Art: Corbu

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Grating but Great. All this bonhomie was rather surprising—but then, Le Corbusier is one of the most contradictory of men. He scoffs at honors but has spent a lifetime grumbling about the world's neglect. To Manhattan Architect Philip Johnson, who acknowledges him professionally as "without question No. 1," he is "obnoxious, mean, complaining, bitter and whining." To his longtime friend. Architect Walter Gropius, he is "full of love; he cares. His wife died in 1957, and I met him in Baghdad soon after. When I walked into his hotel room, he burst into tears." He is quite capable of firing almost everyone in his office to bring in new blood. But the loyalty he commands is enormous. Says one longtime associate: "There is nothing I wouldn't take from him or do for him."

Corbu's career has been equally full of paradox. He has put up about 75 buildings (Frank Lloyd Wright built 500, Christopher Wren nearly 150). The French government has yet to commission him to design so much as a school or a hospital, and the first Le Corbusier building in the U.S.—a $1,500,000 Visual Arts Center at Harvard—is only now getting started. He began as the architectural prophet of the machine age, the poet of the mass-produced. Yet his recent buildings in India are in a sense almost handmade. He was all logic in his city planning, almost wholly geometric in his early houses; but his newer Ronchamp Chapel and the monastery of La Tourette are romantic sculptural explosions that seem to contradict everything he said before.

First of All: Art. Yet the contradictions are only apparent. His career and work are unified by one concern: to make dwellings and cities that are works of both reason and beauty. At times reason seems to give way to wild fantasy, and beauty seems to surrender to a certain harshness. But always in Corbu it is the ever-widening vision of the artist that leads and dominates the architect.

"This is a success story," wrote Editor Reyner Banham of the British Architectural Review, "that will need Todd-AO, Dynamation, Warnercolor, Billy Wilder and a cast of millions to film, but there is one thing very odd about it. He has not gone on doing the same thing until the public has caught up. He has gone right on developing, never backtracking, rarely standing still, and quite suddenly he has met the public taste coming round the other way."

Since he is painter, sculptor, writer, and a poet of sorts as well, his colleagues are apt to wax rhapsodic over him. "He is the Leonardo of our time," says Michigan's Eero Saarinen. "He has provided enough for a whole generation to live on," says Walter Gropius. "The world's greatest architect," says Brazil's Oscar Niemeyer. Adds Arthur Drexler, director of the Department of Architecture and Design at Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art: "I go through phases in my thoughts about his work. In these, I sit back and think Corbu is even greater than I thought he was."

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