Architecture: Visionaries saw buildings but not the political surroundings

Architecture: Visionaries saw buildings but not the political surroundings
Internationally acclaimed architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe studies the model of a new building he designed to house his department at the campus of Illinois Institute of Technology, in Chicago, Illinois, on June 10, 1954

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Architecture: visionaries saw buildings but not the political surroundings

Let us never go too far in praising famous men.

The French-Swiss architect Le Corbusier, the German-American Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and the American Frank Lloyd Wright are universally regarded as the greatest architects of the 20th century.

Their buildings and city plans changed the way we live and what our cities and suburbs look like today. Their work has inspired architects from their time to the present.

But when confronted with the changing political temper of their times, these famous men sometimes behaved astonishingly. They exhibited judgments that, in retrospect, seem to have been clouded by naivete, vanity, self-aggrandizement and, perhaps most of all, overwhelming ambition.

This has been brought to light again just this month by three new books on Le Corbusier published in France to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his death — a publishing event important enough to have been covered in detail recently in The New York Times.

Corbusier (1887-1965), though he was often imitated in the States, is not well known by the public here. But he had a vast influence on architecture and city planning worldwide, especially in Europe, Japan and Latin America.

In France today, he is accused of being a fascist. All three books are critical of the architect. Two have revealing titles — “Le Corbusier, a French Facism” and “Le Corbusier, a Cold Vision of the World.” What the books seek to demonstrate, The New York Times reported, is that he was an authoritarian at his core, and this authoritarianism informed his designs. []


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