Loving the Machine Aesthetic
Le Corbusier was one of the greatest architects of the Twentieth Century.
He believed houses were machines and his early industrialization of building homes as metrics of functionality — instead of as just basic shelter — forever changed the way we consider both Art and science today.
By 1918, Corbusier’s ideas on how architecture should meet the demands of the machine age led him to develop, in collaboration with the artist Amédée Ozenfant, a new theory: Purism. Purist rules would lead the architect always to refine and simplify design, dispensing with ornamentation. Architecture would be as efficient as a factory assembly line. Soon, Le Corbusier was developing standardised housing ‘types’ like the ‘Immeuble-villa’ (made real with the Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau of 1925), and the Maison Citrohan (a play on words suggesting the building industry should adopt the methods of the mass production automobile industry), which he hoped would solve the chronic housing problems of industrialised countries.
But despite his love of the machine aesthetic, Le Corbusier was determined that his architecture would reintroduce nature into people’s lives. Victorian cities were chaotic and dark prisons for many of their inhabitants. Le Corbusier was convinced that a rationally planned city, using the standardised housing types he had developed, could offer a healthy, humane alternative.
The lesson of Le Corbusier is one of conflict and outrage: We must never accept the ordinary, the middling or the status quo. It is our job — as purveyors of Artists and as patrons of Scientists — to always demand the surprise of new thinking.