The Architect as Totalitarian


"Money, the Jews (who are partly responsible), Freemasonry, they will all get their just reward. These shameful fortresses will be dismantled. They dominated everything... We are in the hands of a winning invader, whose attitude could be crushing. If the conditions are truthful, Hitler could crown his life's work by a grand act: the cleaning up of Europe."

- Le Corbusier, on the German invasion of France




Mar 26, 15 8:51 pm

This is why talent / architects / sports heroes etc. should only be valued for their contribution to the thing they do and that's it. Start idolizing them and you will inevitably run into the morality problem. 

Mar 26, 15 9:04 pm  · 

I say this every time a new movie comes out:  "what are we going to do for villians, when the Nazis are behind us and a more distant memory?"

Mar 26, 15 9:42 pm  · 
boy in a well

Le Corbusier also said "look more often to the Parthenon!" What sort of one dimensional caricature can we build off that?

Christine Boyer's 2011 tome on Corb has 10 notes in the index relating variously to Nazism, Hitler, and anti-semitism. Its a 700 page book from a rather well-regarded scholar. I'll assume she thought that sufficient.

As to the ill use of 'cleanliness' above in and the books in question, I'll let Boyer riff through Corb's archive for you:

Throughout the 1930's, Le Corbusier's politics swing back and forth. In the Radiant City, for example, a caption underneath a photograph of right-wing extremists - whose demonstration in Paris on Feb 6, 1934, resulted in fifteen dead and fifteen hundred wounded - calls this uprising the "awakening of cleanliness." Yet elsewhere Le Corbusier refers to the Leftist Popular Front's rise to power, which this same riot helped to create, as "the young and clean authority." He maintained his posture of neutrality throughout the 1930s, of being "neither Left nor Right," and offered his plans for different cities from Algiers to Paris as neutral documents . . . " p 497-498.


*drops mic*

Mar 27, 15 3:55 pm  · 

I'm not interested in painting a one-dimensional characature of Le Corbusier (or "Corb" as you affectionately call him).  He was a great architect, really staggeringly talented.  He apparently was also an antisemite, a mysoginist, and an apologist to facism.  So it is clear that someone can be a great architect, as well as a monstrous human being, is it not?

This was, of course, the message of Krier's book on Speer.  

Mar 27, 15 5:33 pm  · 

Corbu arguably did more damage than good if you look at what his work inspired: sterile, white box modernism (Villa Savoye) and disastrous planning (Radiant City), both of which were automobile centric. His Five Points are really two and compare badly to Wright's Usonian principles.

That being said, I like a lot of his furniture, even if it is diminutively scaled, and Ronchamp is magnificent.

Mar 27, 15 7:25 pm  · 
But....but....without Corb the architect persona would not include cool chunky glasses! Where would we be without our cool chunky glasses?!
Mar 27, 15 8:35 pm  · 
boy in a well


I'd like to hear those arguments. 

and i suppose there's a time and place for rehashing everyone's racism and bigotry.

a whole lotta architects made white boxes and a lotta planners suggested tall buildings in fields. kudos for corb, i guess, if he gets all the blame.

lets not forget the statements from the people who lived in Pruitt Igoe and appreciated it (you can google the doc yourself) and as someone who lived in a housing tower in a field (peter cooper village on Manhattan's east side) it was a lovely, quiet place to be, in the midst of the dirty city. but it was nicely laid out, nicely proportioned, and park filled as opposed to the jacob riis housing about 10 blocks south, where even the grass was kept in cages. not really sure how you can blame corbusier for what other people poorly understood, poorly designed, and poorly executed.

this one's even better if we want to spend our time on character, and i aint talkin facades.

speer krier, sure, you were just puttin it out there. thanks.

ronchamp is magnificent, but that gehry guy - whoa!

Mar 28, 15 3:38 am  · 

I greatly appreciate boy in a well's knowledge, lots of good reading here.

My personal opinion in general is - the job has nothing to very little do with the character, so if Bill Clinton wants Monica to do stuff with a cigar I don't care, as long as he does his day job...

Should an architect take on various commissions sponsored by various people of various persuasions - YES and hopefully the best architect and not someone who needs the work.

Should a Prtizker Prize winning architect do Prisons? Absolutely, far better to have them do a prison design then someone who does architecture to increase their spreadsheet's bottom line. 


If architecture is going to happen, I would much rather prefer the right person for the job, then the only person available because the profession has decided somethings aren't ethical enough for an architect to design.  Even if you're a starchitect, you are providing a service - the client doesn't need you, the built environment does.


I had a professor who worked something like 30-40 years for Corb.  Once in class he noted, Corb had big ideas and he would just go shopping for the client to build it.  It was less about the politics behind who would build it and more about getting the 'big idea' built.  I find absolutely nothing wrong with this.

