Le Corbusier Symposium – Part 1 – Stanislaus Von Moos

Lecture date: 1968-01-01


Allen Brooks concludes.

Stanislaus von Moos is introduced. He has recently published “Le Corbusier – elements of a synthesis” (1968) and will give three talks in the symposium.

Stan resumes the basic idea that he wants to pursue in the series of three lectures with a quote of Peter Sereni: “during his long creative life, Le Corbusier responded primarily to emerging tendencies rather than to circumstances of a given moment; he gave form to a life pattern in the making, rather than to one already in existence.”

Sereni says that the significance and importance of Le Corbusier lies in the invention of new forms, for a society that was not yet born really, that was about to take shape. This image of the genius that emerges out of the shadow, that does not care about day-to-day politics or circumstances, is perhaps not the most relevant one to cultivate nowadays. It is indeed the image more widely spread, and the one that the master promoted himself: in contrast to accepted dogma, in tune with the new realities of the era that has just begun. In this lectures he will talk about the circumstances of a given moment, and to attempt to see Le Corbusier as a man who was much more directly linked to the day to day reality of the epoch. Le Corbusier might emerge as a figure not of anticipation, but as a mediator, a reflector of the cultural realities of his time.

The New Spirit, (L’Esprit Nouveau), is the title of a magazine founded by a number of intellectuals in Paris in 1920, among them, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, Amédée Ozenfant and Paul Dermée. The term comes from the title of the talk of Guillaume Apollinaire in 1917: ‘L’Esprit Nouveau et les poetes.’ Stan will give an idea of the context of the Esprit Nouveau, from 1918-1920. With this aim, he looks at the situation of Germany at the time, and the climate that inspired avant-garde art and architecture, right after WWI. Frenetic activity among artists. In Berlin, progressive architects assemble in the November Groupe. Gropius and later Bruno Taut, were head of this groups, promoting the refusal of any form of bourgeois culture as a form of class dominance and traditional institutions. After such a cultural tabula rasa, a new world would emerge. Some of this enthusiasms are mirrored later in the Bauhaus.

This is a background of what happens in Paris, which is totally different. The pre-war values in Paris, seem to be strengthened, after the military victory. The cultural climate is of restoration and renovation, not an age of romantic dreams, as in Germany. In the magazine, the first issue brings three reminders to architects, the number one: the volume, with an image of a grain silo. One is encouraged to go back to the good old rules of classical times.

Von Moos refers to the brick factory that Le Corbusier started in the outskirts of Paris. The idea of subordinating life or the organic to machinery and technological processes became of a great importance for him. Ozenfant invited him to paint in his own studio and to work together. They wrote “Après le Cubisme,” a book that suggests a continuity with cubism, as reflecting their intention of being understood as a part of the avant garde.

The text represents a major attack to the theoretical basis of the movement; they consider it as elitist, made by people not in touch with their own time. Stan shows paintings of Le Corbusier and points out how they are much closer to Georges Seurat than to the revolution of cubism.

The Werkbund has been of increasing interest; founded in 1907 by a group of industrialists, architects, artists and designers, such as Hermann Muthesius, Peter Behrens and others with the declared aim to do something in order to improve the quality of German products. That idea was promoted by a number of exhibitions and publications, such as the one in 1914.

Within this movement, those who Muthesius called the class of educated germans, had to take a role in the productive system in order to produce a new purified aesthetic. Karl Scheffler was an art historian, fundamental to the ideological formation of the Werkbund. He wrote the following in its yearbook of 1914 “The struggle of the German Werkbund is first and foremost a campaign aiming at establishing a new, masculine, rationality; an attempt to bring back to our ordinary things the simple human quality that we can call classical.” This is one of the aesthetic basis of the new style. The interest of these texts lies in one of their central issues: the idea of a new interaction between the designer and the public.

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