Le Corbusier and the Beatles
I confess I haven’t always been a fan of Le Corbusier, I don’t know why not; perhaps because when I first went to Architecture College he was treated by the teaching faculty with such reverence, I felt a bit like I did towards the Beatles, really great but so what?
It was only later that I realised that, just as the Beatles had covered every base in the game of pop before anyone else, so had Le Corbusier created, defined and explored every bit of the Modernist landscape; leaving the following generations to do just that – follow.
Le Corbusier’s friend Jean Badovici and his lover at the time Eileen Gray had built a house on Cap Martin, just outside Monaco at Rocquebrune, right on the sea. It wasn’t long before Le Corbusier started staying there and finally he built his own cabin next door as a summer house.
I went to visit Cap Moderne and see his Cabanon and Unite de Camping and Eileen Gray’s house E-1027. Both now open to the public after restoration by the French Government and Department of Alpes Maritimes.
The Cabanon of Le Corbuiser is a typical Corbusian meditation in the use of space executed in the Modular, his own system of proportions he had developed to measure his buildings.
The Cabanon sits on a tiny site hanging over the Mediterranean on Cap Martin overlooking the bay of Monaco, but first and more interesting to me was his work space, no more than a garden shed, to one side of the site. A photo on the wall shows Corbuiser working away on a desk, a single plank of wood, which is still there, his signature round glasses archly sitting on the top.
Corbusier was so famous when I started studying architecture that a pair of round heavy rimmed spectacles were part of the architect’s uniform along with the black polo neck and defined an architect as the real thing.
What is remarkable about the work shed is that beyond all the flim flam about workspace and ergonomic environments and lux levels and the next big thing in desk chairs, all you need is a plank of wood and some light to create great work.
That said, a view out over the Bay of Monaco helps!
The Cabanon is an intellectual exercise as much as a physical building. It is deliberately tiny, 3.2m2. It is designed almost like a Japanese tea house on a tatami mat principle. A spiral of space no bigger than the average master bedroom. It has an entry, a little single bed for his wife. I wonder how she felt about that? He slept on the floor, and a petite sink and mirror and butchers block table.
There are no big windows, small opening shutters let in light in carefully considered places. Small openings, low down, long and thin, as much for ventilation as illumination. All is meticulously designed, all is considered to a pitch of harmony that is quite disarming. Any grumbling about being small and pokey are dispelled in the atmosphere of acetic order.
It’s like a camper van designed by a Japanese monk. The timber construction on the outside looks like a log cabin inside it is beautifully crafted by Corsican joiners and it all fits together like one of those wooden puzzles that look like a barrel but come to pieces.
The Cabanon Cap Moderne