Le Corbusier’s furniture and interiors
BY Nina Reetzke | 9/12/2012
As is well known, Le Corbusier bequeathed us an extensive oeuvre. The “Oeuvre Complète” by Willy Boesiger may claim to be complete but his focus is very much on Le Corbusier’s architecture. In terms of interior design, the book “Le Corbusier. Furniture and interiors 1905-1965” has now provided something that has long been sorely missed: a comprehensive overview complete with a list of works and essays. Arthur Rüegg has spent more than a decade working on the volume, from 1998 onwards he did so on behalf of the Le Corbusier Foundation. And it would seem that the enormous effort that went into it justifies the relatively high price of this recommendable book.
It presents around 340 objects, some created in collaboration with Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand. A number of them are still in production today at Cassina. The earlier designs created from 1906 onward are lesser known. Rüegg describes them a “Capriccios” that combine the old and the new. One example would be the secretary made for Le Corbusier’s mother Charlotte-Amélie, a combination of elements taken from Classical architecture, traditional period furniture and contemporary cubic forms. It is followed by now legendary designs from the 1920s and 1930s, with tubular steel furniture such as “LC2” or “LC4” leading the way. Here he seems to have broken all ties to the decorative arts in favor of an industrial rationalism. Later furniture made after 1940 is then reduced to an absolute minimum, such as the “stool” in the form of a wooden box, which was originally made for the “Cabanon” in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.
In order to facilitate a better understanding of Le Corbusier’s furniture and interiors, Arthur Rüegg offers a closer definition of a number of key terms: “Type-object” refers to objects that fulfill basic functions. Forms should be subject to continuous development, whereby the aim is to replace traditional types of furniture with universally applicable “type-furniture”.The term “Gesamtkunstwerk” describes the arrangement of objects into an overall image, whereby this is not a coherent ensemble that has been thought through down to the smallest detail but a collage of stand-alone products. This way, built-in furniture, mass-produced products and one-offs can be arranged alongside each other in equal measure. “Crossing boundaries” refers to the exchange between the different arts. This could be inspired by historical ornamentations but equally by office, hospital or military settings. Ultimately, it is a matter of creating new temporal, spatial and content-based correlations.
Against the backdrop of his design work, it is also worth taking a look at how Le Corbusier decorated his own homes. A photograph by George Brassaï shows one of Le Corbusier’s apartments as it looked in everyday life. The famous Hungarian photographer took it around 1931 in Rue Jacob 20, Paris. Le Corbusier is sitting at a table, writing. Behind him one can discern a hodge-podge of books. The mantelpieces and other furniture offer a place for all sorts of finds, such as the sculpture of a mother and her child from Benin. There are several paintings on the walls including “Composition avec profil” by Ferdinand Léger. Here Rüegg draws comparisons with Walter Benjamin’s term “imprint of the individual”, according to which a compilation of things stand for important moments in a person’s biography. In Le Corbusier’s case work-based research is also a factor here: “In fact, Le Corbusier always used his own apartments as laboratories for the analysis, arrangement and staging of heterogeneous objects of the most diverse provenance,” says Rüegg.
Le Corbusier. Furniture and interiors 1905-1965