Torea Frey

Editor, writer, photographer, observer on the street.

Order to madness

Le Corbusier, an architect and painter, created The Modulor, an anthropometric scale of proportions in the vein of Vitruvius, da Vinci, and Alberti, in 1943. (My fascination with Le Corbusier stems from Sumeet's growing up in Chandigarh, India's first planned city, which the architect had a big hand in planning.)

Le Corbusier described the idea as a "range of harmonious measurements to suit the human scale, universally applicable to architecture and to mechanical things"; I picked up this copy of The Modulor (second edition, trans. Peter De Francia and Anna Bostock, Harvard University Press, 1966) from The Strand's $1 book cart. I admit that I understand the math behind it very little, but I love that he applies the system to city planning, building construction, painting and composition, and the movement of consumer goods. 

 

Lots of scans behind the cut, and in my Flickr set.

"The process here is perfectly, strictly objective."

This is from something known as "the panel exercise": "You take a square, say, and divert yourself by dividing it up in accordance with the measures of the 'Modulor.' ... In (a) we have a square divided up by means of five different panels; this gives a first batch of sixteen combinations. In (b), a square divided up by means of four different kinds of panels measured on the 'Modulor.' Again, a first batch of sixteen combinations. In (c), a square divided up by means of three kinds of panels measured on the 'Modulor.' First batch of sixteen combinations." He goes on to provide numerous iterations, seeking "the most satisfactory or the most beautiful" combinations.

Corbusier sketch 15

The French Railways sought a scientific means of determining "the suitability of different types of packaging for transport."

Corbusier sketch 16

I wonder how indicative this is of a sort of post-war clamor to bring sense to the world again?

Corbusier sketch 18

An example of woodwork, and the stone used in a ceremony to solemnize work begun in Marseilles in October 1947.

Corbusier sketch 20

"The monolith, which would have four sides, would be set up beneath the pilotis near the doorway of the main hall. Three men of bronze filigree, one with arm upraised, the two others superimposed on each other, will proclaim the rule."

Corbusier sketch 23

"Utilitarian needs having been satisfied, let us think of proportion. This roof will form part of the landscape of Marseilles: its outline must be eloquent: it must speak in varied and shaded tones." The model above includes references to sand pits, an open-air gymnasium, a mothers' room, a bar, and a children's paddling pool.

Corbusier sketch 26

You can also use the Modulor to set up a "very small office": "I myself am installed in a windowless air-conditioned office, a kind of cell." The office featured a table, a mural, three frames, and a "polychromed wood-carving on a folded sheet-metal stand."

Corbusier sketch 30

Fig. 67 refers to the Campo Santo of Pisa, but the previous page discusses the planning of the UN headquarters in Manhattan and features one of the best descriptions of the city I've yet seen. "1947: the plans are drawn up, introducing the 'radiant city' into the tragic hedgehog that is New York."

Corbusier sketch 36

He writes much of his efforts to validate his construct. "The gun-dog puts up the game; the inventor stops in front of anything that bears on his inquiry, 'sniffing the wind.' Here are a few instances of how this happens." The above is from Abbaya de Chaalis, Cistercian ruins of the thirteenth century.

Corbusier sketch 43

His welding of mathematics to even modern art is something I know my grandmother would appreciate.

Corbusier sketch 49

What follows the colon: "'This sketch closes our investigation of the "Modulor" by confirming the initial hypothesis.' And: 'HERE, the GODS play! I look on, wisely staying outside this garden of delights.'"