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Happy Birthday Le Corbusier! 

On October 6, in 1887 Charles-Édouard Jeanneret was born. Happy Birthday Le Corbusier! Le Corbusier is a celebrated architect, innovator, painter, and self-promoter who needs no introduction. Instead I would like to share a story about an unsuspected encounter that I had with his work this summer.

This summer I was fortunate enough to get a very close look at a kitchen from Le Corbusier’s Unité d'Habitation. The kitchen was being restored to its original condition for a major exhibition of Le Corbusier’s work, which will be here in the US, in the near future.  Upon first sight I was a little let down by the carpentry work, which did not meet the standard I expected. My experience of Le Corbusier’s architectural work had been limited to digital and print representation of colorless, formal, structures.  

What I haven’t stated is that I was viewing the kitchen from the perspective of the wall it was attached to. With enthusiastic curiosity, and permission, I walked around and entered the kitchen. I struck up a conversation with the conservator who explained that the Unité d'Habitation was such a large undertaking that no one fabricator could construct all the elements of the kitchens. Subsequently each kitchen was slightly different. That was the explanation for the makeshift elements I had recognized holding it all together on the backside.  

The entry to the kitchen was very narrow, and I remember the interior as a tight square space. The materials consisted of glass, painted plywood, hardwood, and stainless steel. I was struck by the efficiency with which the kitchen was arranged. There were more cabinets in Le Corbusier’s kitchen than I had in my kitchen, which is twice the size.  I could reach every one without moving and all of the handles were warm and comfortable. The counter space was ample, once again beating out my compact kitchen of twice the size. A cleverly placed electric outlet caught my eye, and I realized the careful attention to the details that had been achieved. I was inspired by the utility and comfort the square space provided.  I marveled at the tenacity Le Corbusier must have exhibited in order to impose his vision with the multiple contractors utilized in the project.  With a new and unexpected appreciation of Le Corbusier’s work, I exited the kitchen.

Now with my penultimate semester of graduate school well under way I find myself striving for the thoughtfulness and intensity I discovered in Le Corbusier’s kitchen. It was rewarding to see Le Corbusier’s design work first hand after studying it. Not simply to understand the design work in general, but to understand how to see as an architect.

James L. Wines, Graduate Architecture Student, October, 5th 2012

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