Le Corbusier exhibition on its way to Sydney

Le Corbusier, 1942

The biggest name in architecture will be the subject of a major exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. Australia’s first major exhibition devoted to the work of Le Corbusier will celebrate the work of the most influential architect of the twentieth century.

Far more than a prominent architect, Le Corbusier was a visionary artist, a complex intellectual whose interests and skills included painting, writing, sculpture, furniture design, photography and urbanism.

Le Corbusier is a Powerhouse Museum exhibition, co-curated by Charles Pickett of the Powerhouse Museum and Paris based architect and historian, Pascal Mory. The exhibition is designed by Durbach Block Jaggers with Wendy Lewin.

There will be two full scale reconstructions of Le Corbusier’s best-known works: Le Petit Cabanon, the beach hut he designed for his own use at Cap Martin in 1950 and an apartment from the Cite Radieuse, built 1947-1952 at Marseilles, certain to be highlights.

Aimed at an Australian audience, the exhibition will present a comprehensive view of the work and working life of Le Corbusier, focussing mainly on housing, emphasising the relevance of his work to contemporary architecture and urban design. His work as a graphic designer and interior designer will also be featured within the exhibition as well as a variety of media and artefacts unmatched by any other architect or designer.

Portrait d'Yvonne by Le Corbusier

Portrait d’Yvonne by Le Corbusier

Joan-Maree Hargreaves spoke with Charles Pickett, Co-Curator, Le Corbusier, for the Powerhouse Museum

JH: How did the exhibition come about? Why Le Corbusier?
CP: He was the first architect to work in several countries – Australia is the only continent minus a Le Corbusier building – and he created not only a lot of the basics of modern design but the modern image of the architect.

JH: Why is Le Corbusier important in 2012?
CP: There’s always been a steady stream of books and exhibitions about Le Corbusier, but it has really picked up in recent years. That’s partly a result of a general re-appraisal of modernism that’s been happening, plus dissatisfaction with the ‘spectacle’ architecture of the past decade or so. Le Corbusier’s work is focused on simplicity, serenity and human scale, which seems very relevant now. There’s also more appreciation of his art and its relationship to his design.

I think people are also impressed by Le Corbusier’s ability to work across several disciplines – as well as architecture he made his mark as an interior designer, writer, graphic designer and artist. This sort of multi-tasking has become an ideal again.

'Le main ouverte' (1954) by Le Corbusier

‘Le main ouverte’ (1954) by Le Corbusier

JH: How is the exhibition planning coming along?
CP: We are starting to build some momentum now – things are happening with the exhibition design, loans, the book and so on. The designers for the project are Camilla Block and Neal Durbach with Wendy Lewin, while Vince Frost is doing the graphic design. We also have Jean-Louis Cohen contributing to the exhibition book – so it is quite a star-studded line-up.

JH: Tell us a little bit about your research trip/s for the exhibition?
CP: I spent a couple of weeks in France last year visiting a lot of Le Corbusier’s buildings and the Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris – nice work if you can get it! The highlight was probably visiting and staying at the Unite d’habitation in Marseille. I did a book about apartments in Australia a few years back, and the Unite is the most famous and most influential apartment building in the world – it is an experience to visit it, especially the amazing roof top.

JH: Le Corbusier, the exhibition will stand apart from other architecture exhibitions by featuring full scale reconstructions of two of Le Corbusier’s best-known works. What are you hoping these reconstructions will achieve?
CP: We are planning to recreate the interior of one of the Unite apartments. These split-level apartments are simple and modest but also quite beautiful in the way the light filters through them – very hard to recreate in a museum, though. They show how appealing and functional a simple apartment could be if well designed.

The other recreation is the Petit Cabanon, the tiny beach hut Le Corbusier designed for himself and his wife Yvonne on the Riviera. It’s really a statement of the basics of pleasure and happiness, utterly simple and completely part of its setting.

JH: What does the Le Corbusier exhibition mean for you personally?
CP: It’s different from most of my work for the Powerhouse Museum, but I’m hoping it will be a good demonstration of what the Museum can do. There are a lot of talented people involved and the result will be pretty spectacular.

JH: Are there still lessons to be learnt from Le Corbusier in Australia?
CP: Certainly, and I hope the Cabanon and the apartment make people think about what is important in the way we live and how our homes are designed. Le Corbusier had a way of isolating what is essential for contentment and comfort – I especially love the way he created things that were functional and rational but also totally individual – an ideal that not many people achieve.

JH: How is it working with your Co-Curator, Paris based architect and historian, Pascal Mory? Does working in different continents provide any particular advantages and/or difficulties?
CP: Pascal is a successful architect himself and is very insightful about Le Corbusier. He is certainly based in Paris but seems to be always on the move – so it is hard to keep up with him sometimes. But we are lucky to have on board someone with his experience and contacts.

JH: What have been some of the highlights so far in the exhibition planning process?
CP: Large projects are always a bit of a roller-coaster for the people involved; there are a lot of lenders and others outside the Museum who must be kept informed and involved.

The pleasure comes largely through working with such fabulous artefacts and designs – the other day we went to see one of the Le Corbusier tapestries that we are borrowing. Very exciting to see it and imagine it on display. The Powerhouse Museum workshop is making some models for the show of houses and a car (yes, Le Corbusier designed a car) and it’s satisfying to see them come together.

JH: What Le Corbusier object or artefact are you most enamoured with?
CP: The buildings are the favourites obviously but I also love a lot of his art; I think this will really surprise people when they see it. Le Corbusier has a rather austere image but his work is full of colour and sensuous motifs. There’s a passion in his art that also comes through in much of the architecture.

Photo taken by Charles Pickett on a Le Corbusier research trip

The rooftop of the Unite. Photo taken by Charles Pickett on a Le Corbusier research trip.

Images courtesy of Fondation Le Corbusier.

NB: Please note the Le Corbusier exhibition has been postponed. We will update the website once an exhibition date has been confirmed.