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Le Corbusier: The Poetics of Machine and Metaphor

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review

Le Corbusier: The Poetics of Machine and Metaphor By Alexander Tzonis. Thames and Hudson, 2002.

239pp. £15.95

The central thesis of Alexander Tzonis' new book is that Le Corbusier's 'spatial intelligence', and the 'collective memory' to which his upbringing and experiences gave access, allowed him to develop 'a unique poetics of machine and metaphor', writes Catherine Croft. Le Corbusier's significance therefore goes beyond the legacy of his individual buildings, because he was responsible for 'radically changing the way people see, use and make their architecture' and even 'our beliefs and desires about it'.

Tzonis traces the way in which Le Corbusier both thought and felt - his 'habits of the mind' and 'habits of the heart'. These evolve through birth, upbringing and travel, and also through significant meetings, collaborations and exchanges of ideas.

We see Le Corbusier amassing 'objects pregnant with potential new meanings that could be re-categorised and recruited in creative making' - postcards, photographs, sketches, and books. The analysis of the Unité best demonstrates how he made use of this 'thesaurus of possibilities', drawing on ancient Swiss huts built on piloti over water, Roman aqueducts, ocean liners, a bottle rack.

The use of tightly cropped shots on the cover (Maison La Roche ramp and Philips Pavilion roof ) seems to represent a deliberate alternative to iconic Corbusier images, and at first glance they could pass for contemporary projects. It is not an introductory book for the non-specialist, although it does run through Le Corbusier's life and works chronologically. The lack of footnotes is irritating. In all, however, it is eminently readable: its argument is not always convincing, but it allows us to revisit Le Corbusier in a stimulating and enjoyable way.

Catherine Croft is an architectural historian

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