While most of Le Corbusier’s realized work during his life was on private villas such as Villa Savoye, he – along with the planners who followed him – had a few opportunities to test out his radical ideas in planning, to varying success. Here’s a handful of those creations.

Unité d’Habitation

The first Unité d'Habitation in Marseille, France. Credit: By michiel1972, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53762321
The first Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, France. Credit: By michiel1972, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53762321

One of the first chances Le Corbusier had to employ his ideas on a large scale came in 1947, almost 20 years after he first conceptualized the Radiant City. In the aftermath of World War II, France was in desperate need of housing, and turned to Corbu for his first large scale project. The design focuses on communal living in a sort of “vertical garden city,” built to accommodate 1,600 residents on 18 floors. The roof features a garden terrace, a swimming pool, and a kindergarten among other services. Inside, apartments wrapped around hallways to cover two floors apiece and stretch the entire width of the building, while every fourth floor features a “street” with shops and other services. This first Unité carries the name Cité Radieuse, but is informally known as La Maison du Fada, or the Madman’s House, for its unusual design.

A handful of similar Unites were built around Europe in the following years, including one in Berlin. These buildings inspired much of modern housing design, especially public housing such as the disastrous Pruitt-Igoe. The raw concrete design of the Unites would also go on to define Brutalist architecture, which emphasizes bare materials and geometric shapes. However, they never quite achieved what Le Corbusier envisioned, a series of Unites chained together by skyways.

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Chandigarh

The Assembly Building in Chandigarh, designed by Le Corbusier. Credit: By duncid - KIF_4646_Pano, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3635869
The Assembly Building in Chandigarh, designed by Le Corbusier. Credit: By duncid – KIF_4646_Pano, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3635869

The state capital of Punjab, India, Chandigarh is perhaps the closest Le Corbusier got to a fully planned city in his lifetime. Corbu inherited an incomplete master plan from a pair of American architects, which followed a more traditional Garden City scheme requested by the local government. While somewhat constrained by this plan, he worked to adapt it to his more modern ideals.

The resulting city wasn’t nearly a true Radiant City, as Corbu suffered compromise after compromise with the government and the other architects on the project. The most “radiant” aspect is the transportation system, a strict rectangular grid with an 8-tiered hierarchy from intercity “V1” arterials to “V7” pedestrian and “V8” bicycle paths.

Due to the governmental function of the city, Le Corbusier forwent his massive glass skyscrapers in favor of lower lying governmental buildings in the Capitol complex. However, he still hoped to employ Unité-style high rise apartments, until the local government balked and handed housing entirely off to the other architects. Corbu considered this a betrayal of his work, and went so far as to construct artificial hills between the Capitol complex and the rest of the city, saying “the city must never be seen.”

The Open Hand Monument in Chandigarh. Credit: By Lillottama - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51124833
The Open Hand Monument in Chandigarh. Credit: By Lillottama – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51124833

The centerpiece of the complex, the Governor’s Palace, was deemed “undemocratic” by the government, and Corbu replaced it with a monument of an open hand, to symbolize both giving and receiving from the world.

Chandigarh has since expanded and morphed into a distinctive contemporary city, but the community holds a special place in planning history as an example of a fully planned community that has proven itself a fully functional city.

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Brasilia

The original plan for Brasilia, by Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer. Credit: By אורי ר., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3355646
The original plan for Brasilia, by Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer. Credit: By אורי ר., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3355646

Besides Le Corbusier, many modern architects worked with and expanded on his ideas. Two of these, Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, realized perhaps the largest example of a Radiant City in Brasilia. Similar to Chandigarh, the new capital of Brazil was built on a massive vacant space, and the two architects took advantage of it to build an ideal geometrically ordered city. With this, they hoped the city would produce an environment for equality and justice.

The city, shaped like a giant airplane, was designed to be approached from the air, and traversed by car. The broad streets lacked traffic lights and crosswalks, making the preeminence of the car clear. Zoning was strict, with governmental business to take place in the center, while bureaucrats lived and slept in the “wings.”

Today, Brasilia is seen as something of a misstep in planning. The city, built for 500,000, now hosts 2.5 million, and has expanded with more traditional urban design as residents sought out options beyond those created by the strict plan. At the same time, the poor have been pushed out, often into slums and shanty towns. Equality and justice, maybe not quite achieved.

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Other Work

A portion of the Quartiers Modernes Frugès development in Pessac, France. Credit: By JosepBC - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53350871
A portion of the Quartiers Modernes Frugès development in Pessac, France. Credit: By JosepBC – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53350871

These are just a few example’s of Corbusian designs at work. Le Corbusier prepared a number of masterplans for other cities, including Buenos Aires and Algiers, although none of these saw any real success. One of his early housing projects, Quartiers Modernes Frugès in Pessac, France, still stands as an iconic development in modern housing. Portions of the UN headquarters in Manhattan, New York are credited to him. Of course, beyond all of this, he continues to exert a massive influence urban design and architecture, seen in the glassy façades of almost all modern skyscrapers and the massive, homogenous housing developments that characterize much of the urban renewal of late 20th century.

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