Born in 1887 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, naturalized in France in 1930 and considered by many to be the father of modern architecture, Le Corbusier (a nickname used from 1920) has been presented as a fascist anti Semite in two recent books. One by Xavier de Jarcy entitled: Le Corbusier, a French fascism (Le Corbusier, un fascisme français) and another by François Chaslin with the title: A Corbusier (Un Corbusier).
A picture of Le Corbusier with his distinctive round spectacles can be found in most Swiss wallets, displayed on the face of the Swiss 10 franc note.
The timing of these books is awkward. This year is the 50th anniversary of Le Corbusier’s death in 1965. In addition, there is a commemorative exhibition of his works at Le Centre Pompidou in Paris, which some say glosses over his fascist past.
The books reveal close friendships with fascists and members of the Nazi sympathizing French Vichy government including the French revolutionary fascist party leader, Dr. Pierre Winter.
Le Corbusier’s role as an urban planner for the Vichy government was already well known, however revealed letters show that he was more than just an opportunist, as some had assumed. In one letter he describes the fall of France to the Nazis in 1940 as “the miraculous French victory”. Later he describes the big “clean up” in preparation. “Money, Jews (partly responsible), Freemasons, all will face justice. These shameful fortresses will be dismantled. They dominate all.”
Regarding Hitler he wrote: “we are in the hands of a victor…Hitler could crown his life with a magnificent feat: the clean up of Europe.”
Some who don’t like his architecture have jumped on these revelations and used them to explain the defects they see in his designs. Certain critics consider Le Corbusier’s famous Cité radieuse in Marseille, built after the war in the 1950s, to be the inspiration for oppressive modern state housing blocks built to house the poor. In this style of architecture, they say they see echoes of fascism, totalitarianism and the ghetto.
The curator of the Le Corbusier exhibition in Paris defends Le Corbusier’s architecture in an interview with Sarah Elzas of RFI. He says that modern housing estates are designed with financial motives and leave out many of the elements of Le Corbusier’s original designs such as large windows and balconies. Inside the concrete buildings of the Cité radieuse there are schools, gyms and shops. It is like a mini city, a community.
The commemorative exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris has been accused of glossing over this controversial period of Le Corbusier’s life. The museum responded by saying an exhibit in 1987 covered works from all periods of his life. In the same interview, the curator describes Le Corbusier’s relationships as professional opportunism.
It is likely that the controversy surrounding the man, Le Corbusier, and his architecture will continue for a very long time.
Now when we open our wallets and pull out a Swiss 10 franc note we might wonder what the face on the note really stands for. More likely though, we’ll hand it over, collect our shopping and hurry on our way without even noticing.
Le Corbusier, un fascisme français (Xavier de Jarcy – in French)
Un Corbusier (François Chaslin – in French)
RFI PODCAST – Controversy over Le Corbusier’s politics dogs anniversary exhibition 29-04-15 (10:00) (RFI – in English)