Revealing the secret sources of Le Corbusier's architectureconcealed by the architect and undiscovered by scholars until now.
When Charles-Édouard Jeanneret reinvented himself as Le Corbusier in Paris, he also carefully reinvented the first thirty years of his life by highlighting some events and hiding others. As he explained in a letter: "Le Corbusier is a pseudonym. Le Corbusier creates architecture recklessly. He pursues disinterested ideas; he does not wish to compromise himself... He is an entity free of the burdens of carnality." Le Corbusier grew up in La Chaux-de-Fonds in Switzerland, a city described by Karl Marx as "one unified watchmaking industry." Among the unifying social structures of La Chaux-de-Fonds was the Loge L'Amitié, the Masonic lodge with its francophone moral, social, and philosophical ideas, including the symbolic iconography of the right angle (rectitude) and the compass (exactitude). Le Corbusier would later describe these as "my guide, my choice" and as his "time-honored ideas, ingrained and deep-rooted in the intellect, like entries from a catechism." Through exhaustive research that challenges long-held beliefs, J. K. Birksted's Le Corbusier and the Occult traces the structure of Le Corbusier's brand of modernist spatial and architectural ideas based on startling new documents in hitherto undiscovered family and local archives. Le Corbusier and the Occult thus answers the conundrum set by Reyner Banham (Birksted's predecessor at the Bartlett School of Architecture) who, fifty years ago, wrote that Le Corbusier's book Towards a New Architecture "was to prove to be one of the most influential, widely read and least understood of all the architectural writings of the twentieth century."
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About the Author
J. K. Birksted teaches at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London.
What People are Saying About This
Birksted performs an important service for the understanding of Le Corbusier. Using sources hitherto ignored, he demonstrates the depth of Le Corbusier's indebtedness to Freemasonryits configurations, its associations, and its dream of redemption through the arrangement of things and people in space. At a time when modern artists were seeking orientation in Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Blavatsky, Steiner as well as in myth, alchemy, psychology, technology, and atomic physics, Le Corbusier seems to have acknowledged in Freemasonry a comprehensive metaphor of architecture's role in the culture. Birksted's significant and original research confirms Roger Aujame's belief and helps to account for Kaufmann's intuition of a deep continuity between the architectural aspirations of the 18th and 20th centuries.
Reading Le Corbusier and the Occult, I felt the voyeuristic interest and morbid fascination of a spectator during an exhumation. Birksted's disinterment of Le Corbusier revealed that, metaphorically speaking, the remains of one of modernism's greatest saints and heroes had not been incorruptible, and that the corpse of the man born as Charles-Édouard Jeanneret had been accompanied by strange offerings associated with secret societies and mystic traditions. Many of the questions raised by the disclosure of Corbusier's occult inspirations and para-Masonic dreams remain unansweredbut Birksted's brilliant and tenacious investigation into the complex and somewhat murky social foreground and spiritual background of Jeanneret's formative years in La Chaux-de-Fonds has forever changed the ways the Master of the Right Angle will be remembered. A tour de force!
"Reading Le Corbusier and the Occult, I felt the voyeuristic interest and morbid fascination of a spectator during an exhumation. Birksted's disinterment of Le Corbusier revealed that, metaphorically speaking, the remains of one of modernism's greatest saints and heroes had not been incorruptible, and that the corpse of the man born as Charles-Édouard Jeanneret had been accompanied by strange offerings associated with secret societies and mystic traditions. Many of the questions raised by the disclosure of Corbusier's occult inspirations and para-Masonic dreams remain unanswered but Birksted's brilliant and tenacious investigation into the complex and somewhat murky social foreground and spiritual background of Jeanneret's formative years in La Chaux-de-Fonds has forever changed the ways the Master of the Right Angle will be remembered. A tour de force!" Robert Jan van Pelt , University Professor, School of Architecture, University of Waterloo
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book examines the social context of Le Corbusier's early life, education, and career as an architect It shows that while Le Corbusier never became a Freemason, the social context in which he operated (especially in his early professional career) was so dominated by Freemasons, that Masonic thought and ways of thinking thoroughly and indelibly permeated his ideas on architecture (including, notably, the concept of the architectural promenade). It thereby explains the "initiatic" quality of all of Le Corbusier's most important designs. The documentation is meticulous, and introduces much visual material to the scholarly community for the first time. Packed with detail, the book will be as interesting to historians of Freemasonry as to those of architecture. It corrects or nuances much of the received wisdom about Le Corbusier's education and training in La Chaux-de-Fonds and Paris. All in all, this is a fascinating book -- one of the year's absolute must-reads for anyone interested in 20th-century architecture. It should spark considerable debate, and is likely to prove to be a turning point in the ongoing le Corbusier scholarship.
Dear Reader, My book is the result of five years of hard empirical research. Like many of Picasso's friends and republican intellectuals in Paris, Le Corbusier was involved in freemasonic networks. Many of Le Corbusier's friends, such as Juan Gris and Jacques Lipchitz and Paul Dermée, were members of socialist and republican lodges too. And just as Picasso (1881-1973) pitted himself against past masters of European painting, so Le Corbusier (1887-1965), who spent many hours cribbing from eighteenth-century books in the Bibliothèque nationale, has been described as a "cultural cannibal and radical innovator". Indeed, in his library is a much-worn book about the architecture of a radical modern eighteenth-century architect, whose architectural and engineering innovations his own 'immaculate conceptions' resemble uncannily. Le Corbusier and the Occult describes how Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, who was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds where he lived for the first thirty years of his life before leaving for Paris in 1917 to reinvent himself as the quasi-aristocratic Le Corbusier, absorbed the social ideals emanating from the prestigious Masonic lodge in La Chaux-de-Fonds, La Loge L'Amitié, whose freemasonic symbols of the right angle and the compass were described by Le Corbusier in his "Poem of the Right Angle" as "my choice, my guide". Within this ritualistic and symbolic context, Le Corbusier's 'architectural promenade' takes on a very different meaning. Le Corbusier used these republican Masonic ideals in his dealings with freemasonic politicians of the Third Republic and beyond, such as Jean Cassou, director of the Musée d'art moderne. Le Corbusier and the Occult also traces Le Corbusier's connections to the compagnonnages, the survivors of the medieval carpenters' and masons' guilds, who were involved in the construction of the Unité d'habitation in Marseille. Thus, Le Corbusier's ideas, which are not at all 'immaculate conceptions', are firmly rooted in local and contemporary culture. Le Corbusier and the Occult shows how, throughout the spectacular changes and the eclectic references in Le Corbusier's art and architecture, lie carefully structured continuities that are firmly rooted in the past as source of innovation. As a monograph with 177 illustrations, Le Corbusier and the Occult can be either read or simply looked at in so far as the sequence of illustrations provides the story and the argument of the book in parallel to the text. I have worked hard to select the pictures! I hope you find my book genuinely illuminating. Beneath I recommend four books that I admire for their related topic or for their methodological approaches. What I am involved in is, of course, the writing of history, which is such a difficult and fascinating endeavour. JK Birksted