- Hardcover: 848 pages
- Publisher: Knopf; 1St Edition edition (November 11, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375410430
- ISBN-13: 978-0375410437
- Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.8 x 9.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,147,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Le Corbusier: A Life Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 11, 2008
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*Starred Review* Universally recognized for his radical theories and daring buildings, the architect, urban designer, utopist, and painter who called himself Le Corbusier has nonetheless remained an enigma. Now Weber, an exceptional arts biographer, delivers the first comprehensive biography of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret. Born in 1887 to Swiss Calvinists, he escaped his Alpine watchmaking hometown at 19 and embarked on a life of work, travel, and controversy. Anchored in Paris, he ran a brick factory, obsessed over sex, started a magazine, and became a self-taught architect on a mission to improve the world. Cascading detail makes this a towering work. What makes it compelling is the masterful use Weber makes of his unprecedented access to the architect’s wildly expressive letters. Liberally quoted throughout, these rants, pleas, and manifestos chart Le Corbusier’s knotty relationship with his parents; marriage to lonely, alcoholic Yvonne; and shipboard romance with Josephine Baker. Weber sees Le Corbusier, who was blind in one eye and unconscionably opportunistic, as straddling the line between “genius and insanity” during the epic struggles to bring his revolutionary ideas to fruition. Both megalomaniacal and brilliant, Le Corbusier emerges from Weber’s mesmerizing pages in all his complexity. --Donna Seaman
“Weber’s admiring biography brings Le Corbusier to life, unraveling many obscure aspects of a man who was famously secretive and, though he wrote some 50 books, divulged very little of himself. . .[Weber] allows Le Corbusier to emerge as a fascinating if flawed human being.”
—Witold Rybczynski, The New York Times Book Review
“Both megalomaniacal and brilliant, Le Corbusier emerges from Weber’s mesmerizing pages in all his complexity.”
“Full of provocative insights and welcome surprises.”
—The New York Times
“The deeply felt tribute to Le Corbusier’s work is enriched by Weber’s engrossing, entertaining portrait of his complex personality.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred
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Top Customer Reviews
As an architect, I found the author's coverage of his built projects especially interesting, and at this point the book, for me, had new energy. Mr. Weber gives the background and history behind the structure, the travails of dealing with clients, and a mentally illustrative description of their physical form. More illustrations, and their placement closer to the text to which they relate, would have clarified the work more visually. Also noteworthy is the author's description of Le Corbusier's life in France during World War II. Obsessed with the need to build structures and organize cities, he worked with the provisional German government in Vichy, a fact he veiled in later in his life.
Le Corbusier's person comes alive, good and bad, through the author's discovery of his private life and actions. From needing his mother's approval, though she favored his older brother, to worshipping his wife Yvonne while pursuing other women, Mr. Weber paints a picture of the complex man and genius who was Le Corbusier.
Almost no photographs or drawings of buildings Weber is describing in the text. Weber's writing style is downright boring. He was not able to capture any of the excitement and upheaval of Le Corbusier's life, his ideas and the time.
I would prefer a book-compilation of Le Corbusier's letters to his parents rather than this lifeless biography.
But as we see very quickly in this epic account, Le Corbusier tremendous need to control stemmed from the very lack of control he had in relation to his mother, Marie, who lived almost as long as he did and throughout her life apparently favoured Le Corbusier's elder brother more. Weber suggests that Le Corbusier's hunger for Marie's affection drove him to extraordinary limits of endurance, intellect and artistry, yet also made him a tetchy, temperamental figure, someone who was never satisfied with himself (or with others) even after he'd left the small Swiss town where he was born and went to Paris, where he achieved fame as one of the 20th century's leading architects.
Weber's account of Le Corbusier's ascent to stardom is a dazzling one, richly stocked with detail about the path-breaking way he used prefabricated concrete in the construction of so many signature buildings - villas, churches, factories, apartment blocs - and the quicksilver crowd he moved among in Jazz Age Paris. The man was an artist at heart, someone whose ferocious sense of self-discipline allowed him to lead a double life, painting in the morning, designing buildings in the afternoon.
At the same time, Weber does a superb job of chronicling the growing disappointment and sense of failure Le Corbusier faced as his star rose but major urban planning projects like La Ville Radieuse (The Radiant City) remained unbuilt. It was Le Corbusier's life-long conviction that architecture could influence human nature. To achieve this properly, however, required work on a grand scale, something planning authorities the world over were reluctant to give him. This led to monumental, and often futile, skirmishes with administrators and to what is perhaps the most disturbing part of the book, Le Corbusier's collaboration with the pro-Nazi Vichy regime.
At war's end Le Corbusier swiftly rehabilitated himself with France's new Gaullist elite. His wartime past was forgotten and he went on to design some of the greatest work he is now remembered for: the l'Unité d'Habitation in Marseille, the master plan and major administrative buildings at Chandigarh, the church of Notre-Dame-de-Ronchamp. His office was flooded with commissions. He received dozens of honours. Thousands came to hear him speak at the Sorbonne.
Even so, Weber's book reminds us that little in Le Corbusier's life was easy. He continued to struggle with the underlying sense of failure and with the great projects, like his plan for the U.N. headquarters in New York, that were rejected. The famously tough outer shell he displayed in these years can be understood as a reaction. On the personal front he also had to deal with the increasingly erratic behaviour of his long-neglected wife, Yvonne, as she descended into alcoholism.
Weber is good at relating all of this. We see his subject at close range: singular, bold, visionary, a compulsive letter writer, a lover, an aesthete.
What Weber is less good at is depicting the milieu that Le Corbusier lived and worked within. The architect is portrayed as such a solitary individual that it is hard to sympathize with him, or indeed, with anyone else.
Added to this was the fact that many of his projects, both built and unbuilt, were plagued with practical problems, yet Le Corbusier dogmatically refused to alter them. In one early commission of a hostel for the poor, for instance, an innovative glass curtain wall caused severe problems with ventilation, yet Le Corbusier refused to perforate it with windows, a situation which eventually led to remedial action by municipal authorities.
Le Corbusier never accepted blame for any of these problems. Instead, he continued to work, to plan, to create, often reminding his family that true happiness is simply a state of mind. In this he was the quintessential modern icon: his faith in his vision was complete.
The book is organized in very small chapters, and broken up in easily digestible sections, so that the reader does not suffer from exhaustion.