Le Corbusier in America
Travels in the Land of the Timid
424 pp., 9 x 9 in, 195 illus., 8 color
- Published: February 28, 2003
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: August 17, 2001
- Publisher: The MIT Press
How Le Corbusier's first trip to the United States shaped his critique of the country and affected both his work and the diffusion of his ideas.
Le Corbusier's first trip to the United States in 1935 is generally considered a failure because it produced no commissions. The experience nevertheless had a profound effect on him, both personally and professionally. Sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Le Corbusier promoted his ideas through a lecture tour, exhibition, and press conferences, as well as in meetings with industrialists, housing reformers, New Deal technocrats, and editors. His lectures were watershed events that advanced the cause of European modernism. Yet he returned to France empty-handed and published a bittersweet account, Quand les Cathédrales étaient blanches: Voyage au Pays des Timid Personnes (When the Cathedrals Were White: Journey to the Country of Timid People), which faulted America for lacking the courage to adopt his ideas.
In this first major study of Le Corbusier's American tour, Mardges Bacon reconstructs his encounter with America in all its fascinating detail. Through extensive archival research and interviews, she presents a critical history of the tour as well as a nuanced and intimate portrait of the architect. Drawing on the methods of microhistory, she also considers how small ordinary events affect larger biographical, architectural, and cultural developments.
Bacon notes that Le Corbusier's dialogue with America was drafted within a spirited European discourse on Américanisme. She contends that the trip validated his concept of a "second machine age" that would unite standardized industrial methods with a new humanism. Le Corbusier's subsequent work, she suggests, reflected an "Americanization," evidenced by the introduction of tension structures and the textured skyscraper conceived as an integrated system with functions articulated. She also defines Le Corbusier's role in the debate over New York City high-rise public housing.
Appearing here in print for the first time are color reproductions of the pastel drawings that illustrated Le Corbusier's American lectures.
Mardges Bacon's long-awaited study sheds light on one of the strangest love/hate relationships in Modern architecture: Le Corbusier's infatuation with an idealized America and the bitter delusion that followed. Thanks to previously overlooked archives, the events of Le Corbusier's famous 1935 trip to the United States are framed in a broad discussion of French Americanism. Bacon also reveals the fascinating parallel process through which Le Corbusier recycled themes and methods discovered in America and U.S. city builders absorbed his concepts.
Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and Director, Institut Français d'architecture, Paris
A long-neglected, important topic in Le Corbusier scholarship has finally found its overdue treatment. Mardges Bacon has produced an indispensable, substantial chronicle of Le Corbusier's visit to the United States. With exceptional acumen and precision, she presents central aspects of his ambiguous relation to American culture and architecture and provides fascinating sidelights of his life.
Adolf Max Vogt, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH), Zurich
This book opens a new chapter in both Le Corbusier scholarship and American studies. While Le Corbusier's interest in America has been increasingly discussed by twentieth-century architectural historians, there has been no comprehensive study of his important voyage to America. Mardges Bacon's book admirably fills that gap.
Mary McLeod, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Columbia University
[An] exhaustively researched and engagingly written study of a telling episode in 20th-century architectural transformations.
New York Times Book Review
[T]he book's breadth of knowledge and attention to detail are faultless.
The Architects' Journal