Aug 142018
 

Today is the birthday (1502) of Pieter Coecke van Aelst, a Flemish painter, sculptor, architect, author and designer of woodcuts, goldsmith’s work, stained glass and tapestries who was influential in his day, but is largely forgotten nowadays. He worked in Antwerp and Brussels and was appointed court painter to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. He was also a polyglot, and published translations of ancient Roman and modern Italian architectural treatises into Dutch, French and German. These publications played a pivotal role in the dissemination of Renaissance ideas in Northern Europe, and contributed to the transition in Northern Europe from the late Gothic style, then prevalent, towards a modern Classical architecture.

Coecke van Aelst was the son of the Deputy Mayor of Aalst. Most of his biography is filled with “probablies” because there is little hard documentation. He probably first studied art under Bernard van Orley, a leading Renaissance painter based in Brussels. There are no documents that prove this apprenticeship but there are strong stylistic similarities between the styles of the two artists. He may have later studied in Italy where he would have made drawings of classical sculpture and architecture. His Italian influence could, however, also be attributed to the fact that Raphael’s tapestry cartoons were available in Brussels, where they were used for the manufacture of tapestries around 1516. However, as Coecke van Aelst clearly was familiar with Raphael’s fresco of the Triumph of Galatea located in the Villa Farnesina in Rome, it seems likely he did in fact travel to Italy.

Coecke van Aelst married twice. He married his first wife Anna van Dornicke in 1525 shortly after his move to Antwerp. Anna was the daughter of Jan Mertens van Dornicke, one of the most successful painters working in Antwerp. His father in law was possibly his teacher. Coecke van Aelst took over his father-in-law’s workshop after the latter’s death in 1527. There were two children from this first marriage, Michiel and Pieter (the Younger). The latter was also a painter. After the death of his first wife (before 1529), Coecke van Aelst had an affair with Anthonette van der Sandt (also known as Antonia van der Sant). The pair never married but had a daughter, Antonette, and at least one son, Pauwel who also became a painter.

Coecke van Aelst is recorded joining the local Guild of Saint Luke of Antwerp in 1527. In 1533, he traveled to Constantinople where he stayed for one year during which he tried to convince the Turkish sultan to give him commissions for tapestries, but failed. He made numerous drawings during his stay in Turkey including of the buildings, people and the indigenous flora. He seems to have retained from this trip an abiding interest in the accurate rendering of nature that gave his tapestries an added dimension. The drawings which he made during his stay in Turkey were posthumously published by his widow under the title Ces moeurs et fachons de faire de Turcz avecq les regions y appertenantes ont este au vif contrefaictez (Antwerp,1553).

Upon his return to Antwerp in 1534, Coecke van Aelst produced designs for a large-scale figure, called ‘Druon Antigoon’ or the ‘Giant of Antwerp’ of which the head in papier-maché possibly still survives (Museum aan de Stroom, Antwerp). The giant made its premiere many years later in 1549 at the occasion of the Joyous entry into Antwerp of Prince Philip (the future Philip II). The giant became a regular fixture in public processions in Antwerp until the 20th century. In the year 1537 Coecke van Aelst was elected a dean of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke. He also received a stipend from the Antwerp city government. Around this time he received major commissions for the design of stained-glass windows including for the Antwerp Cathedral.

Around 1538–1539 Coecke van Aelst married for the second time. His second wife Mayken Verhulst was originally from Mechelen and a painter of miniatures. The couple had three children, two daughters called Katelijne and Maria and a son named Pauwel (even though he had another son with this name). Pieter Brueghel the Elder married Coecke van Aelst’s daughter Maria (called ‘Mayken’). It is possible that Coecke van Aelst’s second wife was the first teacher of her grandchildren, Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder.

Coecke van Aelst was appointed court painter to Charles V only a few months prior to his death. He was in Brussels in 1550 where he died in December. As his two youngest children died at the same time, it is possible that all three family members were victims of a contagious epidemic.

Pieter Coecke van Aelst was a versatile artist and a master designer who devised projects across a wide range of different media, including panel paintings, sculptures, prints, tapestries, stained glass and goldsmith’s work. No signed, and few reliably documented, paintings by Coecke van Aelst have survived. His drawings are an important witness to his skills as they are the only body of works by the artist, which are signed. Approximately 40 drawings are regarded as autographs, in addition to cartoons and cartoon fragments on which he likely worked with assistants. The majority of his drawings are related to his tapestry designs.

