Friday, 12 June 2015

Le Corbusier: the measures of man, at the Centre Pompidou, Paris

I've always been a fan of the modernist architect Le Corbusier, at least in some respects (and as an architect rather than as an urban planner), so I was thrilled to learn that I would be able to visit a big retrospective exhibition dedicated to him at the Centre Pompidou during my trip to Paris for a radiology meeting.

The exhibition, Le Corbusier: mesures de l'homme (Le Corbusier: the measures of man) has as its theme le Corbusier's conception of the human figure as being at the centre of architecture, which led him to develop the Modulor, a system of proportion based on the human figure, the golden section, and the Fibonacci series. At least that's what we're told. In fact, although this aspect is covered, it's not really evident as a theme through most of the exhibition.

The exhibition does have an impressive and comprehensive display of drawings, paintings, photographs, and movies about the architect, that will delight anyone interested in the topic. However I found the coverage rather superficial, especially as regards it's central theme. There was, for example, no discussion about why the Modulor, which le Corbusier thought of as a universal system that could be applied to all architecture, furniture and industrial production, was not adopted by anyone else. It's interesting that although Albert Einstein's approval of the Modulor was mentioned, I didn't see any comments from other architects or designers.

Incidentally, the Modulor was initially based on a man 176 cm in height. This was later changed to 183 cm to accommodate inhabitants of the "Anglo-Saxon" nations. Either way, items made to those proportions would not have fitted me. So much for universality. It's not Moi-dulor, at any rate.

Although the exhibition is subtitled the measures of man, people seem to appear in it mostly as an adjunct to architecture. There is no discussion whatsoever about whether or not the inhabitants of his housing projects liked living there, or how they have fared over the years (the evidence, in fact, is that they have fared rather well, but none of this was explored, unless you count a few promotional films). 

Although le Corbusier's rhetoric may have been humane ("Soleil, Espace, Lumière!" -- "Sun, Space, Light!"), the vision depicted in the exhibition seemed a little bleak to me, and I was really surprised to find myself emerging from the exhibition feeling less enthusiastic about the architect than I had been when I entered.

Despite its shortcomings however, I'd still recommend a visit to the exhibition, to see all the items on display.

Le Corbusier: mesures de l'homme.
Centre Pompidou, Paris.
daily, 1100 - 2100, until 3 August 2015

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