Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes

Jean-Louis Cohen, Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes (New York, NY: Museum of Modern Art, 2013)


"Le Corbuser: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes”, an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, is described as the first major exhibit of the work of Le Corbusier in the US. The exhibit, which will be at the museum through September 23rd of this year, is accompanied by a publication of the same title by Jean Louis Cohen with an introduction by Barry Bergdoll, the Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the museum. The exhibit contains numerous original drawings and contemporary documents as well as the large scale color photos, which are the work of Richard Pare. The publication with the eponymous title has a large number of essays by Le Corbusier scholars from across the globe and includes with separate entries the archival material and color photographs in the exhibit.

In their respective opening essays Cohen and Bergdoll explain the title of both the book and the exhibit. In Bergdoll’s words: as a reflection of a “new generation of research, analysis, and interpretation of Le Corbusier’s practice using the metaphor and, in part, the form of an atlas, as we have done here, is not, however, to return to the notion of an international practice..” but rather as an acknowledgement of a “profound relationship between practice and place in Le Corbusier’s life and work”. Cohen aside from the discussion of the meaning of the landscape in this context returns to the metaphor of the atlas in three ways: in the literal sense as a reflection of Corbusier’s extensive travel and his projects in many parts of the world – the publication is organized geographically -, as a metaphor for his process of observation, analysis, engagement and design and finally by evoking Atlas, the giant carrying the globe. He writes: “..it is hardly excessive to evoke the mythological figure of Atlas to describe the activities of a man who shouldered epic endeavors to transform the world.”   The accompanying essays constitute the majority of the text includes the work of a great many Le Corbusier scholars in different parts of the world and, in that sense adding to not only the concept of the atlas but also highlighting the level of global interest and scholarship. In many ways the publication in both its title and its content presents through its very existence an argument for the significance and cohesion that should underpin the multi-national World Heritage nomination that has been proposed previously on several occasions.   While piquing curiosity, the remarkable scholarly content and the unique assembly of original materials displayed leave for many preservationists something unaddressed. What is the status of the buildings, their condition and how have they been preserved or restored? Some of the buildings in the exhibit and book have been or are the subject of extensive on-going (interpretative) restorations and improvements. With this much original documentary material at hand it would have been interesting to see how that documentation guided (or not) that process. Maybe that is the next exhibition and publication.




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