Coecke van Aelst’s composition of the Last Supper became extremely popular in the 16th century and many versions were produced. The version dated 1527 in the collection of the Duke and Duchess of Rutland in Belvoir Castle in  Grantham, is believed to be the original from which all the other ones were derived. The composition was popularized via a print of it made by Hendrik Goltzius. His painting of the subject was freely inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (1498, Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan) and Marcantonio Raimondi’s engraving of about 1515–1516 based on a lost drawing by Raphael. The gestures of the apostles are derived from Dürer’s print of the Last Supper dated 1523. There exist about 45 versions of this composition, which were executed with the assistance of workshop assistants. A great number of the versions are dated, and of these 6 or 7 are dated 1528. Van Aelst likely produced the original drawing for the Last Supper, which was subsequently copied on to a panel by means of intermediary cartoons. The composition could be ordered in two formats: 50 x 60 cm and 60 x 80 cm. The large version was more popular than the smaller one.

Small Biblical scenes in the background of the composition place the Last Supper in its theological context. Through the window it is possible to discern a scene depicting the Entry into Jerusalem, the principal event preceding the Last Supper according to Christian literature. Scenes of the Fall and the Expulsion from Paradise can be discerned in the ornaments of the upper panes of the window. The medals on the wall depict the biblical stories of the Slaying of Cain and David and Goliath. The scene representing the slaying of Cain is based on a print by the prominent Romanist artist Jan Gossaert. The whole iconography accentuates the Christian preoccupation with original sin and the belief that mankind’s salvation solely relies on Christ’s sacrifice. The original version of 1527 expresses in some of its details an iconography, which shows a close link to the Protestant Reformation. In the other versions this meaning is less pronounced.

Another popular and widely distributed work was the composition St. Jerome in his Study of which Coecke van Aelst and his workshop produced multiple versions. Saint Jerome is noted for his translation into Latin of the Bible, http://www.bookofdaystales.com/international-translation-dayst-jerome/  which he produced whilst living in a monastery in Palestine. In the version of the subject in the Walters Museum, Coecke van Aelst suggests the Oriental setting by the view visible through the window which shows a landscape with camels. To the wall is affixed an admonition, “Cogita Mori” (Think upon death), a vanitas motif that is reiterated by the skull (which Jerome supposedly always had with him as he wrote). Further reminders of the motifs of the passage of time and the imminence of death are the image of the Last Judgment visible in the saint’s Bible, the candle and the hourglass. Another version of this subject was sold at Christie’s (28 January 2015, New York, lot 104). This version reprises similar iconographic elements, which stress Christian beliefs regarding the transience of human life and the importance of the sacrifice of Christ for people to find salvation at the time of the Last Judgement.

Coecke van Aelst was renowned for his tapestry designs which were executed by the Brussels tapestry workshops. These designs were typically small-scale drawings in black-and-white. His cartoon for the Martyrdom of St. Peter (Brussels Town Hall) is in grisaille with touches of green and red while the names of the other colors, such as gold or blue, are written in. The patrons for the tapestries included Emperor Charles V, Francis I of France, Henry VIII of England, and Cosimo de’ Medici. His reputation as a tapestry designer was established through his popular series of the Story of Saint Paul, the Seven Deadly Sins, the Story of Abraham, the Story of Vertumnus and Pomona, the Story of Joshua, the Creation, Poesia, the Conquest of Tunis and Julius Caesar.

Coecke van Aelst is noted for his translation of Vitruvius’ De architectura into Flemish (Dutch). He, and after his death his widow, Mayken Verhulst, published the five books of Sebastiano Serlio’s architectural treatise Architettura in Flemish, French and High German (the German translation was done by another translator). Coecke van Aelst’s translation of Vitruvius was hailed by the humanist Dominicus Lampsonius as the only Dutch-language book to discuss the building styles of other countries. In line with Italian translations of Vitruvius published earlier in the 16th century, his translation gave prominence to woodcut illustrations of the text and used columns to indicate the difference between three kinds of architectural representation: plan, elevation, and view. This was a clear break with the few treatises on architecture published earlier in the Low Countries which generally did not provide any visual exegesis. Coecke van Aelst’s 1539 Flemish translation of Serlio provided to the Low Countries a relatively affordable translation of one of the first illustrated architectural treatises in Europe.

