Le Corbusier and the radiant city concept

An utopia of ideal urbanism

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2013

14 Pages


Index of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Central principles of city planning

3. Theories of Town Construction
3.1 “Ville Contemporaire”
3.2 “Ville Radieuse”

4. Conclusion

5. Index of images

6. Bibliography
6.1 Monographs
6.2 Network sources

1. Introduction

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, born October, 6th 1887, is known as one of the most important architects of the last century. Otherwise, he is also seen extremely controversial in-between his artistic municipality. According to his point of view of architecture as a complex art of construction, he also dealt with architectural theory, city planning, sculpture and designing of furniture. Additionally, he was creative in drawing and painting.1 In “L’Esprit Nouveau” - an artistic magazine published since 1920 - he began to use the pseudonym Le Corbusier.2

Due to architecture, Le Corbusier’s so-called “Five Points of a new Architecture” are very important.3 These principles point out a radical architectural change in order to react to the accelerating progress of mechanization and its influence on social change. As a result, Le Corbusier especially dealt with the construction of accommodations to implement his complex theory consistently.4 So-called “Doppelhaus in der Weißenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart”5 - designed by Pierre Jeanneret and Le Corbusier - seems to be an example.

To give his theories and visions a suited area, Le Corbusier academically worked in architectural societies like “Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne” (CIAM). However, the architect was one of CIAM’s co-founders.6

Until the mid 1920s, Le Corbusier was both, a social and an artistic supporter of capitalism. “Ville Contemporaire” (1922) with its forced authority, clear structure and geometry is an important evidence for his ideal.7 Since the beginning of the crisis of global economy in 1929, Le Corbusier has changed his point of view in a more radical one. The architect became an infernal supporter of so-called French syndicalism.8

Le Corbusier died on August, 27th 1965.

2. Central principles of city planning

In 1925, Le Corbusier formulated the problems of traditional city concepts in his publication “Urbanisme”9: “Der Mensch, der Gerade zieht, beweist, dass er sich selbst begriffen hat und eintritt in die Ordnung.”10 As a result, Le Corbusier educed his utopia of an ideal city. Due to that theory, the architect pointed out his four central principles of city planning. Their definitions based on a rational analysis of real-existing cities, especially European social melting pots.11 These principles ought to be the solution of architectural, demographical and technical changes according to industrialization and engineering. They are called 1st) the clearance of the central city, 2nd) the increase of the density of population, 3rd) an increasing number of motorized vehicles, 4th) the extension of the green-city concept - called “Pilotis”.12 Le Corbusier underlined the necessity of dealing with these principles: “Eine Stadt, die stillsteht, bedeutet ein Land, das stillsteht.”13 Therefore, he concluded: “Die modern Stadt ist ein neuer Organismus, eine Art Fabrik.”14

Le Corbusier planned to restore an arrangement due to the existing urban disorder according to his idea of industrially adapted cities coming from the drawing board. In order to modernize traditional ideas of town construction, the stereotypes of industrialization and innovative motorization are the foundation of the new urban array. However, Le Corbusier commented on the set of problems of the existing cities in the first chapter of “Urbanisme”.15 The architect explained that the extension of old- school streets was not a process of further development because of the missing of “axes of accelerating living”. The outcome of this was stagnancy and death of traditional urbanization.16 The solution of the problem would be the following: right angles and plain geometry could help to transform modern cities into viable ones. Thereby the architect referred to his formerly published “Verse une Architecture”.17 Right angles and pain geometry are both, structural axes of town construction and the expression of freely human producing.

The idea of pained geometry is explicated in the second chapter - called “Suffering and Desire”.18 Calm and wellness of human being are influenced by geometrical shape.19 They are conveyed by pained and unbroken lines. Le Corbusier’s demand on the coherence of particular shape is culminated by the following thesis: town construction was more than pure calculation, but pure architecture.20 Consistently, the geometrical concept is expressed by emphasized squares. These areas arise from the equability of several parts. This idea is supported by both, the industrialization of the construction trade and the return back to the human dimension - latterly published as “Modulor”.21

3. Theories of Town Construction

By introducing his blueprints, Le Corbusier gave an answer to the population explosion in the central cities, the increasing motorization and especially to the velocity of the means of travel. Hence the architect described a standardized principle of modern town construction.