If you're going to change the world as architect, you need to do architecture and you need clients to do this, etc....


It's not like Corb didn't pull any fast one's on the monastery la tourette...


with regard to Pruit Igoe, mostly policies well outside of architecture converted the place into what it became....


last but not least - Architecture is a Totalitarian profession to begin with, you must look at everything in a totalitarian manner and then delegate, compromise, and coordinate.

Mar 28, 15 9:22 am  · 

why do we only care about the character of people that lived within the last couple hundred years?  No one is ever like " fuck roman architecture and that asshole nero"

Mar 28, 15 2:01 pm  · 

we all love the coliseum even though they used to used to feed people to tigers there.  Time really does heal all wounds. 

Mar 28, 15 2:03 pm  · 

time space is funny like that....the further we are the less we give a shit.  there must be a equation for a shit = event / time x distance

Mar 28, 15 2:08 pm  · 

if corb and philip johnson teamed up and beat up kahn while calling him a jew face it would not change a single thing about any of their buildings. this emphasis on art as product of a character is dumb.  dosent matter unless the art reflects the same ugliness...

Mar 28, 15 2:14 pm  · 


"why do we only care about the character of people that lived within the last couple hundred years?  No one is ever like " fuck roman architecture and that asshole nero"

love it!  boo Classical, those slave owning bastards!  must discount all their architecture now.

Pyramids! fuck the pyramids!

Mar 28, 15 2:21 pm  · 

Didnt know Corb was any freemasonry... As a freemason (and Jew), I am dismayed...

Mar 28, 15 2:30 pm  · 

giving a shit = event / time x distance

So much for Buddha.

But I think a variation of the inverse square law applies here.

Giving a Shit = 1 / ((distance in kilometers) * (years since event))

Mar 28, 15 3:33 pm  · 

jla-x, that is dumb.  WWII is part of modern history, not even the same thing to compare the atrocities of WWII to the Romans since there are still people alive that suffered at the hands of the nazis.  You might be right on your equation, but you sound like an asshole and possibly a nazi sympathizer. Corb was a great architect, but a dick...likely the case with most famous architects, unfortunate that he choose to politically associate with the biggest stain on society in the 20th century.  

Mar 28, 15 3:42 pm  · 

Miles, I think you are

Chigurh, You are a Nazi. 

Mar 28, 15 5:23 pm  · 

chigurgh by your logic, once everyone who experienced WWII dies - it doesn't matter anymore?  see JermoneS post way above...we're getting there, WWII was now about 70 years ago.

this whole post was some stupid attempt at shoving the crit on classical back at modernism via politics way outside of's all the same anyway, however you spin it...someone with money will build something that will last, and most likely that person or group with money were assholes...

that's why I said Pyramid.  


How many slaves died building this pyramid?

I don't think EKE is stoopid, just this post.

Mar 28, 15 10:05 pm  · 

I'm just posting an interesting quote by Le Corbusier.  How can that be stupid?  

What's interesting to me is how quickly many here rush to describe classical architecture as "the architecture of European colonial repression" or Southern Colonal architecture as "the architecture of slavery", but are prepared to stick their fingers in their ears and rationalize when Le Corbusier goes off on an antisemitic rant, and praises Hitler for clearing the streets of Europe so that he can build filing cabinets for humans.  Do you have any doubt he would have accepted the post of Architect to the Reich had he been offered it?

Let me say that I admire Corbusier as an architect.  His villas were often really beautiful.  I have always loved Ronchamp. His public buildings, not so great IMO.  The Carpenter building at Harvard is dreadful.  And his urban planning ideas were monstrous, and led unfortunately to a whole generation of planners destroying our cities.  We are finally starting to snap out of it.

Mar 28, 15 11:34 pm  · 

++ EKE filing cabinets for humans

RE that quote, Corbu was trying to get Speer's job. There is no other explanation. 

Mar 28, 15 11:49 pm  · 

olaf.. no, that is jlxa's logic via his equation.  

Mar 29, 15 12:19 am  · 

^ agree

Mar 29, 15 12:05 pm  · 

The more time I spend in nominally "democratic" societies, the more I think fascism is the answer.

After all, it would be possible to create a fascism that mandates respect for all persons, prioritizes relationships and partnership-type social interactions over money and hierarchical subjugation.... just a thought. 

Mar 29, 15 12:27 pm  · 

^ worst idea ever.  do you even understand the definition of fascism?

Mar 29, 15 12:48 pm  · 

archanonymous, assuming you're in the US, you already live under Fascism.