For today’s recipe I have chosen potjevleesch, a traditional Flemish dish, which was certainly well known in Coecke van Aelst’s time. The recipe below is translated from a 1302 version by William Tirel. It is still a popular dish in Belgium. The name can be translated into English as “potted meat,” although in appearance it is more like a terrine. It is traditionally made in a ceramic dish—such as a marmite—from three or four different types of meat and held together either with gelatin or natural fats coming from the meats used. The meat (along with sliced onions, salt, pepper, thyme and bay leaves) is covered in water or water and vinegar and then cooked either on a low heat in the oven or on a low flame on top of the stove for 3 hours. After cooking the dish is chilled in the refrigerator and served cold. Nowadays the Flemish serve the dish – as they do everything – with fried potatoes (which they do not call French fries). It is customary to serve the dish with Dutch gin.

Here is my edited version of the original 14th century recipe in translation:

Make a jelly by boiling calves’ feet in 1 liter of white wine, with 20 fresh juniper berries. Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Desalt a pork shoulder. Debone a chicken and rabbit. Cut the pork, chicken, rabbit, veal, and calf’s foot into pieces about the size of half a quail. Place them in a pot with juniper berries and grated ginger, a little must and an abundance of saffron. Salt. Pour over the broth, a cup of gin and sour grapes. Cover with a lid sealed with a flour and egg white paste. Simmer slowly for 3 to 4 hours without boiling. Then lift the lid and bring to a rolling boil. Store in the cellar.

Here is a modernized version of the recipe. Note that Tirel does not mention onions, but they are usual nowadays. You can vary the proportions of meats as you wish. I have included gelatin here, because it is more practical than boiling bones and feet.

Potjevleesch

Ingredients

300 gm deboned chicken, cut in chunks
300 gm deboned rabbit, cut in chunks
300 gm flank of veal, cut in chunks
300 gm pork belly, cut in chunks
2 onions, peeled and sliced
salt and pepper,
20 juniper berries
1 sachet powdered saffron
white wine or wine vinegar
2 sachets gelatin

Instructions

Arrange in the bottom of the pot a layer of sliced onions. Add a sprinkling of salt, pepper, juniper berries and saffron. Then make layers with chicken, rabbit, veal and pork, alternating with onions and aromatics. Pour white wine (or wine vinegar) mixed with water evenly over the meat so that it is completely covered. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a slow simmer, add the gelatin mixed with ½ cup of boiling water, and cook, tightly covered, over low heat for 3 to 4 hours. Allow to cool slowly and then refrigerate for at least 12 hours, preferably overnight, so that the gelatin sets up. Serve with fried or boiled potatoes, and a green salad.

Aug 032018
 

Today is the birthday (1803) of Sir Joseph Paxton, an English gardener, architect and Member of Parliament, best known for designing the Crystal Palace http://www.bookofdaystales.com/crystal-palace/ , and for cultivating the Cavendish banana, the most commonly found banana in the Western world.

Paxton was born in 1803, the 7th son of a farming family, in Milton Bryan, Bedfordshire. Some references, incorrectly, list his birth year as 1801. This is, as he admitted in later life, a result of misinformation he provided in his teens, which enabled him to work at Chiswick Gardens. He became a garden boy at the age of 15 for Sir Gregory Osborne Page-Turner at Battlesden Park, near Woburn in Bedfordshire. After several moves, he obtained a position in 1823 at the Horticultural Society’s Chiswick Gardens. The Horticultural Society’s gardens were close to the gardens of William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire at Chiswick House. The duke met Paxton as he strolled in his gardens and became impressed with his skill and enthusiasm. He offered the 20-year-old Paxton the position of head gardener at Chatsworth, which was considered one of the finest landscaped gardens of the time.

Although the duke was in Russia, Paxton set off for Chatsworth on the Chesterfield coach arriving at Chatsworth at half past four in the morning. By his own account he had explored the gardens after scaling the kitchen garden wall, set the staff to work, eaten breakfast with the housekeeper and met his future wife, Sarah Bown (or Brown), the housekeeper’s niece, completing his first morning’s work before nine o’clock. He married Bown in 1827.

