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25.4.15

Le Corbusier and Fascism

In France it has been customary to sweep the Vichy period under the rug, except when a major cultural figure's connections to that part of the past can no longer be ignored. Last month there was such a connection alleged with composer Henri Dutilleux, which was ultimately shown to have been exaggerated. Another case in the news this week is modernist architect Le Corbusier. Marion Cocquet spoke to Antoine Picon, president of La Fondation Le Corbusier about it ("Qui a peur de Le Corbusier ?", April 25) for Le Point (my translation):
Just when the Centre Pompidou is devoting a major retrospective to him, the architect is taking some hits: three books have appeared that underscore his fascist sympathies. We knew about his belief in regenerated man, healthy in body and of use to a mechanized society. Xavier de Jarcy, Marc Perelman, and François Chaslin go farther, recalling his friendship with the doctor Pierre Winter or the engineer François de Pierrefeu, eugenicists and members of fascist splinter groups in the 1930s, drawing attention to antisemitic parts of his correspondence, underscoring his conception of a hygienic war and his stay in Vichy between 1941 and 1942.

In that more fascist era, where must we place Le Corbusier?

It is clear, first of all, that he was attracted to those ideas of authoritarian planning. This is not new, and the Le Corbusier Foundation, where his correspondence has been available for more than twenty years, has never tried to hide it. Furthermore, there is evidence that Le Corbusier was flattered by the attention given to him by the fascists and thought some of their ideas were interesting. For a time, he admired Mussolini, and he went to Italy hoping for commissions. But he also repeated many times that he was not a fascist, and he was never tempted by Nazism. One is always reminded of the example of the Italian Giuseppe Terragni who designed the Casa del Fascio in Como, but we forget that the Germans wanted to raze the Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, created by Mies van der Rohe! Le Corbusier represented a style of architecture that most fascists found Arabized, fraudulent, foreign...
Picon, who teaches at Harvard, adds that "if there is a reproach to be made against him, it is that he had no political sense." His belief in the superiority of his architectural ideas led him to such ill-considered alliances. At best it may be described as naive.

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