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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Le Corbusier in Rome. Well, not exactly.

Le Corbusier's Cité radieuse, Marseilles, 1947-1952.  Balconies a feature.  

Le Corbusier (1887-1965), the French/Swiss pioneer of architectural modernism, built nothing in Rome.  Nor, apparently, was he influenced by the city, which he failed to visit on a wide-ranging tour as a young man.

Still, Rome came to mind while reading Rachel Donadio's story in a recent New York Times (July 13, 2015), based on several new books on the architect and an exhibition at the Pompidou Center.  Once again, the issue is the extent to which Le Corbusier's architectural values and ideals were modernist and democratic--housing for the masses could easily be understood as fulfilling an underlying democratic mission (meeting the needs of the people)--or essentially totalitarian (Le Corbusier was involved with right-wing parties in France in the interwar years, and he was an admirer of Mussolini).
Concrete supports for Cité radieuse

This is not the place to resolve or devote serious attention to the issue of Le Corbusier's politics and ideology.  What interested us at RST was the color photo that accompanied the essay.  The photo was of Cité radieuse (Radiant City), a complex of 337 apartments constructed in Marseilles between 1947 and 1952 and repeated in other European cities in 1955, 1957, 1963 and 1965.  It was constructed of rough-cast concrete (a material identified with the Brutalist movement to come) and partly for that reason is a considered a founding statement of Brutalism.  The Marseilles building is widely understood as one of Le Corbusier's most important works.

No, you can't see Le Corbusier in Rome.  But you can experience something of his vision in Rome's Flaminio district, where Italian architects Adalberto Libera and Luigi Moretti, among others, were working in a similar vein on, and around, the Olympic Village, built for the 1960 games.  The village is a bit over a mile north of Piazza del Popolo--a 10-minute tram ride will get you close--and well worth seeing.
Olympic Village, Rome

Supports for Corso Francia (Luigi Moretti)
The Olympic Village complex consists of dozens of buildings, some smaller and some larger--longer, that is--than Citeé radieuse, and of brick rather than concrete.  But the overall scale and look is similar, as is the use of color to lighten the weighty look of the structures. Both the Cité radieuse and the Olympic buildings are elevated, the former with massive concrete stanchions, the latter with smaller columns with more of a modernist flavor.  The Le Corbusier supports have their equivalent in Luigi Moretti's massive concrete supports for the Corso Francia, an elevated highway that bisects the Olympic Village and was built at about the same time.

Elegant rooftop, Cité radieuse
Like Le Corbusier, Libera, who headed the Village architectural team, employed a flat roof and used it to feature a rounded ventilation system that added to the complex's modernist appeal. 

Both Libera and Moretti worked for, and during, Mussolini's Fascist regime.  Libera was the lead architect on the Foro Mussolini (now Foro Italico), located northwest of the Olympic Village, just across the Tevere. 

So visit the Olympic Village.  It's the closest you'll come to Le Corbusier in Rome.


Olympic Village topped by round, modernist ventilation system.  Colors, too, and balconies.  
Olympic Village


Anonymous said...

Just a small adjustment: though Moretti was deeply involved in the Villagio Olimpico project, the corso Francia is a work by Pier Luigi Nervi, see ArchiDiAP for more details.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and it was Moretti, not Libera, who took over the responsibility for the Foro Musselini project from Del Debbio in 1936 and erected the impressive Accademia di Scherma on it ...

Anonymous said...

"Nor, apparently, was he influenced by the city, which he failed to visit on a wide-ranging tour as a young man."

It would seem this assertion ignores Corb's discussion of buildings in Rome in his most well know book 'Towards a New Architecture' - eg. Santa Maria in Cosmedin. From my reading he was very much influenced by buildings such as this.

Dianne Bennett and William Graebner said...

I'll have to get the book. Looking at a description of its contents on amazon, it seems clear he did get to Rome. "Rome," he wrote, "is the damnation of the uneducated. To send architectural students to Rome is to cripple them for life." Thanks for your comment. Bill