He enjoyed a friendly relationship with his employer who recognized his diverse talents and facilitated his rise to prominence. One of Paxton’s first projects was to redesign the garden around the new north wing of the house and expand Chatsworth’s collection of conifers into a 40-acre (16 hectare) arboretum which still exists. He became skilled at moving mature trees. The largest, weighing about eight tons, was moved from Kedleston Road in Derby. Among several other large projects at Chatsworth were the rock garden, the Emperor Fountain and rebuilding Edensor village.

While at Chatsworth, he built the Emperor Fountain in 1844, it was twice the height of Nelson’s Column and required the creation of a feeder lake on the hill above the gardens necessitating the excavation of 100,000 cubic yards (76,000 m3) of earth. In 1832, Paxton developed an interest in greenhouses at Chatsworth where he designed a series of buildings with “forcing frames” for espalier trees and for the cultivation of exotic plants such as highly prized pineapples. At the time the use of glass houses was in its infancy and those at Chatsworth were dilapidated. After experimentation, he designed a glass house with a ridge and furrow roof that would be at right angles to the morning and evening sun and an ingenious frame design that would admit maximum light: the forerunner of the modern greenhouse.

The next great building at Chatsworth was built for the first seeds of the Victoria regia lily which had been sent to Kew from the Amazon in 1836. Although they had germinated and grown they had not flowered and in 1849 a seedling was given to Paxton to try out at Chatsworth. He entrusted it to Eduard Ortgies, a young gardener and within two months the leaves were 4.5 ft (1.4 m) in diameter, and a month later it flowered. It continued growing and it became necessary to build a much larger house, the Victoria Regia House. Inspired by the waterlily’s huge leaves – ‘a natural feat of engineering’ – he found the structure for his conservatory which he tested by floating his daughter Annie on a leaf. The secret was in the rigidity provided by the radiating ribs connecting with flexible cross-ribs. Constant experimentation over a number of years led him to devise the glasshouse design that inspired the Crystal Palace. Named after William Cavendish, Cavendish bananas were cultivated by Paxton in the greenhouses of Chatsworth House in 1836. They now account for the vast majority of bananas consumed in the western world.

With a cheap and light wooden frame, the conservatory design had a ridge-and-furrow roof to let in more light and drained rainwater away. He used hollow pillars doubling as drain pipes and designed a special rafter that acted as an internal and external gutter. All the elements were pre-fabricated and, like modular buildings, could be produced in vast numbers and assembled into buildings of varied design.

 

In 1836, Paxton began the Great Conservatory, or Stove, a huge glasshouse, 227 ft (69 m) long and 123 ft (37 m) wide. The columns and beams were made of cast iron, and the arched elements of laminated wood. At the time, the conservatory was the largest glass building in the world. The largest sheet glass available at that time, made by Robert Chance, was 3 ft (0.91 m) long. Chance produced 4 ft (1.2 m) sheets for Paxton’s benefit. The structure was heated by eight boilers using seven miles (11 km) of iron pipe and cost more than £30,000. It had a central carriageway and when the Queen was driven through, it was lit with twelve thousand lamps. It was prohibitively expensive to maintain, and was not heated during the First World War. The plants died and it was demolished in the 1920s.

In 1848 Paxton created the Conservative Wall, a glass house 331 ft (101 m) long by 7 ft (2.1 m) wide. The Great Conservatory was the test-bed for the prefabricated glass and iron structural techniques which Paxton pioneered and would employ for his masterpiece: The Crystal Palace of the Great Exhibition of 1851. These techniques were made physically possible by recent technological advances in the manufacture of both glass and cast iron, and financially possible by the dropping of a tax on glass.

In 1850 the Royal Commission appointed to organize the Great Exhibition were in a quandary. An international competition to design a building to house the Exhibition had produced 245 designs, of which only two were remotely suitable, and all would take too long to build and would be too permanent. There was an outcry by the public and in Parliament against the desecration of Hyde Park. Paxton was visiting London in his capacity as a director of the Midland Railway to meet the chairman John Ellis who was also a member of parliament. He happened to mention an idea he had for the hall, and Ellis promptly encouraged him to produce some plans, provided they could be ready in nine days. He was committed for the next few days, but at a board meeting of the railway in Derby, it is said he appeared to be spending much of his time doodling on a sheet of blotting paper. At the end of the meeting he held up his first sketch of the Crystal Palace, inspired by the Victoria Regia House. The sketch is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

