The Aeronauts go to Ronchamp


Three Mirage 2000 jets of L’armée de l’air fly north towards the Franche Comte/Lorraine border in this odd postcard from Ronchamp*. The aerial view is not particularly flattering to a building that was designed to be approached from the slopes below. The previous chapel on the site was bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War and the remains were used as building materials in the new building. I suppose the chapel is being protected rather than threatened by the jets but what is the meaning of the title on the postcard back: flagrant delit?**

Mirage fighters were a feature of motorway travel in France in the ‘seventies and, flying in formation above the Autoroute near Dijon, evoked the over-dubbed delights of The Aeronauts*** a Saturday morning TV programme shown alongside Robinson Crusoe and The Flashing Blade.

*bought in the early ‘nineties and found in ‘the bottom drawer’
** in flagrante delicto
*** Les Chevaliers du Ciel in France (link)

Le Zep


To Liverpool for one of the talks in the Le Corbusier Lives! season hosted by Liverpool John Moores University, and for a second look at the Corb exhibition in the Metropolitan Cathedral crypt. The talk was actually a series of short talks by Adrian Forty, Irena Murray and Alan Powers regarding Le Corbusier and Britain. The subject matter sounded quite wide but soon narrowed down to observations on Corb’s correspondence with British students (lots of headed paper from the Students Common Room at the AA in Bedford Square) and practising architects in the pre-war period. Only Alan Powers had the light delivery and humorous touch to make the material live. One could imagine P.G. Wodehouse writing some of the letters, and there was a wonderful self-description of a British architect (was it Maxwell Fry?) ripping up his Beaux Arts student work and committing himself to the application of the portal frame to the problem of housing. The audience did not really respond to the theme presented by the historians and instead attempted to widen the discussion to bigger questions of architectural determinism. The panel discussion produced, for me, only two interesting observations: Corb didn’t seem to like people very much, and his youthful exposure to Ruskin’s ideas and writings may have re-emerged and influenced his work after the war.

A previous post has made a number of points about the exhibition. In many ways it is a general review of familiar material and the ‘art of architecture’ thesis is weak. The models are mostly of external form only (Firminy is the exception). The title block stencils (on the working drawings for Ronchamp) are delightful. The architecture of the crypt is ignored in the configuration of the display – imagine the power of the contrast if Lutyens’ vaults and portals had been lit better. The most evocative part of the exhibition was a short description in the chronology panel accompanying the exhibits:

1936: trip to South America in the dirigible Graf Zeppelin for a lecture series; contacts Oscar Niemeyer, Lucio Costa and Affonso Eduardo Reidy in Rio de Janeiro.

The combination of the great architect, the German airship, and Sugar Loaf is irresistible.


Images from ‘Planes: Aviation in Rio de Janeiro’

Le Corbusier: The Art of Architecture


To Liverpool for the architectural event of the autumn – the collision between Lutyens and Le Corbusier in the Metropolitan Cathedral Crypt. Unfortunately the overbearing and labyrinthine staging of the exhibition makes what might have been an interesting combat between these two titans difficult to discern. The spatial and material genius of Lutyens is cleverly obscured to enhance the importance of the most famous bespectacled Swiss, although an interesting family of geometrically abstract holy water stoups peak provocatively around planar screens, presenting a cunningly utilitarian riposte to Le Corbusier’s ‘sculptures’.

Leaving these frustrations aside, however, the exhibition is comprehensive, giving a full account of Le Corbusier’s career. The early years are well represented, and the presentation continues in a slightly confusing way through to the last works, notably the Philips Pavilion which is given the full audio-visual reconstruction treatment. Physical models, both original and recent are complemented by virtual reconstructions of unbuilt projects, notably the Palace of the Soviets. Small electronic panels flick through examples of Le Corbusier’s sketchbooks, and archive films add life to the sometimes arid display. In totality it is an exhibition best suited to the initiates of architecture which will do little to spread understanding of his work beyond the existing fan base. However, for those of us already in the club, it is well worth the trip.

PS A pair of opera glasses might be useful to read the captions, which are very small and often hard to find

See also Eisenman in Liverpool!

Eisenman in Liverpool!


OK, the main event is obviously the opening of the Corb exhibition in Lutyens’ crypt (the subtitle ‘The Art of Architecture’ doesn’t inspire) but Peter Eisenman has got to be worth a trip.

Peter Eisenman: Architecture and the Cultural Project

Le Corbusier and Britain: Adrian Forty, Irena Murray, Alan Powers

Le Corbusier and India: Balkrishna Doshi

Le Corbusier ‘Le Grand’ – Tim Benton