The name, Le Corbusier, rang a bell. I knew he was a twentieth-century architect. French, probably (Swiss, actually). Big concrete buildings came to mind. But that’s about all I knew off the top of my head. I had no idea that he was responsible for modular architecture, or that he was among the first to try to address overpopulation through dense urban planning. And I was certainly unaware that Le Corbusier was tackling all of this as early as the 1920s. Thus, Anthony Flint’s biography, Modern Man, is a worthy venture, shedding light on this thinker and provocateur who, outside of architecture and design circles, has undeservedly fallen out of recognition.
Of course, as with most visionaries, Le Corbusier had his share of missteps, often due to a megalomania and opportunism that wouldn’t keep him from working with anyone when it suited him, even the Nazi-connected Vichy Regime in WWII France. And, while he basically gave us IKEA and some initial ideas and blueprints to build smarter, he also championed the type of urban design that gave us crime-ridden housing projects and car-centric sprawl in America. He’s definitely a polarizing figure, but Flint reminds us not to throw the baby “out with the modernist bathwater.” (p. 213) Or, more poignantly:
“For the twenty-first-century, however, among the greatest lessons to be learned from Le Corbusier are his design innovations in housing, and his recognition of the grand scale necessary to accommodate millions of people moving into cities each year. The reasons those contributions are important is because the urban century has arrived, in dramatic fashion.” (p. 213)
Flint’s writing is clear and engaging, making for a fairly quick read. He structures each chapter around a major project of Le Corbusier’s, so those looking for a strictly chronological biography may grow a bit frustrated, as the narrative does bounce around quite a bit (an aspect I mostly found intriguing, though, at the start of a few chapters, I did find myself a bit confused as to which decade we had landed in). Regardless, those interested in architecture, built environments, urban planning, or even just design, will be hard pressed not to gain some insight from this text.