He completed the plans and presented them to the Commission, but there was opposition from some members, since another design was well into its planning stage. Paxton decided to by-pass the Commission and published the design in the Illustrated London News to universal acclaim http://www.bookofdaystales.com/crystal-palace/  Its novelty was its revolutionary modular, prefabricated design, and use of glass. Glazing was carried out from special trolleys, and was fast: one man managed to fix 108 panes in a single day. The Palace was 1,848 ft (563 m) long, 408 ft (124 m) wide and 108 ft (33 m) high. It required 4,500 tons of iron, 60,000 sq ft (5,600 m2) of timber and needed over 293,000 panes of glass. Yet it took 2,000 men just eight months to build, and cost just £79,800. Quite unlike any other building, it was itself a demonstration of British technology in iron and glass. In its construction, Paxton was assisted by Charles Fox, also of Derby for the iron framework, and William Cubitt, Chairman of the Building Committee. All three were knighted. After the exhibition they were employed by the Crystal Palace Company to move it to Sydenham where it was destroyed in 1936 by a fire.

In 1831, Paxton published a monthly magazine, The Horticultural Register. This was followed by the Magazine of Botany in 1834, the Pocket Botanical Dictionary in 1840, The Flower Garden in 1850 and the Calendar of Gardening Operations. In addition to these titles he also, in 1841, co-founded perhaps the most famous horticultural periodical, The Gardeners’ Chronicle along with John Lindley, Charles Wentworth Dilke and William Bradbury and later became its editor.

Paxton was a Liberal Member of Parliament for Coventry from 1854 until his death in 1865. In June 1855 he presented a scheme he called the Great Victorian Way to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Metropolitan Communications in which he envisioned the construction of an arcade, based on the structure of the Crystal Palace, in a ten-mile loop around the center of London. It would have incorporated a roadway, an atmospheric railway, housing and shops.

Although he remained the Head Gardener at Chatsworth until 1858, he was also able to undertake outside work such as the Crystal Palace and his directorship of the Midland Railway. He worked on public parks in Liverpool, Birkenhead, Glasgow, Halifax (the People’s Park) and the grounds of the Spa Buildings at Scarborough. In October 1845 he was invited to lay out one of the country’s first municipal burial grounds in Coventry. This became the London Road Cemetery, where a memorial to Paxton by Joseph Goddard was erected in 1868. Between 1835 and 1839, he organized plant-hunting expeditions one of which ended in tragedy when two gardeners from Chatsworth sent to California drowned. Tragedy also struck at home when his eldest son died.

In 1850 Paxton was commissioned by Baron Mayer de Rothschild to design Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire. This was to be one of the greatest country houses built during the Victorian Era. Following the completion of Mentmore, Baron James de Rothschild, one of Baron de Rothschild’s French cousins, commissioned Château de Ferrières at Ferrières-en-Brie near Paris to be “Another Mentmore, but twice the size”. Both buildings still stand today. Paxton also designed another country house, a smaller version of Mentmore at Battlesden near Woburn in Bedfordshire. This house was bought by the Duke of Bedford thirty years after its completion, and demolished, because the Duke wanted no other mansion close to Woburn Abbey. In 1860, he also designed Fairlawn No. 89 Wimbledon Southside for Sir Edwin Saunders, Queen Victoria’s dentist.

Paxton was made a member of the Kew Commission which was to suggest improvements for Royal Botanic Gardens, and was considered for the post of Head Gardener at Windsor Castle. On 17th March 1860, during the enthusiasm for the Volunteer movement, Paxton raised and commanded the 11th (Matlock) Derbyshire Rifle Volunteer Corps.

Paxton became quite affluent, not so much through his Chatsworth employment, but by successful speculation in the railway industry. He retired from Chatsworth when the Duke died in 1858 but carried on working at various projects such as the Thames Graving Dock. Paxton died at his home at Rockhills, Sydenham, in 1865 and was buried on the Chatsworth Estate in St Peter’s Churchyard, Edensor. His wife Sarah remained at their house on the Chatsworth Estate until her death in 1871.