3.1 “Ville Contemporaire”

“Ville Contemporaire” explains the concept of a city with the size of three million inhabitants. The urban population is classified in “city dweller” (employment and accommodation in the “metropolitan area”), “suburbanite” (employment in the “industrial area”, accommodation in “garden city”) and “half- city-dweller” (employment in the “city”, accommodation in “garden city”).22 Based on this allocation, Le Corbusier divided the functions of several districts in “metropolitan area”, “industrial zone” and “garden city”. The transitions from one quarter to another are called “self-conscious districts”. These intersections are utilized to install green corridors, which latterly could be used to enlarge the city’s surface.

By this means, arrangement and stringent centralization are dominating Le Corbusier’s visions of town construction. The metropolitan area is dissected by bilaterally symmetrically conducted axes. The decisive proportion of “Ville Contemporaire” is 400 meters. This pattern is influenced by Le Corbusier’s idea of tube stations, for example.23 As a result, the strict arrangement of geometry culminates in stringent array of the city’s inhabitants.

3.2 “Ville Radieuse”

The concept of “Ville Radieuse” especially correlates with Le Corbusier’s theory of residential buildings. The architect examined one’s resident as a kind of cubicle. It ought to be multifunctional and flexibly reclaimable. Thereby, Le Corbusier processed the biological unity of humans, again.24 The blueprints of his cubicles are based on CIAM’s proposal regarding low cost housing, which was published at Brussels in 1930. According to this idea, Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand designed a fourteen-square-meter-standard of residential buildings.25 They combined large and opened surfaces with smaller, more concentrated space concepts. Thus, the dimensions of residents diversified from bachelor’s habitable surfaces up to living spaces occupied by extended families. Parts of this theory were published in “Ville Radieuse” in 1935.

“Ville Radieuse” unifies Le Corbusier’s visions of modern town construction and elements of residential building. Hence, the architect dealt with both, architectural and urban construction as well as social images of the city. “If the city were to become a human city, it would be a city without classes.”26 To follow this assumption, Le Corbusier described a pyramid of natural hierarchies. Its geometrical shape is geared to the ideas of French syndicalism. The pyramid pretends the city’s structure and its organization.27 The perfect collaboration of all parts of the hierarchy finally creates the beauty of the city. As a result, the residential district becomes the paramount place of freedom within the city.

In order to transfer his new ideas of town construction, Le Corbusier demanded to remove traditional cities.28 “Ville Radieuse” alters the idea of the city-as-body.29 Therefore, the city map still consists of a classical body with its head (business centre) and its heart (cultural centre). Though, the central axes are not bilaterally symmetrically applied. The plainness of the complex is seen as a biological development - like the roots of a tree. As a result, the city only consists of one central axe. In this vein, the map is getting essentially flexible and less artistic.30

The above-named residential complexes are the epicentre of urban life. They are available for all inhabitants; they are no longer subjected to the elite. The equability of the population also becomes visual via identical times of approach between both, the residential districts and the city as well as the building complex and the industrial districts. The railway station and the airport are installed between the residential districts. Its borderland is planned to settle social-service institutions. “Ville Radieuse’s” industrial districts do not essentially differ from “Ville Contemporaire’s” areas of industrialization. The freight terminal and the railway station are separated from each other.31 Different branches of industry obtain several surfaces. Furthermore, some parts of the industrial district are built of standardized assembly units in order to react to the various arrangements of the trades.

