Le Corbusier’s eyes that do not see – Kari Jormakka on Functionalist theories. Part 1
by Stefan Ritter
Kari Jormakka’s new book “Eyes that do not see” is an analysis of the origins and the contemporary state of functionalist theories in architecture. Among the topics he touches upon are: the functionalists relationship to authority, their proximity to philosophical essentialism, and the question of their longevity and their alleged continuing success today.
My blog-post part 1 is about “Eyes that do not see” an article by LeCorbusier published in 1923 as a part of “Vers une architcture“. It served as the name patron to Jormakka’s book. And in part 2 I want to focus on Jormakka’s writing and the contemporary condition of functionalism.
The “styles” – for one must do something. [...]
Our era fixes its style every day.
It is right before our eyes.
Eyes that do not see. *
… writes LeCorbusier in “Vers une architecture“. Addressing his contemporaries, he goes on by explaining what it is they do not see: ocean liners, grain silos, airplanes, and automobiles. “Technical beauties” which according to LeCorbusier are commencing a new age. He argues they are neglected by his fellow architects, who should learn to look at these machines with new eyes:
If we forget for a moment that a liner is a transport tool and look at it with new eyes, we will sense that we stand before an important manifestation of temerity, discipline, and harmony, a beauty that is calm vigorous, and strong. **
Corbu proposes a new reading of these machines: He goes about it by describing their proportions and geometries, the relationship of positive to negative volume – solids and voids, strong masses and slender elements, the spacing and rhythm of their exposed structure, and finally their supposedly bright lighting conditions.
It is here where he famously declares “a house is a machine for living in“. Which – together with Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more” – became the dogmas and unbreakable golden rules of functionalism.
Aesthetics should be an expression of the real causes:
Harmony and beauty are declared a function of economy, and conditioned by the inevitability of the laws of physics. And their ideal client is war – “the insatiable client, never satisfied, always demanding better” – fierce competition is considered to be the synonym for progress.
According to Corbu, culture is the outcome of selection: “Selection means discarding, pruning, cleansing; making the Essential stand out anew stripped and clear.” ***
Besides the scary fascist undertones, it’s ironically enough that he states this whilst showing the ruins of the Parthenon.
Which, one could argue in Corbu’s own logic, given it’s ruined state has obviously been selected out…
* [p. 156]
** [p. 158]
*** [p. 184]