To accompany that famous phrase in Vers Une Architecture, about 'the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light', Le Corbusier chose photographs of American grain elevators, which he doctored to make the forms even more stark and pure. Erich Mendelsohn was another enthusiast: 'I took photographs like mad, ' he said of seeing the grain stores in Buffalo. Years later, in his last book A Concrete Atlantis, Reyner Banham thought this early Modern aestheticising of grain elevators 'begins to look like good sense when one sees these blunt abstract forms in high contrast against the equally abstract surface of the snow'.
So Bernd & Hilla Becher, in their ceaseless quest to document industrial building types, have naturally had these structures in their sights, and the result is Grain Elevators (MIT Press, £48.95) - the latest volume in their unfolding oeuvre complète, with 246 examples from Europe and North America photographed over the last 45 years. Unlike Le Corbusier, however, the Bechers don't do airbrushing. While some of the elevators, with their serried concrete cylinders, have a Modernist purity, many others have excrescences which Corb would have eliminated: pitched-roof superstructures (surreally domestic) or crowstep-gables. The smaller-scale ones that recur across the American Midwest can even seem makeshift, with their rickety pipework and dishevelled metal cladding.
MIT Press has also published Susanne Lange's Bernd & Hilla Becher: Life and Works (£39.95) - an informative overview. Lange places the Bechers' project historically and considers their inuence, while the photographs show just how broadly they have ranged and how many variations each building type generates. There are valuable interviews with the Bechers themselves, Hilla saying: 'We undertook this work for the sheer visual pleasure we knew it would bring, pleasure from remarkable shapes' ( www. mitpress. org).
The next chance to see the Bechers' photos in an exhibition rather than a book (given the way they display them, this makes a difference) comes at Tate Liverpool, with a show called Centre of the Creative Universe: Liverpool and the Avant-Garde, from 20 February ( www. tate. org. uk).