Le Corbusier's Hands By André Wogenscky. MIT Press, 2006. £9.95
In 1936, 20-year-old André Wogenscky stepped tentatively into Le Corbusier's office in the Rue de Sèvres, hoping to meet the master. This impromptu encounter between colossus and novice shaped the course of his life. Wogenscky became Corb's loyal assistant and associate and, after his death in 1965, carried the torch, both in his own practice and as director of the Fondation Le Corbusier.
It is never easy to live your life at the side of a great man, yet from his tenderly awestruck tone, Wogenscky clearly feels he was fulfilling his destiny. Short, tangential musings on various themes (Joy, Space, Progress, Utopia) provide a nuanced insight into the 'real' Corb, revealing the humanity beneath the hauteur. We learn that he liked wine, pastis and Rabelais.
He was candid, poetic and always drawing. Being the trusted confidant, Wogenscky enjoyed a ringside seat at historic Corb occasions, such as meeting Picasso and lunch with the Dominican monks who talked him (an agnostic) into designing Ronchamp.
But despite the reverential tone, an undercurrent of demented genius is still palpable. Corb nearly throttles Wogenscky's German shepherd 'to feel how far I can go', while death is a mere bagatelle - 'the horizontal of the vertical; complementary and natural'.
In the crowded Corb publishing canon, this slim memoir has no great pretensions but is a delightful amuse bouche. And if you read between the lines, you may find the bouche has bite.