Mar 29, 15 1:42 pm  · 

^ thats partly true

Mar 29, 15 2:22 pm  · 

"EKE, the point of your last post doesn't follow logically. Describing  classical architecture as "the architecture of European colonial repression" or Southern Colonial architecture as "the architecture of slavery" is a criticism of the Classical style, particularly pointing out that Classical Architecture is not a universal sign of rightful order and beauty. Again, the criticism is of the style of architecture, but not of the architects of classical architecture themselves. Yes, one can be critical of Le Corbusier's words, but in no way is his style of architecture rightly considered fascist or Nazi."

You're right, it's not fair to call it Nazi.  It's really much more accurate to call it the architecture of post war Soviet totalitarianism.  

Mar 30, 15 9:20 am  · 

^ cherry picking

Mar 30, 15 9:51 am  · 

" ^ cherry picking "

Actually, it's not cherry picking at all.  Have you been to Berlin?  The building I posted is not an outlier.  You walk through mixed-use neighborhoods in former East Berlin, and there is block after block of the bleakest concrete neo-Corbusian modernist housing you have ever seen.  All of it built in the 1950's - 60's.  And then you will come upon a charming traditional church, or small civic building, or a library.  or a park.  And you think, "That's weird, why is this here in the middle of this sea of concrete International Style?  And it dawns on you, well, that random building is one that survived the devastation of the war. 

Mar 30, 15 12:33 pm  · 

EKE, its because those buildings you describe are indeed the result of post war  totalitarianism.  That's true.... but it reflects Corbu housing no more than the fake bell tower on taco bell represents colonial Spanish architecture...Architecture is often exploited by empires, corporations, and various other power structures.....This isn't news....Corbus politics may be off, his naïve views on urbanism may be way out dated, but his architecture is not responsible for every shitty modern project...That's crazy.  

Also, your history is way way off.  Hitler was all about "traditional German architecture"  he hated modern art and architecture....Remember what happened with the Bauhaus?....

I don't understand the intent of this post, but even if you are correct that Corbu was a Nazi sympathizer, the Nazis wouldn't have been a Corbu sympathizer.....So in his mind he may have been "for" but in his work he was clearly "against"  his work overshadows his mindset big time because he is an architect and architects are judged by architecture...The soap opera of architecture is meaningless....only the opera of architecture is relevant.

Now, like I said, if his views compelled him to design buildings that were used to further the nazi regime or any hateful agenda this would be a different story....He clearly did not design hateful works...his work was intended to reflect beauty and love and humanism...the evidence for that is in the play of light at Ronchamp and the reliefs depicting the proportions of man...I don't need to read his personal diaries to see that

Mar 30, 15 1:25 pm  · 

"So in his mind he may have been "for" but in his work he was clearly "against"  his work overshadows his mindset big time because he is an architect and architects are judged by architecture...The soap opera of architecture is meaningless....only the opera of architecture is relevant."

Fair enough - i'll let you guys off the hook.  I have no interest in pushing this argument any further, except to say that I hope you'll keep that in mind the next time someone trots out the "classicism is the style of oppression" crap.

My opinion?  As I said, I think that Le Corbusier was a great architect.  But I also think that he laid out the groundwork for an approach to urbanism, pursued by people directly influenced by him in the 50s and 60s, that has been inhumane and disastrous.  And it's not that we simply haven't followed his ideas with enough fidelity.  It's that the ideas themselves are bad.

"Who knows, if Le Corbusier was in fact the architect/designer of all the mass housing of the 20th century then Earth might be a much nicer place."

A slightly higher rung of Hell.

Mar 30, 15 3:13 pm  · 

Lets remember that Le Corbu has certain cultural influences that were pervasive in his time. Was he fascist? Maybe... maybe not but culture during his growing up in the central europe would obviously have some effect as well as the socio-cultural-political influences over time. Certain notions that were promoted by fascism were very pervasive as well as certain sentiments in the time period but they in themselves were not facism either. There were alot of pre-existing pervasive beliefs and values in the culture in the time and place which I wouldn't say Le Corbu was a bad man or anything. 

He was more of a Syndicalist at a point in his life after becoming dissatisfied with capitalism. He was just a human being not a god figure that people sometimes idolize. Note: put a human being on a pedestal of idolism... the pedestal will break under the weight of human weaknesses and problems that makes them not the idolized image. Don't worship the man because he's just a man because any man will never measure up to an idolized perception of a man.

Mar 30, 15 3:50 pm  · 

No one architectural style/philosophy is the ultimate utopia.

Never has. Never is. Never will be. 

Mar 30, 15 4:08 pm  · 

^ Except mine, of course.

Mar 30, 15 6:19 pm  · 

Hitler 's Architect Albert Speer did Classical Architecture. Case closed.

