Bricks & Mortals: Ten Great Buildings and the People They Made

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Bricks & Mortals: Ten Great Buildings and the People They Made
Eileen Gray’s White House in the French Riviera. Photograph: Olivier Martin Gambier/Artedia/Leemage

In August 1965, Le Corbusier‘s body was found washed up on a beach on the French Riviera, a possible suicide. Perched on the cliff above was a modernist villa designed by Eileen Gray, a sleek, white ocean liner with which the Swiss-born architect had an unhealthy obsession. Gray designed it as a present for her much younger lover, the editor of an architecture magazine, and Le Corbusier was a frequent guest there. In 1939, after the relationship disintegrated and Gray moved out, he was allowed to paint a series of erotically charged murals on its walls, which included a figure with a swastika on her chest.

There is an astonishing photograph of a bespectacled Le Corbusier at work on these seemingly pro-Nazi images, stark naked and brush in hand, his right thigh bearing a dramatic scar caused by an accident involving a yacht’s propeller blade the year before. The architect never convincingly answered accusations of fascist sympathies. Apparently Gray considered his primitivist daubings a violation of her work by a jealous rival, and campaigned to have them removed. Le Corbusier’s fetishisation of the house remained undiminished, and he tried on several occasions to buy it. In 1952 he built a simple cabin for himself that offered voyeuristic views over the villa.

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