reputation. The round glasses, the need for excentricism, and the rockstar entitled attitude that most architects display once they’ve reached relative success are but a few of those stereotypes.

The cult and following has created an image of the architect that is devoid of substance and depth. It has created the ultimate stereotype and has been replicated by successful people in the industry making the illusion that it works.

It has created the illusion that people who look and behave like that have more authority — like they get something more secret and nuanced about the profession. It is all pretentiousness — and that air of self absorbed-ness is giving architects a bad rep. It’s also creating an internal discrimination and “cliques” within the discipline that damage the internal discourse.

When the pressure is on, dedicated architecture students show how to power nap like a pro by Archinect News

8 — Toxic Architect Expectations

All of these points start to add up together and explode in the architect’s face. Corbusier was not the only one, but since he is up in a pedestal that symbolizes the 20th century architect, his image is often used in architecture school to perpetuate stereotypes and expectations. These expectations are toxic at best, and plain unhealthy lifelong habits that seep into work culture at worst.

9 — The Blank Wall Syndrome & The White Box Syndrome

Blankness and nondescript design have been come the epitome of the perception of luxury, and this has done an enormous disservice to everyone — architect or not. It has removed the desire to showcase personality, it has removed the appreciation of character at a commercial level, and quite frankly has made most architect’s job incredible dull from a design standpoint. The uneducated public venerates the white wall like it is the epitome of class and understanding of design, but it’s far from it. It is an insecure decision guided by indecision. It’s the low-cost solution turned in to default luxe. Furthermore, it is abhorrent, and it doesn’t make you look elegant or design savvy, it makes you look like you don’t dare to express true design potential. Just like the white wall syndrome, there is the white cube/box syndrome. A box is not necessarily the most economical way to build, but they will tell you it is. What it really is, is the shape that requires the least amount of thinking and the least amount of skill to design and build.

That being said, it’s ok to have blank wall(s) and to build boxes. That is not the issue. The issue is the obsession our society has across the entire world with it because economically it made sense during war times, we glamorized it, and now we as a globe think it’s the epitome of luxury.

10 – Homogenization of Cities Worldwide

And with that in mind comes the biggest way in which Corbusier and his contemporaries ruined architecture. Their “International Style” + Global Economic Issues + War Torn countries created the perfect formula and storm that generated the homogenization of cities worldwide. Slowly, all cities are shunning their unique architectural heritage and obsessing over this fabricated sense of luxury — avant-garde.

It’s important to note that these criticisms are subjective and open to interpretation, and many architects and designers continue to be influenced by Le Corbusier’s ideas and designs. I don’t wish to insult the contributions Le Corbusier made to the architectural world, but I do want to engage in a conversation that evaluates him in a truthful light. It serves us nothing to idolize someone by hiding the nuance of reality, especially when we have an entire century to analyze as the aftermath.

In this nuevo year yo estoy experimentando mucho. Especialmente con who I am and how that impacta mi career as a practicing Architectural Designer en camino to licensure. If you want to be parte del journey, subscribete para never, ever miss my posts. Si no eres parte de medium, perhaps consider joining Medium if you haven’t already. Hacerlo te dara access to other informative articles adentro de este incredibly diverse platform.

Other things written by me (English),

How Fort & Castle Design Informs Architecture in an Era of Mass Shootings
What You Can Expect From Architecture In The Next 10 Years?
7 Lessons From Architecture School To Apply When Writing


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