Art: Corbu

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In the year 1923 there appeared in Paris a little volume on architecture that seemed written almost entirely in italics and capitals. "There exists a new spirit," it said. "A GREAT EPOCH HAS BEGUN." Its title was sweeping: Towards an Architecture—as though existing architecture did not merit the term. The book was signed by a brilliant, owlish young man who called himself Le Corbusier.

Vain as he is, Le Corbusier himself would hardly claim to have invented modern architecture singlehanded, but his slim book and his later work to a large degree plotted its course. "Corbu's" personality and buildings have at times angered, shocked, outraged and offended people, but by the overwhelming vote of his colleagues everywhere, he is at 73 the most influential architect alive.

Rules of the Sun. Last week he was in the U.S. for exactly three days—the maximum amount of time he could bring himself to spend in a land he has come to regard as enemy territory. His purpose was to receive at a banquet in Philadelphia the gold medal of the American Institute of Architects, and then pick up a Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Columbia University. Before accepting, he had made one stipulation: "No press, no TV, no tuxedo." But as things turned out, the master was charming.

From an opening luncheon given in Philadelphia by the Columbia alumni association, the A.I.A. got its first breathless bulletin on what to expect: "He seems to be in a good mood. He speaks English. He is on his second drink." That afternoon he paused long enough to speak to a group of architectural students, whom he mesmerized. "I left Paris yesterday morning," he announced. "It is now bedtime for me. Deja it is one o'clock in the morning. That is why I will be very brief." He was brief for an hour, rapidly sketching on two large boards covered with white paper: "I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and allows less room for lies." His theme was one he has cherished for 40 years ("I have lost much hair in the meantime")—the "essential joys of sun, space and greenery. Architecture must put men under the rules of the sun, and under the benefits of the sun."

At the A.I.A. banquet, he received his medal with disarming modesty. "I make you my last confession," he said. "I live in the skin of a student." Then he was off to Manhattan for the ordeal at Columbia. He arrived on campus as sirens wailed for an air-raid drill. Students were all around bearing placards that said, "Shelters are no substitute for Peace!" He got into a coffin-sized elevator that promptly went down instead of up. "It's like a setting for an assassination," he muttered. But that night he was all smiles again. To a standing ovation he got his degree, and then headed back to Paris.

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