Le Corbusier’s Switzerland
September 12, 2017
Written by: Laura Jaye
Photographed by: Laura Jaye
Le Corbusier is known worldwide for his extensive list of architectural achievements in a broad range of both commercial and residential buildings. Not only did Le Corbusier cover a wide variety of designs, but his approach to architectural style changed and developed throughout his career as well. While Le Corbusier’s style was changing, he was always drawn back to his home in Switzerland to design some of the most contemporary architectural contributions of the time.
Born outside of Neuchâtel, a lakeside city in the French region of Switzerland, Le Corbusier was determined to explore more of Europe than the rolling Swiss countryside. But even as I explored his buildings across Switzerland, I was still able to get a sense of his developing architectural style just from a few of his Swiss projects.
Even during the early stages of his career, Le Corbusier’s first buildings were an indicator of his more famous buildings to come. Villa “Le Lac”, built for his parents in 1923-24 on the shores of Lake Geneva with views of the Alps, has a peacefulness that is always present in the Swiss landscape.
The strong, low lines combined with the subdued colors of the exterior contribute to the subtle tranquility. Cutting horizontally across the facade, the long ribbon windows frame the rising mountains across the lake. These windows still remain one of the most defining architectural elements of Le Corbusier’s style that would continue through to his most famous designs.
Only a few years after Villa “Le Lac”, Le Corbusier designed and built his first apartment building in Geneva: Immeuble Clarté. While it remains a lesser known work from his early career, I could clearly distinguish the classic elements of Le Corbusier’s style: the long horizontal structure and drawn out ribbon windows extending the entire length of the building.
In his later works, Le Corbusier raises the first floor onto pillars, and while he has not developed that element in Immeuble Clarté, I could start to see his idea demonstrated by raising the living quarters to the second level, leaving the first level to shops and storage.
When I approached Le Corbusier’s last designed building before his death, Pavillon Le Corbusier, I was struck by the apparent stylistic change from his previous works. Built in 1963 as a private home and gallery, the building is clearly influenced by many art movements of the time.
The oversized steel rooftop floats above the main structure, in a reversal of his well-known architectural style to raise the first floor onto pillars, creating the illusion of a hovering building. The primary colored facade, combined with the angular aspect of the building creates an intriguing viewpoint from every angle. With his strong juxtaposition of the surrounding Swiss landscape and the bold geometric forms, I can easily see why this is one of his most fascinating buildings.
While Le Corbusier’s most famous works may not reside in Switzerland, I can clearly understand why he was drawn back to his home country throughout his life to create captivating revolutionary architecture.