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steel design

Le Corbusier died just after the plans were completed for the House of Man which he had designed for patron Heidi Weber in a parkland site which the city of Zurich had provided. It's now a foundation devoted to Corb but is difficult to access. The building is one of Corb's very rare explorations of steel construction.

The design is composed of two offset square blocks somewhat sheltered by a big rectangular steel parasol. One two-storey block contains a studio, the other a dwelling; they are joined by circulation space including a concrete ramp which projects out from the north elevation. The internal staircase is in the studio block. The parasol overhead is actually two square parasols anchored in the middle by a structure which involves the concrete ramp. Each parasol is a folded plate structure with a geometry which produces 'gables' on two opposing ends and inverted 'gables' on the other two faces. The second parasol is rotated 90degrees from the first. The structural system is not easy to rationalise, but the ramp-related structure in the middle provides support for one side of each parasol, with slab-style columns supporting each inverted gable and what seem to be tie-downs at the middle of the other three gables. The accommodation underneath is clad in steel, ceramic panels and glass in a somewhat Mondrian- esque pattern which is based on the Modulor proportions.

The thing that gives you the lasting impression in the flesh is the extreme detachment of roof from accommodation: it's a very pure geometric solution which does no more or less than provide shelter. The bits that sit underneath deal with all the practical stuff . So it's a celebration of shelter. And it's a bold expression of the material it's made from. It's really appropriate that Corb should have used steel: thin, delicate, with this quite difficult-to-understand folded plate geometry. And he's used it so that it remains pure in its expression of itself.

Although it's quite a small building, it has a certain grandeur about it, a certain monumentality which in the end is down to the very sparse, almost Laugierian, notion of building as no more than roof, shelter, canopy. We enjoy that boldness.

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