L’Esprit Nouveau is a pavilion that was built by Le Corbusier in collaboration with Amédée Ozenfant and Pierre Jeanneret for the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts of Paris in 1925. This is one of Le Corbusier’s most important early works as it is one of the beginning points of what we know conceive as modern architecture.
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, also known as Le Corbusier, is regarded as one of the pioneers of modern architecture. Gaining this recognition not only by his industrial rationalistic architecture but also by his life-long promotion of this new ideal of beauty. Having been born and having lived his entire childhood in Switzerland, he moved to Paris definitively in 1917, where he met the Cubist painter Amédée Ozenfant in 1918. A painter with which he would collaborate during a long period of time to establish a new artistic movement called “Purism”. Rejecting the “irrational and romantic” style of cubism they developed this new artistic trend which, as the name suggests, was based on the expression of pure geometric forms and objects, mostly portrayed in still-life compositions. Defending the idea that classical numerical formulas are the source of art’s harmony, and that beauty in objects is achieved via proportion. Healthy art is understood as something based on proportionate harmony, the economy of means, and clear and exact portrayal. Reflecting a pure aesthetic in everything as a response to a basic desire for “order” in the world.
Purism gained recognition in the year 1920 when the two artists launched their own magazine called: L’Esprit Nouveau. In this magazine Le Corbusier published his ideas of art and architecture, highly devoting himself to the promotion of his new notions of architecture and urban planning.
In 1923 he collected his articles from L’Esprit Nouveau and published them along with his theory “The Five Points of a Modern Architecture” in the book “Towards an Architecture”, where he presents his views and ideas about future architecture, by deconstructing the Parthenon’s classical perfection and applying these architectural principles to the industrial era. In 1925, during the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts, Le Corbusier exhibited these notions in architectural form for the broader audience in his own Esprit Nouveau pavilion.
I find that Le Corbusier’s move of presenting the pavilion in the center of this world fair of decorative art, or “Art Deco”, was a very political and controversial move, as he had previously stated in the Esprit Nouveau: “Decorative Art, as opposed to the machine phenomenon, is the final twitch of the old manual modes, a dying thing.”. Therefore, he decided to create a pavilion that, although being part of the event, would represent the opposite idea to the theme of the exhibition. A small piece of architecture described by him as “a cell within the body of a city” that would only contain standardized and mass-produced goods that had a clear function in the pavilion.
The Pavilion is conceived as a purist house, it develops in an “L” shape around a double-height courtyard, with the reception and kitchen on the ground floor and the bedrooms on the upper floor overlooking the living room. This building, together with an adjoining garden, is built around an existing tree. At the back of this concrete and metal structure, there is a dark room where projects and theoretical manifestos such as the “Voisin Plan” for the center of Paris were presented.
Even though the pavilion housed the plans and ideas that Le Corbusier wanted to convey and show in the exhibition, I find that the beauty of the pavilion lays in its way of conveying these concepts intrinsically through the structure of the pavilion itself. Reading “The Five Points of Modern Architecture”, principles published in Le Corbusier’s book, and looking at photographs and models of the pavilion, I see clearly how the artist created the pavilion with the clear intention of showing indirectly these principles to the public.
If you start by looking at the first principle, “the piloti”, it is clear how it is showcased in the pavilion. “The piloti” is the idea of placing columns underneath the structure of the house in order to elevate it, thus creating a greater unification of the interior and exterior of the house. Just as importantly, it also follows the second principle of flattening the roof in order to give it a second use, which in the case of the pavilion is a roof terrace. Additionally, it supports its structure with interior columns instead of using walls, which frees the interior from the need for division, creating open and luminous spaces (third principle). Finally, he also exemplifies principles four and five, where he argues that through the use of columns it is possible to free up the façade and enlarge the windows, thus creating a building, largely made of glass, which offers the same levels of light throughout its structure.
Although the construction was received very hostilely and was widely criticized in the architectural environment of the time, I find it a creation highly ahead of its time aesthetically, as well as being an art exhibition of a strategic level only comparable to that of a performative work. The way in which the artist exposed his work to convey a deeper background message, turns this work of art into a metaphor of its own, as the pavilion, used to represent the ideal of the house as a practical machine for the individual, is another mechanism which is being used to fulfill a communicative function.
The contrast between the simplicity of the pavilion and the complexity of the message and concept behind its structure is very striking to me personally and makes their work seem even more beautiful. Finding the technique used much more subtle and elegant than the common use of a simple clash of colors. As a result, the pavilion has awakened in me a great interest in the use of calibrated geometry and simple forms in the design of my own project, as a deeper connective bond between the visuals and the ideas behind the poems.