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Le Corbusier & The Architecture of Reinvention

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Architectural Association, 2003. 176pp. £22.50

No single leitmotif will link a disparate collection of essays like this, but in his contribution, 'Reinventing the South American City', Fernando Pérez Oyarzun comes close to supplying one. It is 1929 and Le Corbusier is looking out of an aeroplane window, sketchbook in hand, at the Argentinian landscape below. 'A new scale, which Le Corbusier called 'territorial' was suddenly perceptible the cycles of the day, the symbolic power of the horizon and the established patterns of urban settlements. All of this appears in his discourse in a new, symphonic arrangement, ' writes Pérez Oyarzun.

There is a parallel in another of the essays, 'The Image of the Body in the Oeuvre of Le Corbusier', in which Daniel Naegele traces Corb's move, roughly mid-career, 'from the absolute and material world of the rationalist to the relative and phenomenal world of the poet-artist'. The cosmic, the mythological, the organic, the ambiguous, all made themselves felt.

This sense of Corb's continually expanding reach - his range of references and allusions - is central to this collection, which derives from a conference at the Architectural Association in 2001, spurred by the publication of Charles Jencks' Le Corbusier and the Continual Revolution in Architecture (AJ 1.3.01).

In his brief essay here, Jencks sees Corb's ability to work in different media - writing, painting, sculpting, etc - as the key to his reinventing both himself and his architecture; but Jencks'argument is over almost before it has begun.

More substantial contributions come from Peter Carl (an erudite, penetrating discussion of the Tower of Shadows at Chandigarh), Tim Benton (on Corb's response to the Parisian suburbs with his Villa Felix at La-Celle-St-Cloud) - and from Naegele. Hilde Heynen's rather dour account of Corb's relationship with the avant-garde is less rewarding, though a useful reminder of his pragmatism in seeking a synthesis between art and industry. Corb wasn't avant-garde when it came to capitalists who might help him get something built.

But most valuable, if at times enigmatic, is the centrepiece of this attractive book - Corb's Le Poème de l'Angle Droit (1955), with full-page reproductions of its 20 colour lithographs, and English translations of the accompanying texts. Carl refers to the Poème in his piece on the Tower of Shadows, and part-elucidates it, though neither text nor image can be corralled by one interpretation.

'With carbon/we have/traced the right angle/the sign/It is the answer and the guide', writes Corb;

but the orthogonal in these lithographs confronts a rich and metamorphic world of forms - lit and energised by the sun, swallowed up by the night, and arrayed between far horizons.

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