Le Corbusier thought the problems of traditional business centres were solved by publishing “Ville Contemporaire” Hence, the architecture focussed on the residential districts of modern cities. The business centre persists in the north of the residential quarter. It consists of 14 Cartesian skyscrapers which are 400 meters high. These tower blocks offer about 3200 places of employment.32 As mentioned before, “Ville Radieuse” is entitled to offer a standardized surface of 14 square-meters to every dweller.33 One apartment building, which is also built in a standardized way and accomplishes a height of 50 meters, shelters 2700 occupants. Hereby, one-storey residential units are stockpiled as tight and competitive complexes. Several supplies of services, recreational facilities and shops are installed within the apartment building. Additionally, every apartment building includes a service of maintenance, where meals are prepared or purifications are done. As a result, the dwellers can utilize their leisure time more efficient, including walking through the wide-opened gardens or relaxing on top of the blocks of flats. Educational establishments are integrated in the apartment buildings. The children are taught by appropriate employees, here. In order to avoid superfetation, time of productive work averages merely five hours. Therefore, these constructions are nearly autarkical. Furthermore, they create an image of Le Corbusier’s idea of social collectivization.34 Regarding his visions of apartment buildings, Le Corbusier was inspired by both, several perambulations of social housing projects in Moscow between 1928 and 193035 and blueprints of coeval luxury liners.36 His blocks of flats were affected by the idea of the concentration and the feed of thousands of passengers. In order to analyze the lateral cut of his apartment building, Le Corbusier even applied the cross-section of luxury liners.

Le Corbusier was a castigator of the contemporary traffic concept. The architect was especially dissatisfied with so-called “hallway streets”.37 In order to solve this problem and to create a certain diversification within the residential district, the apartment buildings were connected with each other in a very complicated way. Hereby, so-called “tooth-cut forms” were installed. Such profiles were already utilized in Le Corbusier’s “Ville Contemporaire”.38

The buildings are planned on top of stilts. They are constructed on pillars coming from basement floor up to the intermediate storey, which harbours social facilities. The construction above consists of a light steel framework. As a result, the face of the building becomes an object d’art without any statically value. The building ought to be protected by the facade like a kind of skin. Its advantage seems to be its global utilization because of not depending on climatic conditions. The glass front could be finalized by the facade. Otherwise it is possible to be put behind balconies with a bulge from one meter up to two and a half meters.39

In comparison to former publications by Le Corbusier, gardens receive a more artistic significance. By the means of several schemata due to the green city concept, the architect demonstrates the contrast between his idea of town construction and the maps of contemporary metropolises like New York City or Buenos Aires.40 Hence, so-called “stilt houses” seems to be a constructional advantage. As a result, the city’s superstruct surface diminishes to twelve percent, while 88 percent of the available square is reserved for pedestrians. Gardens should be built up of multitudinous plazas and pulsating paths.41 Because of being installed right next to the apartment buildings, educational establishments, sports facilities and parking areas are important parts of the garden. Thus, the city becomes a garden city - as it was evaluated in “Ville Contemporaire”, too. “Ville Radieuse” incarnates the “Green City Concept”.42

Furthermore, the overall traffic is guided offside. Le Corbusier planned to install elevated guide ways, which are at least five meters above the ground. Therefore, there are no streets next to the apartment buildings. Accursed “hallway streets” are dismissed. In order to park the vehicles, the architect planned basement garages, which are arranged directly underneath the blocks of flats. The blueprints of transportations systems are also new. The underground railway and trucks run on motorways separated from the ordinary elevated guide ways. Due to the multifunctional alignment of the several districts, these new transportation systems are quicker, more economical and more efficient than the traditional traffic infrastructure.43

4. Conclusion

“Ville Radieuse” modifies the idea of “city-as-body”. Henceforth, its districts are planned multicellular. It signifies the further development coming from a fixed, quasi-academically, perspective panorama up to an opened, process-orientated concept of town construction. Doubtless, Le Corbusier’s proposals attract the attention of contemporary urban planners, but also of theoreticians of society. De facto, Le Corbusier gathered a utopia rather than a concept of urban development. The architect tried to assemble a synthesis of architecture, aesthetics and Syndicalism imagination of an ideal society. Against the background of this idea, “Ville Radieuse” should be the widespread method of resolution. Nevertheless, Le Corbusier’s concept possesses three substantial scarcities:

1st The architect overvalued the effective influence of town construction. From a nowadays point of view, academicals agree, that so-called “natural hierarchies” - the classless society - are not affected by neither plain geometry nor functional separation of districts. Thus, a harmonically life is not guaranteed.
2nd Le Corbusier’s concept is considered itself to be exposed to a social dilemma. Thereby, liberal and human aspects are in incongruous opposition to authoritarian and anti-democratically characteristics. Therefore, the architect’s theories were boisterously discussed, too.


