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Architecture: Homage to Corbu

2 minute read

The Swiss-born architect, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier, came from a nation that gives social precedence to hotelkeepers and watchmakers. Annoyed by the lack of interest in avant-garde building there, he left Switzerland for good at the age of 30 in 1918, remarking that “the Swiss are clean, industrious, and to hell with them.” At the time of his death in 1965, not one of his 75 major buildings could be found within the borders of his homeland.

For all that, homage is being rendered to Corbu in Zurich. A brand-new two-story center there will soon display samples of his paintings, sculpture, lithographs, tapestries, blueprints and models. The building itself, which was opened to the public this summer, is already drawing a thin but steady stream of pilgrims. The geometric cascade of rhomboids and squares, built of bared steel girders, glass and brightly enameled panels of green, red, white and yellow, might have been designed by Corbu himself.

To a large extent, it was. The center, which is called Corbusier’s Maison d’Homme, was the idea of Heidi Weber, a vivacious blonde interior decorator who manufactures Le Corbusier-designed furniture in Switzerland. At first, the irascible old architect himself was opposed to the idea, but she won him over. Corbu drafted the plans and bequeathed the center his personal collection of lithographs. Then he died—and the controversy began.

Professors of architecture attacked the project as either too small or too costly. Proposed changes in Le Corbusier’s original sketches came thick and fast. But after five years of persistent lobbying, Heidi finally won a 50-year lease from the city council on a prime lakeside park site. Backers were nonexistent. She herself raised or bor rowed 95% of the building’s $120,000 cost. Some critics huffily insisted that Heidi had altered too many architectural details after the master’s death.

Nonetheless, the vast majority of the center’s visitors seem to like it. Chief among them is Corbu’s brother, Composer Albert Jeanneret, 83. Says he: “This is one of Corbu’s masterworks, a perfect assembly of volumes and obliques. This house is a part of Corbusier and therefore inimitable.”

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