Re-imagining Le Corbusier thought in the 21st Century

Those very close to me know I have a life-long history as a sheep. Like a small child, I absorb information like a sponge, and sometimes I rather foolishly accept this information without the need for further verification. Thus was the case when I first learnt about infamous 20th Century Swiss architect, Le Corbusier. Critics have hailed him as the creator of “Antisocial Urbanism”, “The Apostle of Concrete”, and Jane Jacobs once emphasized that, “Le Corbusier’s Utopia was a condition of what he called maximum liberty, by which he seems to have meant not liberty to do anything much, but liberty from ordinary responsibility.”

Being the young sheep that I am, I embraced this rhetoric without question, until rather recently I often considered him to be the Godfather of Dooms Day Urbanism. And while I recognize that his visions of urban planning are hotly contested, I have personally changed my tune. After a recommendation from an Art History professor, I began reading Le Corbusier’s 1933 urban manifesto, La Charte d’Athenes. And much to my surprise I was astounded by Le Corbusier’s insightful, timely and astute observations of urban life. Many of his insights still ring true today, and I would like to leave the world with a reminder of this little excerpt:

“The advent of the machine age has caused immense disturbances to man’s habits, place of dwelling and type of work; an uncontrolled concentration in cities, caused by mechanical transportation, has resulted in brutal and universal changes without precedent in history. Chaos has entered into the cities.”

Le Corbusier’s words were written in 1933, and I can’t help but think of how relevant they are today with the advances in artificial intelligence, emergence of self-driving cars, and the automation of the workplace. Everyday I read another article about how self-driving cars are disrupting our current road ways, and now I can’t help but think that maybe Le Corbusier missed his time. Further, I can’t help but to imagine the field day Corbusier would have had with driverless cars, for better or for worse.

The Athen’s Charter has me re-evaluating my judgements and questioning the extremely negative discourse that surrounds Le Corbusier’s work. Each week I hope to explore one aspect of this charter and compare it to modern day examples of ‘new urbanism’. I hope you pop along for the ride, and join me in exploring how Le Corbusier may be more than just the “Apostle of Concrete”.

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