Bananas are the obvious ingredient for a dish to celebrate Paxton given that if you live outside Asia, chances are that the bananas you buy will be Cavendish bananas developed by Paxton. Banana split is one possibility: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/banana-split-day/ Or you can try your hand at bananas Foster. Bananas Foster is a dessert made from bananas and vanilla ice cream, with a sauce made from butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark rum, and banana liqueur. The butter, sugar and bananas are cooked, and then alcohol is added and ignited. The bananas and sauce are then served over the ice cream. Popular toppings also include whipped cream and different types of nuts (pecans, walnuts, etc.) The dish was created at Brennan’s in New Orleans by Ella Brennan and the restaurant’s chef Paul Blangé in 1951. At this time New Orleans was a major hub for the import of bananas from South America. It was named for Richard Foster, the chairman of the New Orleans Crime Commission and a friend of restaurant owner Owen Brennan. This is the recipe from Brennan’s:

Bananas Foster

Ingredients

¼ cup (½ stick) butter
1 cup brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ cup banana liqueur
4 bananas, cut in half lengthwise, then halved
¼ cup dark rum
4 scoops vanilla ice cream

Instructions

Place one scoop of ice cream in each of four chilled bowls. Keep them cool while preparing the bananas.

Combine the butter, sugar, and cinnamon in a skillet. Place the skillet over low heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the banana liqueur, then place the bananas in the pan. When the banana sections soften and begin to brown, carefully add the rum. Continue to cook the sauce until the rum is hot, then tip the pan slightly to ignite the rum. When the flames subside, lift the bananas out of the pan and place four pieces over each portion of ice cream. Generously spoon warm sauce over the top of the ice cream and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Oct 062015
 

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Today is the birthday (1887) of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier, a Swiss-French architect, designer, painter, urban planner, writer, and one of the pioneers of what is now called modern architecture. He was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in 1930. His career spanned five decades, with his buildings constructed throughout Europe, India, and the Americas. Dedicated to providing better living conditions for the residents of crowded cities, Le Corbusier was influential in urban planning, and was a founding member of the Congrès international d’architecture moderne (CIAM).

He was born as Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a small city in Neuchâtel canton in north-western Switzerland, in the Jura mountains, just 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) across the border from France. Young Jeanneret was attracted to the visual arts and studied at the La-Chaux-de-Fonds Art School under Charles L’Eplattenier, who had studied in Budapest and Paris. His architecture teacher in the Art School was the architect René Chapallaz, who had a major influence on Le Corbusier’s earliest house designs.

In his early years he would frequently escape the somewhat provincial atmosphere of his hometown by traveling around Europe. In September 1907, he made his first trip outside of Switzerland, going to Italy; then that winter traveling through Budapest to Vienna where he would stay for four months and meet Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffman. At around 1908, he traveled to Paris, where he found work in the office of Auguste Perret, the French pioneer of reinforced concrete. It was during both his trip to Italy and his employment at Perret’s office that he began to form his own ideas about architecture. Between October 1910 and March 1911, he worked near Berlin for the renowned architect Peter Behrens. More than anything during this period, it was his visit to the Charterhouse of the Valley of Ema that influenced his architectural philosophy profoundly for the rest of his life. He believed that all people should have the opportunity to live as beautifully and peacefully as the monks he witnessed in the sanctuaries at the Charterhouse.

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Later in 1911, he journeyed to the Balkans and visited Serbia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece, filling nearly 80 sketchbooks with renderings of what he saw—including many sketches of the Parthenon, whose forms he would later praise in his work Vers une architecture (1923) (“Towards an Architecture”, but usually translated into English as “Towards a New Architecture”).

During World War I, Le Corbusier taught at his old school in La-Chaux-de-Fonds, not returning to Paris until the war was over. During these four years in Switzerland, he worked on theoretical architectural studies using modern techniques. Among these was his project for the Dom-Ino House (1914–15). This model proposed an open floor plan consisting of concrete slabs supported by a minimal number of thin reinforced concrete columns around the edges, with a stairway providing access to each level on one side of the floor plan.

This design became the foundation for most of his architecture over the next ten years. Soon he began his own architectural practice with his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret (1896–1967), a partnership that would last until the 1950s, with an interruption in the World War II years, because of Le Corbusier’s ambivalent position towards the Vichy regime.

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In 1918, Le Corbusier met the Cubist painter Amédée Ozenfant, in whom he recognized a kindred spirit. Ozenfant encouraged him to paint, and the two began a period of collaboration. Rejecting Cubism as irrational and “romantic”, the pair jointly published their manifesto, Après le cubisme and established a new artistic movement, Purism. Ozenfant and Le Corbusier established the Purist journal L’Esprit nouveau. He was good friends with the Cubist artist Fernand Léger.