Mar 30, 15 6:29 pm  · 

"EKE, and I'll leave you off the hook as long as you remember that "Classical Architecture is not a universal sign of rightful order and beauty."

Fine with me.  I've never said it was.

Mar 30, 15 6:31 pm  · 

Quick article related to this thread. Author of at least one of the books cited in EKE's original link is a fan of Corb's and not because of his fascism. Understands that the quality of his work is not necessarily tied to his social or political leanings.

"Rather, he described the book as a ‘literary portrait’ or ‘collage’ and pointed out that of its 500 pages, only about 100 relate to fascism. He feels the media has seized on that aspect alone. He also said that he very much liked Le Corbusier’s work, had around 400 books about him, had visited all his buildings around the world, and felt that he was ‘the most important architect of the past century’.

"When asked if it was painful to write unpalatable things about an architect he admired so much, Chaslin said that it was not. He explained that he was a historian and therefore understood that the quality of, say, a painter or musician was ‘not necessarily the quality of the man in psychological terms’."

That being said, it really doesn't surprise me that with Corb's interest in the human form and the Modulor, that he turns out to have been involved with eugenics. 

Mar 31, 15 2:34 pm  · 
boy in a well

and this is where we end up:

"That being said, it really doesn't surprise me that with Corb's interest in the human form and the Modulor, that he turns out to have been involved with eugenics."

i dont see anything about eugenics here

i thought this was pleasantly brief

and this is the other 'recent' corb tome, which i only remember because of the prostitution bit

and, hey, who hasnt, especially with all that travelling, am i right?

Boyer doesnt talk about Carrel (obviously deliberate), but she talks about Corbu in Vichy, meeting any and everyone he can. i'll briefly quote her quoting the slippery crow's own words, under the metaphor of the 'technician', as i think its useful for us all. Pere Corbu's archi-technician "is like water, fluid but impossible to stem, he will always find a way, always arrive where he wished to go. He is ingenuity incarnate. And he is open to wise suggestions (wink wink)."

i added the wink wink bit.

shame corby didnt have hashtags.

i think its time to see if my corkscrew still works.

Mar 31, 15 11:00 pm  · 

This post completely changes my opinion. At first I thought totalitarian political systems intentionally used classical architecture to project the power of the state and now I see it was all just merely a coincidence that both ends of the spectrum would use it for their state buildings.  

Apr 1, 15 12:42 am  · 

Is it really April 1st?

Apr 1, 15 12:45 am  · 

Lye you never got the political style catalog in school?

Apr 1, 15 7:18 am  · 
boy in a well

we were wrong, folks. Corbu's modular man was a nazi/disney sign: if you aint this tall you cant ride this ride - please exit the Unite  - please make your way to the nearest height geneo/meritocracy chamber to get gaseously adjusted:

im so sick of this fox journalism. do we have to entertain idiocy? do we have to waste scholars time with this shit? should we all just embrace proportion as eugenics and move on? 

admit it, eke: your proportions are just quasi-mathematical racism. Right?

Jul 13, 15 5:48 am  · 
I enjoyed that article, because I tend to agree with its final conclusion: everything is grey, and forcing any issue into black and white is a shortsighted mistake.
Jul 13, 15 8:42 am  · 
1  · 

Two points-

Here is Le Corbusier on the left, truly living one of those "black and white" moments with Josephine Baker (center). Acually, it is a play on a house for Baker designed by Loos, but is still influenced by it's times (reference right). Sorry, I just couldn't resist.

2- If were are to forgive and acknowledge that things are not clear cut as they seem, does this mean that Patrik Schumacher will be released from the parametric whipping post?

Jul 13, 15 9:42 am  · 

"Should a Prtizker Prize winning architect do Prisons? Absolutely,"

During WW II the Germans tried to force the brilliant French airplane designer Marcel Dassault to work for them. He flatly refused. Dassault was also Jewish.

Also the largest project built under the Nazis was the Prora buildings on the North Sea, they are straight out of Corbu-land.

Jul 13, 15 10:39 am  · 

"How many slaves died building this pyramid?"



Exodus is just an allegorical story. There were no Jewish slaves in Egypt at all in that period. There are no records of a mass migration -- and trust me, had a million people up and left Egypt at the time, there would have been documentation from local leaders, since that would have devastated the economy.

The workers were local, and were well-fed (beef was not something the average person ate at the time).

"The last pyramid, the so-called Pyramid of Ahmose, was built roughly 3,500 years ago. That’s hundreds of years before historians think the Israeli people first appeared."

Sep 13, 21 6:08 am  · 
Non Sequitur

And your point is what?

Sep 13, 21 7:04 am  · 

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