A Big Book About Le Corbusier

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Le Corbusier Le grand book cover

August 4, 2008. At 768 pages, 16 x 12 inches, somewhere around 2,000 illustrations (and $200), Le Corbusier Le Grand, which will be published next month by Phaidon Press, is as big as its title, and almost as big as the architect’s legend. Judging by the fact that the Swiss-born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret renamed himself Le Corbusier (using the French article “le”), it seems a safe assumption that the creator of Villa Savoye at Poissy, the Chapel of Notre-Dame-du-Haut at Ronchamp and the capitol complex in Chandigarh, India, the painter, sculptor, furniture designer, urbanist and author, would appreciate the sheer volume and mass of this tome. Corbu’s social theories remain controversial and influential today, along with the architect’s image, replete with bow tie and thick, round, black eyeglasses. Le Grand includes an introduction by architectural historian and critic Jean-Louis Cohen and Corbu scholar Tim Benton, along with a separate booklet that translates documents that have never been translated into English before. I.D. spoke with Phaidon publisher Richard Schlagman about what it took to sum up THE architect. phaidon.com/lecorbusier

Why did you decide to make this particular book this size?

Le Corbusier looms larger than any other architect of the 20th century, so giving him an oversized book to match his enormous reputation just made good sense to us. The scale is also appropriate for the content as a book this size can show the material to its best advantage and offer a detailed look at the extensive collection of letters, sketches, photographs, art works, notes and ephemera from Corbu’s life.

Since he was a book designer, himself, what do you think Corbu would have thought about the design of this book, in general, and about a gigantic book about himself, in particular?

We hope he would have appreciated it. We think he would have been delighted by the size of the book and by the way it dominates the shelf in any bookstore. He certainly would have been fascinated by the new technologies that facilitated the complex process of creating a book of this magnitude. Since Corbu is such a legend, were there any challenges in the process of gathering material for the book? And is there anything in there that hasn’t been seen before or that readers should be aware is very special?

The primary challenge was the vast amount of work created during Le Corbusier’s long life as an inexhaustible architect, designer, artist, writer and theorist. All that activity yielded an enormous amount of material for us to dig out of the archives, and then to identify, evaluate and organize into a coherent narrative. One of the most unique elements perhaps is the early glimpses of his creative process at work—the notebook of his initial drawings of the chapel at Ronchamp is a perfect example. And there’s something irresistible about reading his letters to his mother—she lived to 101 and he wrote to her every week—and to his wife, as well as to his mistresses, all of whom seemed to hold him in the deepest regard throughout their lives. Presenting all of his many different facets—professional and personal, well-known and totally unexpected—on this scale has never before been attempted. It is a wonderful book for browsing and dipping into, but equally for a serious in-depth study. We think it is going to be irresistible to anyone and everyone interested in modern architecture.