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The Curious Curator's Book Blog

Contemporary art curator. Student. Book addict. Art lover. Geek. Dreamer. Curious about everything. Check out my website http://thecuriouscurator.com/

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Modern Man by Anthony Flint

Modern Man: The Life of Le Corbusier, Architect of Tomorrow - Anthony Flint

Le Corbusier (pseudonym for Charles-Édouard Jeanneret) is considered one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, credited with starting the ‘starchitect’ trend, along with his American rival, Frank Lloyd Wright. He broke with established ideas about what architecture and urbanism should be, reinventing the home as a ‘machine for living’ and revolutionising the way we think about cities. 

"Modern Man: The Life of Le Corbusier, Man of Tomorrow” by Anthony Flint is an accessible account of the architect’s life and work, with detailed descriptions of his various buildings and projects. Le Corbusier’s ideas are well known for most people in the art world, myself included, but I knew very little about his life, experiences, inspirations, travels, and how they intertwined with his works, so this book seemed like the perfect read.

I am not an expert on architecture, but I have studied enough of it to have a fairly informed opinion on Le Corbusier’s philosophy. I tend to agree with critic Jane Jacobs (who is cited in the book, and was the subject of a previous book by the same author): architects like Le Corbusier tend to ignore the way people actually live in the spaces they create; they tend to forget that architecture may give cues, but in the end is meant to be lived in freely, instead of forcing people to follow an architect's instructions on how to live properly in a space. Furthermore, one of the side-effects of Le Corbusier’s urbanism is to eliminate street life - it assumes the street as a place of passage, when in many cities, it is a place of living, of community-building, an important part of that city’s identity.I am also wary of those who defend demolishing old buildings to make way for new ones. For me, it is seldom a good idea; in fact, it is a lazy idea. Good urban planning should improve living conditions while accommodating a city’s history, of which its buildings are an important part.   

Le Corbusier’s vision of a modern city is one built for efficiency in an industrialist, capitalist sense. However, people are not machines, and they may not want to apply the streamlined (some would say deadening) Fordist assembly line mass production ideals to their personal lives. 

I admit, it’s easy to be critical with hindsight. Le Corbusier was a man of his time, and his ideas made sense back then. They had never been tried before, and he couldn’t have imagined the impact (he predicted the good, but not the bad) they would have eventually. On an aesthetic level, I can see the appeal of his work, specially the villas and churches. And his influence on subsequent generations of architects cannot be understated.

On a more personal note, Le Corbusier was not an easy person to sympathise with. His arrogance and lack of moral compass are notable in his words and actions, and his efforts to whitewash the darkest periods of his life do little to endear him to critics.

The book does not gloss over the more negative sides of Le Corbusier’s life and work - while admiring, it also makes an effort to be unbiased and objective. Recommended as a source of information for understanding the pioneer of modern architecture. 


Note: I got this book for review purposes through NetGalley. This review has been cross-posted to my Curious Curator blog.