The hugely influential artist, architect, sculptor, painter and social engineer revolutionised the way we think about the built environment and then drowned in the Mediterranean
Translated by Danvers Couchmere from the original haughty French
January 10, 1954. The streets of Paris are still gay with Christmas lights. Everywhere people are seized by a new spirit, a unity of intention.
It is as if a great epoch has begun. The city, exulting in its extended holiday, has sprung into life. A ‘joyousness’ is abroad. Citizens have found a singularity of purpose in their celebrations. They bear witness to an abstract spiritual communion of ‘goodwill’. Children’s faces are happy and excited.
The scene is one of utter chaos, and nauseating.
I fear I will be physically sick if I witness any more of this madness. I shall remain in my studio at Maison L’Obscurier, where work continues on my latest project, the Hum-Bug.
All problems in the World Of To-Day - mathematical, social, psychological - have a geometrical solution. How much saner society would be if irregular pedestrian ‘wanderings’ were violently displaced by engineering.
Imagine an aerial view of the city, showing the absurd, illogical routes taken by January shoppers.
Their itinerary is confused, improvised, primitive. People mill around like sheep, their paths randomly crossing or merging … it is unacceptable! If they were engineers and not shoppers, they would be forced to behave in accordance with the strict needs of determined conditions.
An experiment: a junior member of Atelier L’Obscurier is despatched on six consecutive evenings to the Place de la Concorde with instructions to bring back a bag of chestnuts. At one-minute intervals a kite-mounted Gamma-Ray camera captures the image of his hat, which has been rendered Radio-Active; perambulation within the public square thus appears as a series of luminous dots.
The result: a sickening absence of a single straight line! With grim hauteur I compose my Rules For Walking.
- A crooked path is a donkey track; a straight path, a road for men.
- A Community Spirit is a Formless Spirit; an Organised Spirit, one full of form.
- A perambulation is inefficient; grid-based walking is the Way of the Future.
I imagine this future in a series of forcefully captioned sketches. I predict that by the early 21st Century all pedestrians will be required to wear Radio-Active hats fitted with the Electro-Magnetic Hum-Bug. They wait at grid intersections until an automatic signal (I have proposed a humming noise, but any acoustic prompt will do) sends them this way or that according to the relative density of the surrounding crowd.
Ugh. I retire early with a beastly migraine headache.
POST SCRIPTUM. A glorious winter day, the sky untrammelled by atmospheric frippery. I resolve to spend it sailing in my yacht, The Paradox. After a great deal of bad-tempered muttering from the crew, and much complicated calculation with my new portable Electric Sextant, I manage to guide us to a spot exactly one kilometre from the beach. Here I will disembark and swim to shore.
A test of endurance, certainly. But I am the great L’Obscurier, and the waves of the Mediterranean contemptibly disorganised and inadequate foes!
Ian Martin is away