Le Corbusier again

the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, winter 1978

Foster’s Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA, winter 1978
Like a spaceship had landed in a field…

I’m going back to university!

Okay, that’s not strictly true but it feels like it. Because I’ve been reading a lot about Le Corbusier lately and it reminds me of when I studied him at university. It stikes me how different it feels now. At university, he was simply one of the many architects we looked at as we followed the linear development of architecture, from the first stirrings of the Arts and Crafts movement in England in the 1860s until the flourishing of Modernism in the 1930s. I’m not sure we went much further although we dabbled in the World Fairs of later years.

And we studied while sitting within the brand new Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, itself a wonderful expression of an evolution of Modernism called High Tech. The building was going through its teething problems, with louvres not quite working and external panels being moved to maximise sunlight. Its architect Norman Foster would arrive in his helicopter, landing outside on the pad just beside a reclining figure by Henry Moore, and prowl around the place in his polo-necked sweater, every inch The Architect.

Arriving there on a chilly winter’s morning, its cool aluminium walls were somehow welcoming. It was a machine for studying in. A hum filled the space and put you in an altered state as you opened your books in the tiny glass seminar rooms or stole away into the gallery for some peace, gathering your thoughts surrounded by the agonies of Francis Bacon paintings or the tribal artifacts of Benin. As an eighteen year old you take all this in your stride. Only looking back do you appreciate the wonder of it all.

Interior Villa La Roche, 1925

Interior: Villa La Roche, Paris 1925
What an exhilarating space this is.

The buildings of Le Corbusier seemed to me to belong to another dimension altogether, made more-so perhaps by the photographic slides we used to illustrate our seminars which showed the buildings in black and white, spanking new, in gardens yet to be made and with de Souzas and early Renaults parked outside. I always loved these shots. I felt that I understood Le Corbusier even when he came up with his Plan Voisin that proposed tearing down the centre of Paris. While everyone threw up their hands in horror, I ‘got’ what he was doing, trying to introduce a new age of modernity, away from the sentimentality of past centuries. The Plan Voisin was only ever meant as a starting point for a bigger conversation about big cities and what they should look and feel like, but it amazes me how people still think of Corb as a kind of philistine, tearing down the monuments. (He meant to keep the important ones, after all.)

Now when I read about him, I have experienced being within some of his buildings (and wanting to visit them all, especially his Unite d’habitation in Marseilles). I have the broader experience that comes with having walked within great buildings of all periods around the world. I still think Le Corbusier is a fascinating architect. Driving around some parts of Sydney I see many houses that could almost be his, with their flat roofs and white walls and strip windows. Except these have been built in the 21st century, almost a hundred years after his first Monol and Dom-ino designs that made such sense to me back in the 1970s.

It’s sentimental, I know, but one of the joys of growing older is revisiting the things you used to know more about and deepening your view on them all. Maybe I’m thinking about all this because it’s the beginning of October and that will always mean to me the start of a new academic year in England. And part of me would love to be that student walking again to the Sainsbury Centre for the very first time, wondering what I was in for. And seeing some of those buildings for the very first time.

Categories: Architecture, TravelTags: , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Mistakes & Adventures

What I've always wanted

eme de moca

Architecture, experiences, design, moca...


Literary Geography

UNSW Built Environment's Blog

Information from students and staff at Built Environment at the University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia.

joe moran's words

on the everyday, the banal and other important matters

a little bit of Ingrid

the little things, the little moments...they aren't little!

French Country

My life in France is not what I expected.

Wee Notions

Notes on a napkin


If you don't look around once in a while, you might miss it - Ferris Bueller's Day Off

by Philip Butler

Documenting Great Britain's surviving Art Deco & early modernist architecture one photograph at a time.

The Secret Bookseller

The Secret Bookseller is a blog written by an Independent Bookshop Manager about running a bookshop, publishing, customers and bookselling



Rebecca Renner

Journalist | Essayist | Fiction Writer

kidlat habagat

Portraits of Urban life

Heritage Calling

A Historic England Blog

A Sense of Place

Ronnie Hughes

Jerry Coleby-Williams

Sustainable Gardening in our Continually Surprising Climate

Mathieu Proctor

Urban Planning + Design

The Australian Ugliness?

Continuing Robin Boyd's provocations about aesthetics in Australia

Savidge Reads

The Chronicles of a Book Addict

Barnabas Calder

Raw Concrete: the Beauty of Brutalism

Ticket to Adventures

Travel blog from around the world, near and far.

Kelly Schuknecht

Writer, Editor, Publisher, Book Marketing Consultant

Write or Wrong

Uninspiration for the uninspired


architecture for travellers




...how an oldish chap sees the world...

The worlds biggest fridge magnet

The simple musings of a Post Bariatric Surgery, self confessed fat bloke

Half Baked In Paradise

Searching, settling, sauteeing and spritzing

Paris here and there

An insider's guide to Paris

The Wine Wankers

G’day, you’re at the best wine blog ever! We're all about wine; without the wankery.

Colin Bisset

writer, traveller, broadcaster

Bite The Book

Book Reviews and Views

Long Haul Lumière

Exploring our planet through neon-clad noise

%d bloggers like this: