A “machine for living” was how Le Corbusier famously described his vision for the home. Le Corbusier, the Swiss architect, however, was transfixed by machines of less metaphorical form, like airplanes, ocean liners and locomotives. He called steam shovels and fountain pens the “fauna of the new age.” And he was particularly fascinated with the car, or so argues the author of a new book.
“Voiture Minimum: Le Corbusier and the Automobile” ($49.95) focuses on Le Corbusier’s design for a “minimum car,” a two-seat, bare-bones people mover with a sheer, angled front. His design existed only in drawings during his lifetime, but became probably the most famous of all automobile designs contributed by architects.
The fundamental argument of the book is that the car design constitutes an essential part of Le Corbusier’s philosophy and should not be treated as a mere footnote to his designs for buildings and cities, or his wider theories about design principles and proportions.
The architect was obsessed with his car design, argues the author, Antonio Amado Lorenzo, an architect as well as a professor in the department of architectonic representation and theory at the University of A Coruña, in Spain.
Mr. Amado should know, because he’s a bit of an obsessive, too, having pulled seemingly every scrap of relevant writing and drawing from the Fondation Le Corbusier, the Paris-based archives of the great builder.
Mr. Amado argued that Le Corbusier was fascinated with automobiles, deploying them in his building sketches and insisting that his completed buildings be photographed with chic models in the foreground. This was the man, after all, who named one of his housing schemes Citrohan, echoing the automaker Citroën.
Mr. Amado devotes an entire chapter to Le Corbusier’s personal car, the Voisin C-7 Lumineuse (“luminous,” from its generous amount of glass). He adored the car, which he bought in 1925. It was quite fashionable, built by Gabriel Voisin, an aviation pioneer whose cars were sleek and considered avant-garde. Mr. Amado includes a repair bill for the car he found in Le Corbusier’s archives and also indicates that, thanks to a client, the architect got a deal on its purchase.
In contrast to the fanciful Voisin, the minimum car was influenced by furniture design. Le Corbusier dreamed of seeing it built and entered the plan in a contest held by French engineers in 1936. Correspondences from the archives suggest he tried to sell Fiat and later, Tatra, on the design.
Not until 1987, the centennial of the architect’s birth, was the car design realized in three dimensions, as a wooden model built for a show of his work. Mr. Amado includes a number of computer-generated renderings of the car in several colors. Fittingly, the car appears boxy and angular, with projecting fenders.
Like many architects after him, Le Corbusier thought that automotive production offered an exemplary model for how to build housing more cheaply and efficiently. “If houses were built industrially, mass-produced like chassis, an aesthetic would be formed with surprising precision,” he wrote in “Toward an Architecture,” his series of essays published in 1923.
The car was at the center of his ideas of a city, too. Le Corbusier was taken with the Fiat factory at Lingotto, with its test track on the roof, and inspired to draw cities with elevated freeways running through them.
Expanding the author’s discussion of the minimum car are essays on topics like the history of the people’s car,including the three-wheel Goliath Pionier and the Citroën 2CV, the “umbrella on wheels.” Mr. Amado also includes a fine, compact survey of cars designed over the decades by architects, including a car created in 1906 by Joseph Maria Olbrich in Vienna and the Z.Car, a blobby three-wheeler by Zaha Hadid, shown in London a few years ago.
Phil Patton
 “Architect as Auto Designer: Le Corbusier’s Minimum Car” –
Una leggenda di scarso peso, alimentata da Le Corbusier e ripresa in varíe maniere dalla storiografia, attribuisce al progetto della “Voiture Mínimum” elaborato dallo stesso Le Corbusier e Pierre Jeanneret tra il 1928 e il 1936 (Amado ha fatto chiarezza circa questa datazione sino ad ora vaga) il ruolo di modelo per automobili che hanno fatto epoca, quali il “Maggiolino” Volkswagen, la Citroen 2CV,la FIAT “Topolino”. Le Corbusier amava guidare e amava le automobili come sapevano anche i suoi committenti (Raoul La Roche, per esempio, con una divertente lettera ritrovata da Amado gli promise in dono una “Citroen 5 HP” qualora la sua celebre casa parigina fosse stata completata per la data stabilita). Ma questa passione non si tradusse, come questo libro dimostra, nell’invenzione di un modelo rivoluzionario di autovettura ma, all’opposto,in un progetto scarsamente innovativo rispetto a quanto l’industria automobilistica del tempo andava sperimentando. Tuttavia la determinazione con cui Le Corbusier coltivò il mito che intorno al suo progetto si e venuto formando e caratteristica della sua personalità che Amado illumina esaminando un aspetto minore della sua magmatica produzione. Tra le pagine accuratamente illustrate del libro alcune accattivanti sono dedicate alle automobili, peraltro conosciute, “progettate” da architetti celebri quali Olbrich, Loos, Gropius, Wright e Fuller -ma l’elenco potrebbe essere piú lungo.
Francesco Dal Co
Casabella nª 810.  Milano, 2012

AMADO, Antonio. Voiture Minimum. Le Corbusier and the automovil. MIT Press, Cambridge Mass-London, 2011. 351 pág. Ill. ISBN: 978-0262015363

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