1 Cf. Boesiger, Willy (19987 ): Le Corbusier. Basel: Birkhäuser.

2 Cf. Curtis, William (2006): Le Corbusier. Ideas and forms. Phaidon Press. See also image I: Le Corbusier.

3 See Mallgrave, Harry Francis; Contandriopoulos, Christina (eds.) (2008): Architectural theory. An anthology from 1871 to 2005. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, pages 218ff.

4 Cf. Benton, Tim (2007): The Villas of Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, 1920-1930. Basel: Birkhäuser.

5 Cf. Adlbert, Georg (Hrsg.) (2006): Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret - Doppelhaus in der Weiß enhofsiedlung Stuttgart. Die Geschichte einer Instandsetzung. Stuttgart: Krämer.

6 Cf. Mumford, Eric Paul (2002): The CIAM discourse on urbanism, 1928 - 1960. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

7 Cf. Le Corbusier (1923) : Verse une architecture. Paris: Crès.

8 See Fishman, Robert (1977): Urban utopias in the twentieth century. Ebenezer Howard, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier. New York: Basic Books Publ., pages 226-234.

9 Cf. Le Corbusier (1925): Urbanisme. Paris: Crès. Vgl. auch Le Corbusier (1979): St Ädtebau. Übersetzt und herausgegeben von Hans Hildebrandt. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt. Im Original: Urbanisme. Paris: Crès 1925.

10 Cite Le Corbusier (1979), page 33.

11 Cf. Cohen, Jean-Louis (20125 ): Le Corbusier. Herausgegeben von Peter Gössel. Hamburg : Taschen Verlag.

12 Cf. Le Corbusier (1923).

13 Cite Le Corbusier (1979), page 82.

14 Cite Le Corbusier (1979), page 136.

15 Cf. Le Corbusier (1925).

16 Cf. Le Corbusier (1979).

17 Cf. Le Corbusier (1923).

18 Cf. Le Corbusier (1925).

19 See image image II: Panorama of “Ville Contemporaire’s” central axes to show its bilateral symmetry.

20 Cf. Gerosa, Pier Giorgio (1978): Le Corbusier, urbanisme et mobilit é . Basel: Birkhäuser.

21 Cf. Le Corbusier (1978; Facs.): Der Modulor. Darstellung eines in Architektur und Technik allgemein anwendbaren

harmonischen Maß es im menschlichen Maß stab. Übersetzt von Richard Herre und Nora von Mühlendahl-Krehl. Mit einem Vorwort von Georges Candilis. München: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt.

22 Cf. Le Corbusier (1979).

23 Cf. Le Corbusier (1923).

24 See Mumford (2002), S. 47f. See also Fishman (1977), pages 229f.

25 Cf. Janson, Alban; Krohn, Carsten (2007): Unit é d ’ habitations. Marseille, Le Corbusier. Stuttgart : Menges.

26 Cite Fishman (1977), page 230.

27 See Gerosa (1978), page 64.

28 See Mallgrave (2008), page 219.

29 See Mumford (2002), pages 79-81. See also image IV: Schéma représentant le cartiers de la Ville Radieuse.

30 See image III: Plan of Radiant City. The Central District is now residential; above it is the Business District and below are the industrial sites. From “La Ville Radieuse”, (1935). Black parts of the picture are evocated to be gardens.

31 Cf. Le Corbusier (1935): La Ville radieuse. Editions de l’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui. Boulogne-sur Seine.

32 Cf. ibid.

33 See Gerosa (1978), page 64.

34 See Fishman (1977), pages 232f.

35 See ibid., pages 221f.

36 See image V: Blueprint of a luxury liner in order to describe Le Corbusier’s ideas of apartment buildings.

37 See Mallgrave (2008), page 251.

38 See Fishman (1977), pages 200-204.

39 Cf. Le Corbusier (1935).

40 Cf. ibid.

41 See image VI: The Green City concept by Le Corbusier.

42 See Gerosa, pages 64f.

43 Cf. Le Corbusier (1935).

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Le Corbusier and the radiant city concept
An utopia of ideal urbanism
Technical University of Darmstadt
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Lisa Nelles (Author), 2013, Le Corbusier and the radiant city concept, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/265209


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