In-studying and evaluating the ideas of ,a man it is illuminating to know something ,6’f his life in order to establish any causal relation which might exist between events and influences, and both the general tone and specific proposals of his ideas. What follows is a rather brief account of the early part of Le Corbusier’s life and an attempt to establish such a relation while leaving out what appears to be irrelevant detail.1 Le Corbusier is the pseudonym of Charles Edouard Jeanneret-Gris and is the name with which he has signed most projects and writings. Le Corbusier, the name of a grandfather, is as solidly established as Samuel Clemens’ Mark Twain, so it, or the shortened Corbusier, is used throughout the text, and where Jeanneret does occur it signifies Le Corbusier’s cousin, Pierre.
Le Corbusier was born the sixth of October 1887 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, a town near Neuchatel in the heart of the Jura of the Swiss Alps. It is interesting to speculate as to what effect the majesty and beauty of such an area might have on a person for it seems that the romantic and grandly scaled conceptions of Corbusier might be in some way related to the landscape of his native region. His father was a watch engraver and Le Corbusier’s education was pointed toward his taking up the same work. He had the usual primary and superior school training up to his fourteenth year and later went to the Ecole d’Art de La Chaux-de-Fonds, a school founded in the nineteenth century for the instruction of engravers or, more strictly, decorators of watches. While there Corbusier was strongly stimulated by one of the teachers, L’Eplatenier, who had studied at the
Ecole des Beaux Arts and who, by Corbusier’s own acknowledgement, first introduced him to the problems of art.3 L’Eplatenier evidently gave the students free rein of his library, and this vicarious contact with art and architecture was soon felt as a constructive background for Corbusier’s appreciation of both old and new in his extensive travels. To the influence of L’Eplatenier and that of William Ritter can be traced his discontent with the then present position of art and his desire to seek new solutions. Ritter was an older friend with whom he discussed doubts and problems in the early period when he was formulating and clarifying his ideas.
His formal education ended at nineteen when he left his home town to travel, and this fact may explain Le Corbusier’s dogmatic self-confidence j a quality so often seen in the self-taught. The observation that he is to a great extent self-taught is unavoidable, for he absorbed so much of the vitality and radical ideas of the new approach to art through personal contact. Especially he became a member of the avant-garde in painting. He travelled through Italy with busy sketchbook, seeing Florence, Sienna, Ravena, Padua, and Verona, where the grandeur of Roman constructions, brilliant Italian polychromy and fervor of pre-Renaissance Christianity deeply impressed him. The vigor of early Renaissance was sympathetic to his intuitive ideas. Its headlong attack of new problems and sensitive use of geometrical proportion find parallels in his own work. Strangely