Towards a New Architecture

Vers une Architecture - Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier)

- I started reading this book by Le Corbusier in preparation for an essay that I am due to write quite soon and because I had heard about it. I thought I would make some personal comments on the book and its arguments. To do this I must obviously try to summarize what the books says. There is an English article about the book on Wikipedia, but I will try not to look at it, and see what happens. Will my understanding be the same? This might be an interesting little experiment.

NB. I am reading the translation into English by Frederick Etchells from 1946. Seriously old book.

The book begins by explaining the Arguments:
  • The Engineer's Aesthetic and Architecture:
'The Engineer, inspired by the law of Economy and governed by mathematical calculation, puts us in accord with universal law. He achieves harmony. The Architect, by his arrangement of forms, realizes an order which is a pure creation of his spirit; by forms and shapes he affects our senses to an acute degree, and provokes plastic emotions; by the relationships which he creates he wakes in us a profound echoes, he gives us the measure of an order which we feel to be in accordance with that of our world, he determines the various movements of our heart and of our understanding; it is then that we experience the sense of beauty.'
  • Three Reminders to Architects.
'Our eyes are constructed to enable us to see forms in light. Primary forms are beautiful forms because they can be clearly appreciated.'

'A mass is enveloped in its surface, a surface which is divided up according to the directing and generating lines of the mass; and this gives the mass its individuality. The great problems of modern construction must have a geometrical solution.

'The Plan is the generator. Without a plan, you have lack of order, and willfulness. The Plan holds in itself the essence of sensation. The great problems of the tomorrow, dictated by collective necessities, put the question of "plan" in a new form. Modern life demands, and is waiting for, a new kind of plan both the house and for the city.'

- I understand what LC is getting at here and agree with him. I would personally find it extremely tough to start designing a building or even a cityscape without having a plan. I think he actually tries to give an example of what he means by this "plan" of tomorrow in this chapter. I find it rather radical...

'We must study the plan, the key of this evolution.'

  • Regulating lines:
'An inevitable element of Architecture. The necessity for order. The regulating line is a guarantee against willfulness. It brings satisfaction to the understanding.'

- I totally agree with Le Corbusier on this. I kind of think everything should be justified in such way.
  • Eyes which do not see:
'The "styles" are a lie. Style is a unity of principle animating all the work of an epoch, the result of a state of mind which has its own special character. Our own epoch has its own special character. Our own epoch is determining, day by day, its own style. Our eyes, unhappily, are unable yet to discern it

- This Chapter of the book is divided into three: liners, airplanes and cars (automobiles). In each of the parts he takes his argument further by explaining how the machines relate to architecture.
  • Architecture:
There are three 'Architecture' Chapters: the Lesson of Rome, the Illusion of Plans and Pure Creation of the Mind.
  • The Lesson of Rome:
'To send architectural students to Rome is to cripple them for life.'

- This isn't everything he claims this chapter, but that's what I took from it. I will go to Rome.
  • The Illusion of Plans:
'The Plan proceeds from within to without; the exterior is the result of an interior. The elements of architecture are light and shade, walls and space. Arrangement is the gradation of aims, the classification of intentions. Man looks at the creation of architecture with his eyes, which are 5 feet 6 inches from the ground. One can only consider aims which the eye can appreciate and intentions which take into account architectural elements. If there some into play intentions which do not speak the language of architecture, you arrive at the illusion of plans, you transgress the rules of the Plan through an error in conception, or through a leaning towards empty show.'

  • Pure Creation of the Mind:
'Profile and contour are the touchstone of the Architect. Here he reveals himself as artist or mere engineer. Profile and contour are free of all constraint. There is here no longer any question of custom, nor of tradition, nor of construction, nor of adaptation to utilitarian needs. Profile and contour are a pure creation of the mind; they call for the plastic arts.'

Mass-production houses:

- This is very tough chapter to understand fully, since it has lots of pictures of schemes of buildings. About 40, and if a picture is like a thousand words; this would be insanely long. Anyhow, I attempted to make sense of it all.

'Mass-production of based on analysis and experiment. Industry on the grand scale must occupy itself with building and establish the elements of the house on a mass-production basis. 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. If we eliminate from our hearts and minds all dead concepts in regard to the houses and look at the question from a critical and objective point of view, we shall arrive at the "House-Machine", the mass-production house, healthy (and morally so too) and beautiful in the same way that the working tools and instruments which accompany our existence are beautiful.'

Architecture or revolution:

'In every field of industry, new problems have presented themselves and new tools have been created capable of resolving them. If this new fact be set against the past, then you have revolution.'


- Le Corbusier was/is generally quite an interesting architect in my opinion. I personally really admire some of his buildings - especially the most famous ones. It might sound cliche, but it is true. I really enjoyed reading his book too, but he was exceptionally arrogant in it.

Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier in Poissy, near Paris. (1928-1931)

Notre-Dame du Haut by Le Corbusier in Ronchamp. (1954)

These two buildings were built after he had written 'Towards a New Architecture' - it might be plausible to think that he applied some of his ideas in the buildings. Apparently the Villa Savoye had been specifically designed so you could enter with a certain kind of Renault from the 1920s. Today, the cars are way too big to go all the way to the main entrance of the building. (maybe a Smart could enter though)

List of Le Corbusier buildings

Towards a New Architecture on Google Books