Modernist Architecture of Le Corbusier - Paris City Guide

Paris is not just Haussmannian buildings and immense museums. The world of modernist architecture has also left its mark and here is Sonja's guide to explore it (or at least part of it)!

Published by Sonja on 08/11/2017

Beige facades, elegant neighbourhoods and Haussmannian divinity are pretty good definitions of Paris as a city. Yet, modernist architects of the 20th century have contributed to forming the City of Lights.

A City Made By People Paris Guide Architecture Le Corbusier Map

Creating Paris for the People of Tomorrow

From New York to India, Franco-Swiss architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris a.k.a Le Corbusier, just like the most modernist architects, constructed his ideas firmly believing he was creating the world for the people of tomorrow.

Modern architecture as we know it, probably wouldn't be the same if not for a Le Corbusier, who designed many projects in Paris. Walls of windows, open floor plans, flat rooftops, simple and elegant interiors, all which depict contemporary design and construction. These were part of the big vision of the architect who spent most of his life in the French capital.

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Image courtesy of Photo by Paul Dufour

Imagine him walking down the streets of Paris - from Republique to Notre Dame, dreaming of his eighteen, yes eighteen, immense skyscrapers in the Marais area. His Plan Voisin had never seen the light of the dayluckily for us, but nevertheless, Le Corbusier left the imprint on his adopted city in a few private villas and a couple of public buildings.

See them all in one day as it is outlined here, or have them in mind when you’re nearby one of them, even if you’re not an architectural buff, re-tracing the steps of one of the fathers of modernism can be interesting and an eye opening experience (literally)!

A City Made By People Paris Guide Architecture Le Corbusier Villa Cook

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Start in the 16th arrondissement of Paris...

...and go slowly towards the east. Villa Cook is a great example of Le Corbusier's purist facade and modernism. It was built in 1926 as the part of the series of houses he built for different Americans whose destinies were connected to Paris - like Michael Stein (Gertrude Stein’s brother), sculptor Lipchitz and the owner of the villa, and journalist William Edward Cook.

Molitor building, in which the architect had an apartment was the first apartment block with glazed facadesin Paris. It became the part of the UNESCO world heritage in 2016, together with sixteen other Le Corbusier’s buildings. It was built in three years, with three different types of glass in order to have different lighting inside of the apartment. The Architect lived there for 31 years and it is possible to visit his apartment with a reservation.

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Le Corbusier insisted on five points that one needs to follow in order to create modern architecture: an open plan layout, horizontal strip windows, a building elevated on pillars, a roof garden, and free design of the façade. All these used with modern materials i.e. concrete. Villa la Roche and Villa Jeanneret, built between 1923 and 1925 and are one of the first villas that demonstrated all five proposed points that were designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret. It was home of a banker and art collector from Switzerland - Raoul La Roche. Today villa Jeanneret is the site of Le Corbusier foundation. Next to it is a museum that describes itself as the world's largest collection of Le Corbusier drawings, studies, and plans.

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Before leaving the west of Paris, if you want to experience an apartment built for Modulor - Le Corbusier’s blueprint of dimensions of an average man - be sure to enter la Cité de l’Architecture et Patrimoine at Trocadéro. There you can see the model of an apartment of la Cité Radieuse de Marseille.

A City Made By People Paris Guide Architecture Le Corbusier Cité Radieuse Marseille

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Through the 15th arrondissement to the 14th!

The first of all Le Corbusier’s villas in Paris was the one across the parc Monsouris in 14eme - Villa Ozenfant. Made for Amédée Ozenfant, Le Corbusier’s collaborator on L’Esprit nouveau - a journal that was published between 1920 and 1925. It was both studio and a home of the cubist french painter. Sadly, its original form was altered in 1946, it is now under the protection of the state from any further renovation. It’s still definitely worth the trip!

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Each building of Cité Internationale Universitaire in Paris - residence of international students - is built for a different nation and usually by a different architect chosen by the given nation. In 1930, Switzerland insisted that Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanerret construct Pavillon Suisse, and sure they did! This “machine for living” followed the five points of the modernist architecture and although on a very limited budget, they managed to apply dry-wall construction and acoustic separation, that were very new technologies at the time. Composition appears to float and looks divine surrounded by the greenery.

A City Made By People Paris Guide Architecture Le Corbusier Pavillion Suisse

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Maison du Bresil, finished in 1957 (also one of the 23 national pavilions) is a creation of Le Corbusier and LúcioCosta. This building is a great example of Le Corbusier’s high-density residential design and the usage of raw materials and polychrome colours. 

Finishing off at the 13th arrondissement 

One of the rare Le Corbusier’s projects built between two walls of the neighbouring houses - Maison Planeix - was ordered as a studio and home of the artist and the sculptor Antonin Planeix in 1924. This cubist villa with pure geometric forms and almost symmetrical bow-windows, follows the four out of five Le Corbusier points of architecture.

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Some fifteen minutes away, stands another of Le Corbusier’s project of a collective building in Paris - la Cité-refuge de l’Armée du Salut. Built as a shelter for more than 500 homeless people, it was Le Corbusier’s chance to practise his basic rules on a big scale. It is standing on pillars in the middle that gave a chance to the glass facade. It was the first air-conditioned building in Paris.

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Image courtesy of -MH- & Marilyn Z. Tomlins

The modernist manifest and definitely one of the most famous Le Corbusier’s building is Villa Savoye in a near vicinity of Paris. His emblematic five points are underlined here and it was carefully designed in response to the orientation of the sun where nature is invited in. This villa can either be the starting point or a declaration that will wrap up the story of the famous architect and a brilliant mind of creation and new ideas. Its worth of a half day excursion to the Parisian suburbs!

Words & Map Illustration by Sonja Bajic

Want to read more stories from our network of cities? Check out Issue 2 of A City Made By People, a journal you don't wanna miss!

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