Swiss-born French architect, engineer, painter, and writer. As a pioneer of modern architecture, a designer of many outstanding buildings, a town planner on the grand scale, and an architectural theorist, Le Corbusier stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries. He was also an abstract painter of considerable talent.
Born at La Chaux-de-Fonds (Neuchâtel), Le Corbusier (a name he borrowed from his maternal grandfather) came from a family of watchmakers. After attending a local school and technical college he spent a few months in 1905 in the Vienna studios of the architect Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956). This was followed by a stay in Paris (1908–09) to study the use of ferroconcrete under Auguste Perret (1874–1954), and during 1910 he spent a few months in the Berlin workshops of Peter Behrens. For the next three years (1911–14) Le Corbusier practised as an interior designer in Switzerland, then, moving to Paris, he worked as a factory manager for seven years, moonlighting as a painter and an architect. However, it was not until 1922 that he and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret (1896–1967), could afford to set up an architectural practice on their own. It was then that Le Corbusier adopted his grandfather's name as an architect, retaining his own name as a painter.
In 1923 the partnership produced plans for the ‘Citrohan’ House, a residence designed as if it was a car, ‘a machine for living in’, which had many features in common with an earlier design of Le Corbusier's, his 1914 Dom-ino standard concrete house. In the following years Le Corbusier and his cousin produced a number of private houses built on concrete pillars (pilotis), which supported the structure and freed the walls from their traditional load-bearing function. Several of these cubist-style houses, such as the Villa Savoye (1931), aroused considerable architectural interest. In 1922 Le Corbusier and Jeanneret won a competition for the Palace of the League of Nations in Geneva, but the scheme was later rejected and the partnership suffered a number of other setbacks. In 1940 they broke up, Jeanneret settling in Grenoble and Le Corbusier returning to Paris. During this unsettled period (1936–45), Le Corbusier had been designing one of his most original buildings, the Ministry of Education in Rio de Janeiro, in cooperation with Lúcio Costa (1902–63) and Niemeyer. After the war he redesigned the bombed town of La Pallice and embarked on one of his most famous buildings, the block of flats in Marseilles, called unité d'habitation, which he described as ‘a town for 1600 people under one roof’. In this building he began his departure from the functional glass-and-metal façade, introducing innovative sculptural effects and unusual rooflines. On a different scale and in a different idiom, his chapel at Ronchamp (1950–55), which abandons the strict functionalism of his earlier buildings, made use of a number of novel and irrational features, such as randomly placed and irregularly shaped windows to create what he called a religious ambience. The monastery and church at Eveux-sur-Arbreste, near Lyons, is another ecclesiastical exercise in reinforced concrete.