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Between 1918 and 1922, Le Corbusier did not build anything, concentrating his efforts on Purist theory and painting. In 1922, he and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret opened a studio in Paris at 35 rue de Sèvres. His theoretical studies soon advanced into several different single-family house models. Among these was the Maison “Citrohan”, a pun on the name of the French Citroën automaker, for the modern industrial methods and materials Le Corbusier advocated using for the house. Here, Le Corbusier proposed a three-floor structure, with a double-height living room, bedrooms on the second floor, and a kitchen on the third floor. The roof would be occupied by a sun terrace. On the exterior Le Corbusier installed a stairway to provide second-floor access from ground level. Here, as in other projects from this period, he also designed the facades to include large uninterrupted banks of windows. The house used a rectangular plan, with exterior walls that were not filled by windows but left as white, stuccoed spaces. Le Corbusier and Jeanneret left the interior aesthetically spare, with any movable furniture made of tubular metal frames. Light fixtures usually comprised single, bare bulbs. Interior walls also were left white. Such Spartan clean lines for walls and furnishings became Le Corbusier’s trademark.

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Between 1922 and 1927, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret designed many of these private houses for clients around Paris. In Boulogne-sur-Seine and the 16th arrondissement of Paris, Le Corbusier and Jeanneret designed and built the Villa Lipschitz, Maison Cook, Maison Planeix, and the Maison La Roche/Albert Jeanneret, which now houses the Fondation Le Corbusier.

For a number of years, French officials had been unsuccessful in dealing with the squalor of the growing Parisian slums, and Le Corbusier sought efficient ways to house large numbers of people in response to the urban housing crisis. He believed that his new, modern architectural forms would provide an organizational solution that would raise the quality of life for the lower classes. His Immeubles Villas (1922) was such a project, calling for large blocks of cell-like individual apartments stacked one on top of one another, with plans that included a living room, bedrooms, and kitchen, as well as a garden terrace.

Not merely content with designs for a few housing blocks, Le Corbusier soon moved into studies for entire cities. In 1922 he presented his scheme for a “Contemporary City” (Ville Contemporaine) for three million inhabitants. The centerpiece of this plan was the group of sixty-story cruciform skyscrapers, steel-framed office buildings encased in huge curtain walls of glass. Referred to as towers in a park, these skyscrapers were set within large, rectangular, park-like green spaces. At the center was a huge transportation hub that on different levels included depots for buses and trains, as well as highway intersections, and at the top, an airport. Le Corbusier had the fanciful notion that commercial airliners would land between the huge skyscrapers. He segregated pedestrian circulation paths from the roadways and glorified the automobile as a means of transportation. As one moved out from the central skyscrapers, smaller low-story, zig-zag apartment blocks (set far back from the street amid green space) housed the inhabitants. Le Corbusier hoped that politically minded industrialists in France would lead the way with their efficient strategies adopted from American industrial models to reorganize society. As Norma Evenson has put it, “the proposed city appeared to some an audacious and compelling vision of a brave new world, and to others a frigid megalomaniacally scaled negation of the familiar urban ambient.”

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In the 1930s, Le Corbusier expanded and reformulated his ideas on urbanism, eventually publishing them in La Ville radieuse (The Radiant City) in 1935. Perhaps the most significant difference between the Contemporary City and the Radiant City is that the latter abandoned the class-based stratification of the former; housing was now assigned according to family size, not economic position. Some have read dark overtones into The Radiant City: from the “astonishingly beautiful assemblage of buildings” that was Stockholm, for example, Le Corbusier saw only “frightening chaos and saddening monotony.” He dreamed of “cleaning and purging” the city, bringing “a calm and powerful architecture”—referring to steel, plate glass, and reinforced concrete. Although Le Corbusier’s designs for Stockholm did not succeed, later architects took his ideas and incorporated them.

After World War II, Le Corbusier attempted to realize his urban planning schemes on a small scale by constructing a series of “unités” (the housing block unit of the Radiant City) around France. The most famous of these was the Unité d’Habitation of Marseille (1946–52). In the 1950s, a unique opportunity to translate the Radiant City on a grand scale presented itself in the construction of the Union Territory Chandigarh, the new capital for the Indian states of Punjab and Haryana and India’s first planned city. Le Corbusier designed many administration buildings, including a courthouse, parliament building, and a university. He also designed the general layout of the city, dividing it into sectors. Le Corbusier was brought on to develop the plan of Albert Mayer.

