London takes a fresh look at Le Corbusier


June 18, 2010 Updated Feb 19, 2009 at 12:11 AM EDT

Britain gets the chance to reassess the sharp angles and smooth curves of Le Corbusier, one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, in a new London exhibition opening on Thursday.

The British capital's first major survey of his work for 20 years, "Le Corbusier -- the Art of Architecture" not only looks at his landmark architectural achievements but also his work in other disciplines, such as painting, sculpture and cinema.

The retrospective runs till May 24 at the Barbican Centre in London, a 1960s brutalist development heavily influenced by Le Corbusier's methods.

Born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris in Switzerland in 1887, he adopted the pseudonym Le Corbusier and took French citizenship in 1930 after moving to Paris. He died in 1965.

A pioneer of modern architecture, Le Corbusier's concrete high-rise solutions for post-war housing problems triggered both admiration and revulsion.

"It's an interesting time to reassess his work and also to look at his art and his architecture in parallel," Lydia Yee, the curator of the Barbican Art Gallery, told AFP.

"People perhaps know that he drew; they may not know his painting and certainly wouldn't know his sculpture. These elements informed his architecture.

"We're at a moment where we're finally beyond the negative reception of Le Corbusier.

In Britain in particular many people associate him with failed mass housing complexes, "in which lesser architects tried to apply some of his principles to post-war architecture but didn't quite have his talent," she said.

"But now we're at a moment where a new generation of architects who have not been directly trained under his influence are able to draw lessons from what they feel are successful.

She added: "We're not talking about architectural motifs and style but other subtle things about how we organise space.

"He thought a lot about human proportion. Younger architects are doing those sort of things today. A flat might be quite small but be very efficient. These are things he considered."

Exhibition highlights include "Femme et coquillage IV" (1948), a monumental mural painting from his office in Paris, and a reconstruction of his 1925 utopian masterplan for the French capital.

The exhibition also includes a complete original kitchen by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand from his famous Unite d'Habitation (1947-1952) housing project in Marseille and several scale model plans of his buildings.

It also includes his chaises longues, chairs, and a section on Chandigarh, the city in northwest India for which Le Corbusier designed several buildings and layouts.

The programme of events includes concerts, a film season, talks by Le Corbusier architects and events featuring rising stars from the field of architecture and design.

The exhibition, which runs till May 24, costs eight pounds (11.40 dollars, nine euros) to visit.

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