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’