defending le corbusier


Practically all architects dream of changing the world through their work, achieving fame not merely of the celebrity sort but the world-historical variety. They aspire to be not merely the next Frank Gehry, but the next Frank Lloyd Wright or Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. After the Paris riots, though, there’s one world-historical architect they almost certainly don’t aspire to emulate: Le Corbusier.

One of the leaders of the modernist movement, Le Corbusier was also the forefather of the modern high-rise, low-income apartment complex, the “machines for living” that sprouted by the dozens on the outskirts of French cities, and which were soon imported by American public housing authorities, who used them as a model for such notorious housing projects as Chicago’s Cabrini-Green Housing Development and St. Louis’s Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing Complex. The banlieues, as they are known in France, quickly became the hub of the country’s pathologically poor and disenfranchised immigrant classes; their dark hallways and looming mass became synecdoches for squalor and crime.

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