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I should probably come clean and say I'm not a big fan of Corbu right off. Something about a man who has the pomposity to change his name, and publish a magazine pushing his own ideas, then quote from the same magazine in his own book just irks me a little bit.
But I thought I'd give him a chance, after all, my professors seem to think this Corb guy is important in the history of Architecture. That is- he completely destroyed what many previous writers have defined as architecture. This indeed establishes his importance.
All architectural students should read this book- its very quick and easy. Corb didn't use very complicated language- though he shows some traces of being the father of today's ArchiSpeak gobbledegook when he uses a word like "modalities."
Corb idolizes the Parthenon (rightly so), but twists his love for it to fit his ideas of what 'architecture' is. He has a deep fasciniation with 'pure' forms, and believes that the use of pure forms and geometries will arrive at beauty. In a nice paragraph, he dismisses Gothic architecture as "not very beautiful" because it uses muddled complex forms that don't fit his dictated palette. So in order to consider the Parthenon (which uses subtle complex forms to achieve its beauty) beautiful, he likes to call the columns 'cylinders,' turning a sculpted, crafted element with entasis into one of his 'pure' forms. In actuality, the Parthenon is strongly rooted in artistic sculpural expression and cultural tradition, not an attempt to achieve 'pure' forms as Corb would like to see.
Its little contradictions that abound as well- He praises the Acropolis's use of interesting site planning and progression to create angled views rather then flat on views, and then on the next page he cries for ordered, rigid compositions in his cities.
And then there's the whole fascination with the Engineer and Industrial-designed objects. Unfortunately grain silos, WW1 bombers, and automobiles are nothing like buildings. Attempting to make a house a 'machine for living.' Bleah. Who wants to live in a machine? A machine has no soul, humans can't define themselves in a machine. Corb has crazy notions like you should hide all your paintings in the closet and take them out one at a time rather then clutter up your modernist, pure, architecturally designed walls with them. How dare an inhabitant of a house try to express themselves in a way that detracts from how the architect is trying to express himself! It all slips out on page 142: "... a chair is in no way a work of art; a chair has no soul; it is a machine for sitting in." So by simple reasoning, Corb's machines for living in have no art, and no soul. He recognizes this lack of soul with his little mantra:
"We must create the mass production spirit.
The spirit of constructing mass-production houses
The spirit of living in mass production houses
The spirit of conceiving mass production houses."
Since there was no love for modernism when he was writing, Corb recognized that he must create it. And the whole boook is an attempt to do so. There is a danger to trying to create something the ramifications of which you don't fully understand. Jane Jacobs does a nice critique of Corb's "City for six million" in The Death and Life of Great American Cities- his city planning was dangerously influential, and his architectural ideas have had an impact of similar magnitude on the Western world's built environment. (much for the worse, IMHO :)
If anything, this book is pure propoganda for modernism. He upright tells you that cities of today (well, cities of then) do not work, that people hate their old houses, and that his architecture and city planning will solve everything. It also fits the propoganda mold by being incessantly repetitive. He must think his average reader has a brain the size of a pea- passages are repeated SEVERAL times, when there is no logic, try repetition to hammer your ideas into other people's heads.
All said and done though, every student of architecture should nab this book and have a read through it. Le Corbusier, along with Mies Van Der Rohe, Adolf Loos, and Walter Gropius were the big guys of Modernism, but Corbusier was definitely the man that had the biggest impact. The text is nice and big, and there are lots of illustrations, so it goes quickly.