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Le Corbusier: Inside the Machine for Living

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review

By George H Marcus.Monacelli Press, 2000.

184pp. £35 This is one of the most engaging books on Le Corbusier to appear for a while, writes Richard Weston , with some excellent new colour photographs and unfamiliar material from the Fondation's seemingly inexhaustible archives.

George Marcus is a design historian, and his focus is on Le Corbusier's ideas about, and designs for, furniture and fittings, but he never neglects the architecture they were designed to complement - from the 1925 L'Esprit Nouveau Pavilion to the Petit Cabanon beside the Mediterranean, whence the master set out for his fateful last swim.

Charlotte Perriand's combative, Corbusian 'Wood or Metal'article (1929) is reproduced in full, complete with the famous picture of her reclining on the chaise longue. Their collaboration is discussed in depth, from the initial dismissal of the aspiring assistant with the words: 'We don't embroider cushions here, ' through the offer of a job the following day when Le Corbusier saw her exhibit at the Salon d'Automne, to the invitation to return to work on the Marseilles UnitÚ. Marcus is clear that the basic forms of the classic pieces were established before Perriand joined the studio, but her importance to their realisation can hardly be overstated.

There are fascinating glimpses of Le Corbusier's troubles with lighting - the tubular fitting at the Villa Savoye was apparently based on something his client saw on a visit to a refrigeration showroom - and Marcus is always alert to the contradictions between rhetoric and practice. The rationalist who declared: 'I believe in a wall animated with one colour, 'was also the artist who designed tapestries, justifying them as portable 'murals' for 'the nomadic man that we have become'. And, as Peter Blake noted many years ago, the prophet of Machine Age objets types designed furniture which is neither standardised, nor economical, nor efficient for mass production - but always beautiful.

Richard Weston is a professor at the Welsh School of Architecture

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