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le corbusier, maisons jaoul, neuilly-sur-seine, paris, france, 1951-1955. house B

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posted by alias seier+seier on Sunday 11th of December 2011 11:36:41 PM

maisons jaoul, neuilly-sur-seine, paris, france, 1951-1955 (initial sketch project 1937). architect: le corbusier, charles-édouard jeanneret, 1887-1965. I am in over my head here, but when I see a piece of poetic brutalism, like the jaoul houses, I always think of ruskin, and his essay on the nature of gothic. ruskin, one of the best and strangest minds of the 19th century, developed a theory of gothic architecture without wasting too much space on mere stylistic elements. instead he proposed six mental categories, attempting to explain the psychology, values and even the society behind gothic art. they were: savageness, changefulness, naturalism, grotesqueness, rigidity, and redundancy - or, as he begins to explain, 'these characters are here expressed as belonging to the building; as belonging to the builder they would be expressed thus :1. savageness or rudeness. 2. love of change. 3. love of nature. 4. disturbed imagination. 5.obstinacy. 6.generosity.' by talking about gothic architecture as an ideal, while leaving out the physical characteristics art history would usually focus on, ruskin was really telling us about the potential of architecture, and in a way the nature of gothic was a manifesto like le corbusier's later vers une architecture, while pretending to be something else. not surprisingly, the bad guys in the nature of gothic were the classicists. classical ornament, ruskin claimed, was repetetive because it was meant to be produced by slaves. in gothic ornament, on the other hand, the artisan was allowed to express himself, he was respected as an individual, and that was more important than any degree of perfection achieved through repetition. once again, ruskin was clearly not talking about the middle ages, or at least not only talking about the middle ages. anyone reading this in 1853 would recognize the problems of industrialisation and capitalism in britain. and indeed, following his essay on the gothic, ruskin increasingly freed himself from the christian reasoning that mars much of his architectural writing and became more of a social commentator. le corbusier played an important part in drawing the great 19th century divide between classicism and gothic into modern architecture. his white villas of the 1920's carried an air of cool, abstract classicism and his writings promoted typological thinking as the basis for industrial production of architecture. aggressive politics in the CIAM and in publishing supported this. the architects whose work did not fit in were labelled expressionist and rejected, but ruskinian had perhaps been a better word for what qualities they shared. the great delay in the arrival of modern architecture as compared to the other arts meant that it coincided with the neo-classical reaction to modernism in general. this may go some way towards explaining why modernism in architecture proved less liberating than what had been experienced in literature or music. and it had everything to do with architecture's dependency on power. only the crisis in europe following the first world war made modern architecture needed. hence le corbusier's battle cry, architecture or revolution, which was never an offer intended for the working classes. of course, dismissing le corbusier's early work makes no sense, they are great buildings in their own right. but policing modern architecture the way it was done, limiting what modern architecture could be, was a terrible mistake. in this light, le corbusier's post-war brutalism can be seen as an effort to recover some of the lost freedom, even a return to the ruskinian riches of the very earliest modernism which he had sought to suppress. hugo häring, one of le corbusier's opponents of the 1920's, certainly thought so. when he saw L.C.'s post-war work, he felt vindicated. le corbusier was not alone in making this move - think of alvar aalto's red brick buildings from the same period - but his standing in the architectural community made his contribution to brutalism all the more important. the progeny of the jaoul houses include buildings by the smithsons and the late churches by sigurd lewerentz. a liberation had indeed taken place. to my mind, ruskin described the promise of brutalism best a full century before the event, 'see if it looks as if it had been built by strong men; if it has the sort of roughness, and largeness, and nonchalance, mixed in places with the exquisite tenderness which seems always to be the sign-manual of the broad vision, and the massy power of men who can see past the work they are doing, and betray here and there something like disdain for it. If the building has this character, it is much already in its favour; it will go hard but it proves a noble one.' of course, he thought he was writing about the nature of gothic. this photo was uploaded with a CC license and may be used free of charge and in any way you see fit. if possible, please name photographer "SEIER+SEIER". if not, don't.

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