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Your guide to the Le Corbusier season

Put business worries aside, remember your passions and immerse yourself in three months of all things Corbusier with this AJ guide to the season, writes James Pallister

The last time a major Corbusier exhibition came to London was in 1987, when the Hayward Gallery marked the centenary of his birth. This week the exhibition opens in the Barbican Art Gallery.

It’s the centrepoint of a whole season of events dedicated to exploring the work, legacy and legend of the great architect. Over 70 separate events are planned over the season which runs from 18 Feb – 24 May. And what better way to brush aside recession concerns than by heading to some of these.

The Barbican’s programme was put together to focus on taking Corb’s legacy and looking forward. ‘A lot of the events surrounding previous exhibitions (the touring show was previously shown in Rotterdam, Weil am Rhein, Lisbon, Barcelona and Liverpool) were focussed on the past,’ says Lydia Lee the Barbican’s in-house curator, ‘what we want to do is to look forward’. To this end the Barbican has put together a programme in association with the RIBA that includes young practices - Lynch Architects, Alison Brooks Architects, Foreign Office Architects - talking about the influence of Corb on their work. More-established big-hitting speakers include William J R Curtis, Joseph Rykwert, Beatriz Colomina and Charles Jencks

The program capitalises on the influence of Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse urbanism - the first built example being Marseilles’ Unité d’Habitation (built 1947-1952) - on the Barbican complex, designed and built for LCC between 1965 and 1976 by Chamberlain Powell and Bon. Tours, films and exhibitions explore the schemes adaptation of the Corbusian legacy in the scheme.

‘My first reaction when I heard it was going to be on show at the Barbican was “can you not find another spot?”’, curator Stanislaus von Moos told me. ‘I used to be horrified by the place. I think that a lot of the negative bashing of this type of urbanism was legitimate, but sometimes it went too far’ says von Moos. ‘So perhaps the venue does create an exciting place to reassess Corbusier’s legacy’.

Whether you’re an artist or a theoretician, a hardcore hi-tech lover or a dyed-in-the-wool organic form fan, Corb’s works has aspects to cater to all interests. The exhibition and associated events reflect this and cover Corbusier’s interests in painting, sculpture, product design and theory. Pieces include work by his collaborators, such as Fernand Léger, Amédée Ozenfant Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé. And look out for two never been seen before models from Le Corbusier’s studio; one of the Philips Pavilion and a sunlight study for Saint-Pierre church in Firminy.

You have three months to take some (or all) of it in. Our guide below, picks out some highlights, but do explore it for yourself.  As von Moos put it, ‘Like Borromini or Michaelangelo or Soane he is someone who made relevant architecture to its day and that can still produce strong emotions’. Exactly what the doctor ordered.

1. EXHIBITION:  Le Corbusier, The Art of Architecture
19 Feb – 24 May
The Barbican


The lynchpin of the season. After stints in Liverpool, Barcelona, Lisbon and Val am Rhein, Le Corbusier, The Art of Architecture heads south to London, swopping Lutyens’ Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral crypt (date) for Chamberlain Powell and Bon’s (date) Barbican Art Gallery (date). Look out for fresh additions to the travelling collection on loan from the New York’s MoMAincluding Fernand Léger’s The Baluster (1925) which will be reunited with Corb’s Nature Morte du Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau, (1924) and shown together for the first time in the UK.

See also: The Exhibition’s catalogue, on sale here

2. EXHIBITION: Le Corbusier’s cabanon The Interior 1:1
5th March – 28th April
RIBA, Florence Hall

See a reconstruction of the interior of Corb’s most modest design: a seaside hut – also known as the Cabanon. Planned and built in 1952 for his holidays at Cap-Martin, the Cabanon is unusual in its architectural value is focused on the interior.

See also:  Gallery 1 at the RIBA for some of Corb’s most famous furniture designs drawn from the Cassina I Maestri Collection. Curated by Piero Lissoni

3. EXHIBITION: The Olympic Stadium Project - Le Corbusier and Baghdad
9 October 2008 - 29 March 2009
Architecture, Room 128a, V&A Museum


This exhibition, which opened in October, explores one of the projects that never was to be: the Olympic Stadium in Baghdad. Curated by Peter Carl, the show includes a scale model of the Corb’s design. Alongside the 50,000-seater stadium, the proposals included a gymnasium, outdoor pools and sports pitches as well as a restaurant and admin block. Le Corbusier refined his 1957 design in the years leading to his death in 1965 but the plans, save for the gymnasium, were never realised.

See also: A seminar on the Olympic project led by Curtis, Matthew Taunton and Alan Powers. Seminar Room 1, Sackler Centre. 14.00–17.30. 14 March, £20, £15 concessions

4. LECTURE: Peter Zumthor
31 March RIBA

Say it loud, I’m Swiss and I’m proud. The (other) architects architect jets into the UK to give a rare lecture at the RIBA. Projects guaranteed to wow the crowds may include his recentmuseum of modern art in Cologne (2007), Germany and the Therme Vals baths (1996), Switzerland. Supported by the Swiss Embassy, it is part of a lecture series that nods to Corb’s helvetican roots and includes Zumthor’s compadre, Valerio Olgiati

See also: Valerio Olgiati lecture at the RIBA, 6.30pm 24th March £8/£5

5. BOOK Le Corbusier and the Occult

Hot off the press, Birksted’s book draws on new archive material to throw new light on Corb’s working processes and how many received opinions about his work are based on the recycling of legends and inaccuracies encouraged by the man himself. The influence of Freemasonry on Corb is also explored.

See also: Last year’s mega-tome from Phaidon, Le Corbusier, Le Grand

6. EVENT: Corbusian Coach tour with Twentieth Century Society

Sandwiches? Check. Flask? Check. Then jump on board the twentieth-century society charabanc for a coach tour round some of London’s significant post-war social housing, some of which – for better or worse – have a lineage that can be traced to Corb.

See also: City Planning for the 21st century. Ricky Burdett, Joseph Rykwert, AJ editor emeritus Paul Finch map out the future.


7. FILM: Barbi-topia
2pm May 9, Cinema 3, Barbican

A chance to see rare archive documentaries that tell the story of the Barbican, one of the largest Modernist projects ever conceived.

See also Things to Come:HG Well’s sci-fi classic from 1936 , Cinema 2, 6pm March 28-29th

8. LECTURE: The Chandigarh Catalogue

The Chandigarh Catalogue is a portrait of everyday life in the Corb-designed modernist city. Patsy Craig and Jonathan Nicholls, who conceived the project, are joined by RIBA president Sunand Prasad, London Consortium Fellow Barry Curtis and Joe Kerr of the Royal College of Art to discuss the city.

See also: Tower of Shadows film on the same evening

9. EVENT : A day in the life of Le Corbusier

Participate in an imaginary day and night of Le Corbusier, curated by Shumon Basar. Former Corb work buddy Paffard Keatinge-Clayis the guest speaker and the day will also include running and swimming…Better book your place.

See also: Listen to BBC Radio4 footage of Corb interviews http://tinyurl.com/fjjyr

10. DEBATE: Ethics in Architecture: The Corbusian Legacy

Can Corb’s humanist project be reconciled with his apparently destructive urbanist legacy? Amongst the provocateurs debating at  the first in a series of annual lectures will be Zaha Hadid and Winy Maas of MVRDV. You heard it here first.

See also : Charles Jencks lectures on Critical Modernism, Redgrave Room, 7.30pm, May 14th £5



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