Le Corbusier, Measure Of A Modern Man

Le Corbusier, in 1962.
Le Corbusier, in 1962.
Jean-Jacques Larrochelle

PARIS â€" It has been 50 years since the death of Le Corbusier, the Swiss-born architect, artist and writer considered by some to be the most influential force in the way modern cities are designed and built.

To mark his life and work, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris has dedicated an entire exhibition to the works of the famous architect, whose given name was Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris.

Through a thoroughly planned chronological progression, "Measures of Man" focuses on the concept of human proportion in Le Corbusier's work. The exhibit also makes us see how the space occupied by the body became a universally accepted principle that determines the interior and exterior dimensions of human projects, as well as the lives of those who live in them.

The exhibition has received a fair share of criticism for leaving aside Le Corbusier's ideological positions, which some have characterized as leaning toward fascism. The Parisian museum has vowed to tackle that subject in a symposium planned for next year.

But already, one can see in "Measures of Man" an implicit answer to those questions.

The choice to have a chronological presentation encourages visitors to observe in detail the important materials that document the exhibition. The inventory is huge, with architectural drawings, books, objects, plans, models, films, photographs â€" but also in particular the paintings and sculptures that provide precious tools for understanding Le Corbusier's work.

The demonstration begins with a short film. In the same "Rhythms and Patterns" section, visitors can discover the Swiss composer and educator Emile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950), who created a method in which the musical ear relies on the entire body's experience in a relationship that involves the space around it. He evokes "a perfect rhythm and harmony for children all over the world."

In the 1910s, the institute Dalcroze, established in the garden city of Hellerau, Germany, attracted a number of important artists, among them Le Corbusier. There, the pioneer of modern architecture grasped the idea of "space dynamics and aesthetics determined by rhythm and movement, with the idea of a body that perceives the world around it," the guides explain. These concepts were a huge influence on Le Corbusier.

Pure and simple

After World War I, a simple drawing of a white cube (La Cheminée, 1918) synthesized for him this perpetual and cognitive unit of an architectural volume that laid the foundations of the purism movement.

According to this principle, Le Corbusier, together with painter Amédée Ozenfant, applied himself to develop a view of things in which objects are submitted to a strictly regulated drawing, outside of all human figure. While Picasso was turning his Harlequin upside down, Le Corbusier's way of ordering shapes and colors was leaving no room for disturbances or any excess. It was a form of civilized cubism built on "an industrial, mechanical and scientific frame of mind," its authors said.

Formulated by poet Guillaume Apollinaire, this new approach claimed to inherit from the classics a "sense of duty that strips the feelings or rather limits their manifestations." This "new spirit" embraced by Ozenfant and Le Corbusier gave its name to L'Esprit Nouveau, the review published by the two with Paul Dermée between 1920 and 1925. That same year, the Pavillon de l'Esprit Nouveau created by the architect and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret was part of the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts.

The furniture designed by Le Corbusier became "equipment," as the tubular metal structures holding his armchairs and other objects were intended to adapt to different ways of sitting and moving. In a 1928 photomontage shown in the exhibition, Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier's accomplice in this domestic adventure, details an Ergonomic study of furniture in relation to body positions.

First conceived of in the 1940s, and realized 10 years later, the measures of man reached their peak with the Modulor, which defines the size of the average man: 183 centimeters or 226 centimeters with arms raised. "Universally applicable to architecture and to mechanics," the architect introduced it as philosophically, mathematically and historically self-evident. After that, all of his creations were submitted to the authority of this benchmark, the exhibition's center of gravity.

At the same time, Le Corbusier moved away from the implacable determinism to which he had until then been submitting his vision of architecture and entered what he called the "ineffable space." Fed by the research he conducted with cabinetmaker and sculptor Joseph Savina during his so-called "acoustic" period, the colorful volumes took on previously unseen shapes which, for the first time, were inspired by human modelings.

According to Le Corbusier, these works were "projecting in the distance the effect of its shapes and, in return, receiving the pressure of these surrounding spaces." Built between 1953 and 1955, the chapel of Notre-Dame-du-Haut in Ronchamp, in eastern France is the most singular and also poetic expression of this now freed vision.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!