Art: Corbu

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Temples & Palazzi. For almost every other young architect at the time, about the only school that mattered was the Beaux Arts in Paris, which in the age of the machine was dutifully teaching the new generation how to put up Greek temples and Renaissance palazzi. But beyond the walls of the Beaux Arts, a few men were stirring restively. Among them was a gifted builder named Auguste Ferret, who was the first to prove convincingly how effective the plebeian material of reinforced concrete could be. Another was Architect Peter Behrens of Berlin, whose glass-and-steel industrial buildings were pioneers. Jeanneret worked for both. He found Ferret's reinforced concrete studio in Paris, with its glassed front wall, "a manifesto" in itself, and harked to Ferret's belief that "decoration always hides an error in construction." At Behrens' studio, Jeanneret was apprenticed with the self-effacing son of a poor masonry contractor in Aachen. His name: Mies van der Rohe, who is now the U.S. mas ter of the spare glass-and-steel skyscraper. At length Jeanneret opened an office in Paris "in a beastly little street, seventh floor, over a yard, in the servant's room."

"What Shall We Do?" One day in 1914, Jeanneret drew a skeletal plan for a two-story, prefabricated house of reinforced concrete that was so simple it might have been the design for a child's toy. It consisted of six columns, three horizontal concrete slabs, a cantilevered staircase—and that was all. But the simple plan for the Domino house contained a principle that was to be basic to all of his planning thereafter. The six-column skeleton relieved the facades and the interior walls of support functions: they could thus be moved and molded at will, giving the architect all the prerogatives of the sculptor. The Domino houses were never built, but they "enabled us to say: 'There are no walls in the house. What shall we do?' "

In the U.S., Louis Sullivan had long since pioneered the skyscraper, and his famous "Form follows function" was the slogan of a new "democratic architecture" that wanted to do away with classic façades, which had nothing to do with a modern building's purpose. His young associate, Frank Lloyd Wright, was already famous for low-slung geometric prairie houses that were so carefully wedded to the landscape that building and nature seemed one. In Germany, 28-year-old Walter Gropius, freshly graduated from Peter Behrens' studio, had put up his steel-and-glass Fagus factory, which was the most daring example so far of the now standard "curtain walls"—the skin of glass stretched over a steel frame. All this affected Jeanneret, but in the first years after World War I, it was painting that preoccupied him.

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