Against his doctor’s orders, on August 27, 1965, Le Corbusier went for a swim in the Mediterranean Sea at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France. His body was found by bathers and he was pronounced dead at 11 a.m. It was assumed that he suffered a heart attack. His funeral took place in the courtyard of the Louvre Palace on September 1, 1965, under the direction of writer and thinker André Malraux, who was at the time France’s Minister of Culture. He was buried alongside his wife in the grave he had designated at Roquebrune.

During his career, Le Corbusier developed a set of architectural principles that dictated his technique, which he called “the Five Points of a New Architecture” and were most evident in his Villa Savoye. The five points are:

  1. Pilotis – Replacement of supporting walls by a grid of reinforced concrete columns that bears the structural load is the basis of the new aesthetic.
  2. The free designing of the ground plan—the absence of supporting walls—means the house is unrestrained in its internal use.
  3. The free design of the façade—separating the exterior of the building from its structural function—sets the façade free from structural constraints.
  4. The horizontal window, which cuts the façade along its entire length, lights rooms equally.
  5. Roof gardens on a flat roof can serve a domestic purpose while providing essential protection to the concrete roof.

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It was Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye (1929–1931) that most succinctly summed up his five points of architecture that he had elucidated in the journal L’Esprit Nouveau and his book Vers une architecture, which he had been developing throughout the 1920s. First, Le Corbusier lifted the bulk of the structure off the ground, supporting it by pilotis – reinforced concrete stilts. These pilotis, in providing the structural support for the house, allowed him to elucidate his next two points: a free façade, meaning non-supporting walls that could be designed as the architect wished, and an open floor plan, meaning that the floor space was free to configure into rooms without concern for supporting walls. The second floor of the Villa Savoye includes long strips of ribbon windows that allow unencumbered views of the large surrounding yard, and constitute the fourth point of his system. The fifth point was the roof garden to compensate for the green area consumed by the building and replacing it on the roof. A ramp rising from ground level to the third floor roof terrace allows for an architectural promenade through the structure. The white tubular railing recalls the industrial “ocean-liner” aesthetic that Le Corbusier much admired. The driveway around the ground floor, with its semicircular path, measures the exact turning radius of a 1927 Citroën.

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A kitchen designed by Le Corbusier is on display at MoMA in New York City. In it you see his desire for clean efficiency – rather like an ocean liner galley. I’m in favor of the general idea although not this particular design. The kitchen sits in the middle of an open plan living space – isolated from seating areas by a sliding-panel wall which can be opened to pass food through.

Le Corbusier’s birthplace of Neuchâtel is noted for several culinary delights, including absinthe which was first produced there in the 18th century, although its roots may be older. It is also home to a particular style of cheese fondue. I used to hold fondue parties as a young man, but don’t do them any more because I gave away all of my apparatus. But I still know what I am doing. The main thing is to encourage guests as they dip their bread to swirl the cheese mixture as it is apt to separate. If it does, add a little more warmed wine and mix.

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Neuchâtel-style Cheese Fondue

Ingredients

1 clove garlic, split open
1 ½ cups shredded cheese, ½ emmanthaler and ½ gruyère
flour
½ cup dry Neuchâtel white wine
3 tablespoons kirsch (or more to taste)
1 pinch pepper
1 pinch nutmeg
day-old French bread, torn into bite-sized pieces

Instructions

Use a metal or ceramic fondue pot with a spirit burner, or a ceramic, thermostatically controlled one. In the latter case, prepare the cheese mix on the stove in a saucepan and transfer it to the pot.

Rub the inside of the pot well with the garlic (and leave it in if you wish). Heat the wine gently until it bubbles slightly.

Toss the cheese with a little flour and add it slowly to the warming pot, whisking vigorously. When all the cheese is melted, add the kirsch, pepper and nutmeg, whisk quickly and bring to the table.

Spear the bread pieces with fondue forks and swirl them in the cheese mix. Let the cheese cool slightly and eat the morsel whole. It can be washed down with more Neuchâtel wine. Halfway through it is traditional to have a toast with kirsch.