Public Works, Public Space

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A Contemporary City of Three Million (Ville Contemporaine) exhibited in 1922, is a presentation of Charles-�douard Jeanneret-Gris’s (aka Le Corbusier) vision to create the idyllic urban environment containing every modern facility. Designed to remedy problems he see consistent throughout modern day cities, Le Corbusier’s city would have an abundance of space, greenery and light. The City of Three Million is defined as a immense landscape of indistinguishable skyscraper monoliths that were so admired by the aggressive urban futurism of the nineteen twenties. This period of time in architecture proposed cities that were frequently rendered with an ethereal touch, they appeared to materialize from dreams. Many proposals filled with colossal organic looking complexes, with buttresses and skyways like tendons and muscles stretching off of the buildings skeletons. Hugh Ferris’s ‘Metropolis of Tomorrow’ (Ferris 1925, reissue 1998), for instance, was a pictorial prophecy of the ultimate metropolis. Here there was a perfect balance of futurism and consumerism and people lived in the sky surrounded by aerial gardens, dirigibles, golf courses, and restaurants. It was the quintessential document of the wealth of the 1920s, as well as a personal manifesto of visionary urbanism. In it, Ferris drew and discussed the American skyscraper and presented his dreamy vision for the perfect city of the future.

Though few of these proposals have actually been realised, the City for Three Million presaged the low-income housing projects to which Le Corbusier devoted much of his career, and which can be found on the outskirts of nearly every major city today. He proposed a flawlessly ordered metropolis where nothing of the old remained. He stated, “A city should be treated by its planner as a blank piece of paper, a clean table-cloth, upon which a single, integrated composition is imposed” 3. The city consisting of concentric rectangular belts all revolving around the heart of the city, the transportation centre. His new ideas for transportation included making it clean, ordered, and somewhat invisible. Subways would run beneath the vast city of twenty-four widely spaced cruciform sixty-floor towers with planes landing at the airport located at the center of everything. Each tower designed to hold between ten thousand and fifty thousand business/administrative workers. The next two belts housed the residential blocks of ‘Immeubles Villas’ (Apartment Villas), these were designed as six stacked up duplexes with double-height studios overlooking a garden terrace. The final belt surrounding the residential area was designed as a wide green ring containing garden cities, with a port, sports complexes and industrial districts. All of these relating back to the idea and plan of abolishing congestion, increasing population density and improving circulation. All of these factors, according to Le Corbusier, would be accomplished simultaneously as his city design would mean levelling a current city and using his concept as the replacement. “I relied on the sure paths of reason,” Le Corbusier wrote of his design,

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“….and having absorbed the romanticism of the past, I felt able to give myself up to that of our own age, which I love. My friends, astonished to see me so deliberately passing over immediate considerations, said, all this is for the year two thousand! Everywhere journalists wrote of it as the city of the future. Yet I had called it a Contemporary City. Contemporary because tomorrow belongs to nobody.”

You can look at Le Corbuiser’s city and say that he was building on foundations already established by the French urbanist Eug�ne H�nard. H�nard’s Etudes sur les transformations de Paris (Studies on the Transformations of Paris, 1903-9) promoted the segregation of pedestrians and vehicular traffic with the use of setback apartment blocks and flanking wide avenues. This idea is apparent throughout Le Corbusier’s design and has been taken further in grouping people by wealth, class or working status throughout the city.

Le Corbusier’s City for Three Million was, like many of his creations, predicated on the idea that modern cities could only function with efficiency and order at the heart of the city. Believing that one’s priority should be efficiency followed by gracious aesthetic design. Another idea he believed in was that the lack of buildings suited to the needs of workers was the cause of most social unrest, appealing that good design would liberate societies from this; the choice, he said, was “architecture or revolution.” In his words, a simple phrase suffices to express the necessities of his tomorrow: “We must build in open.” 5

He was very sensitive to the subject of planning and believed that the City of his time (today) was a dying thing because it was not geometrical. To build in open would be to replace the disorganized arrangements present in those conditions, which were all what was existent as of that time, by a uniform layout. He believed that unless this was accomplished, there would be no recovery.

What is important to remember here is how emerging architects at the time applied the aesthetic principles of the machine without literally producing buildings that looked like machines. Obviously, designers like Le Corbusier and his contemporary Mies Van der Rohe actively incorporated machine-like motifs and new materials uniquely available by machine. But what they were really after was an architecture that united form and function, traits inherent to the machine but utterly absent in much of architecture up to that point in the 1920’s. “A house is a machine for living in” and “a curved street is adonkey track, a straight street, a road for men” are among his famous declarations.” 6 This again is another form of order that consequently, according to Le Corbusier, would deliver cities out of their current state of chaos.

Similarities can be found when examining the Contemporary City in comparison to our cities, with regards to such thing as classes, wealth and location. The trend is to find wealthier people, who can be looked upon as a higher class, located more towards the inner city with the more general working class dispersing out into the suburbs. The heavy dependence on reliable transport in order to live out our daily lives along with the pleasures we get from home life, hobbies, interests and activities. The idea that we like things to just ‘work’ rather than being inconvenienced by the turmoil of traffic jams, line disruptions or anything else that brings disorder to our idea of routine. These are the pressures we place on our governments, always striving to achieve more, looking for that something better, that bit of perfection. This leads us to believe that our own ideas and opinions are too extreme to be realised, and if realised for example within the Contemporary City, we may then find a possible optimal way of living to extreme. By drowning in pure conventionality will it be inevitable to lose the ability to distinguish mediocrity from superiority?

In summery Le Corbusier had designed a city with the intention of solving current and existing ideas that we view as provocations whilst carrying out our day-to-day public lives. All of his base ideas of order, concentration yet open, centrality, congestion free with ease of mobility and light are exactly what people dream of when contemplating the idyllic city. Yet by accomplishing the perfect foundations the structure has suffered and consequently is completely the opposite of personal views and opinions. The complete lack of originality and individuality, with design and imagination erased, forcing people to live in what could appear to be a communistic city and communistic way. Where is there room in Le Corbusier’s design for free will and freedom of speech? We would be conformed to follow protocol in a city such as this, rather than a space for living and inhabiting, it almost becomes a farm like system. We are herded like cattle into the hypnotic repetition almost rendering ourselves drones rather than living people. By creating a perfectly systematic city he has devolved the ideas of change and evolution that we come to expect from the passing of time and trends. It appears Le Corbusier would have us living in an un-evolving city forever. Ultimately it boils down to the imperfections not in the design of his city but the apparent ones of human nature. It is our own ideas of difference, likes and dislikes that would not allow us to function fully within this city.

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Public Works, Public Space. (2017, Jul 22). Retrieved from

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