Monday, March 3, 2008

The Medium of Architecture: Le Corbusier

In the 1920's, architect Le Corbusier, with the Great War behind him and visions of the rebuilding of Europe like a playground in his mind, set about plans that would remake the greatest cities of his homeland into Utopian paradises. He tended not to side with the rebuilders as simply fixing the cities as they were, but a whole scale redoing of cities. His plans were grandiose, and, since people don't like change, they never got off the ground. They remained controversial plans that only saw the light of day in international cities in continents that were just beginning to build cities to Western design. Le Corbusier planned cities in South America, such as Buenos Aries and Montevideo, along with Algiers in Africa. In Marselles, in southern France, he constructed an apartment building that most compares with the large scale living structures he had planned for Paris. It would best be described as a cruise ship, but on land. The small, two floor apartments were decorated in the modern style, which would remind one of Audrey Hepburn's dwelling in The Apartment. In between floors were main walkways where shops were constructed, and recreational facilities such as gyms and the like. His idea was to provide luxuries to the masses that lived there, to take away the need for transportation, and to harmonize the balance between life and modern technology. His plans, therefore, were highly admired by Communist Russia, and many of his ideas were used in the Eastern bloc.

His main idea was to tear down the center of Paris and erect a massive series of apartment buildings, along with shops and parks, constructed in such a way that thousands of people could live in a small area. They would be provided with the best luxuries, and the resulting space that they saved could be turned into park land and recreational areas to support the education and growth of Parisians. It would be environmental, economical, and aesthetically pleasing. Le Corbusier took the ideas of architecture and solved the worlds problems with them....except none of his grandiose plans ever got off the ground. He failed to take into consideration human nature, and because of this, what would have been a utopian city stayed tucked away in his drawings and plans, and would never see the light of day.
Dystopian literature is a favorite of mine. I've read many books attempting to make life perfect for all mankind. Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars, for instance, or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, or films like Logan's Run, which show mankind in a Utopian setting, but with a lethal twist to it. So when it comes to developing a system of living that would solve a lot of the world's problems, I have no problem figuring out how things might work. Take, for instance, 100 acres, and build below ground a commercial center with rapid transit system that connects this unit to the other units. Above ground, going some twenty stories up, are luxurious apartments with plenty of windows, amenities, everything they could want. There would be gymnasiums, pools, recreational centers, etc... Outside of that unit, which could hold hundreds of families, would be park land, with, of course, educational and religious centers where children could learn and people could go to worship. The industrial sector would be some miles away, and office buildings and the like would be underground in either the residential or industrial centers. All this makes sense to me. And you can't watch an episode of Star Trek: TNG or DS9 without thinking that if everyone had an apartment like that, it would be wonderful. Of course, the government system would be similar to the Federation, or if nothing else, a Socialist type government, where the basic needs of the families would be seen to. Everything would be wonderful.

But of course it wouldn't be. Because human nature says that not everyone can be equal. Not everyone can get along with their neighbors, nor can they accept the life of living amongst everyone else. The need to have a house or mansion far away from the masses is too strong. And crime takes place, and accidents, and all the other things that would make this type of living impossible.

It doesn't mean, though, that we can't strive for the days when we can live like this. As I said before, self-regulation is key to surviving with our fellow human beings. That and the need for improving one self should be more important that the need for competing with others to gain more wealth, power,...etc. The problem with this is that material goods are too important here for this to happen. The only reason that the Federation worked was because matter and energy could be converted one to another, and material wealth was negated. We don't have that yet. And working, as in Sisko's father's restaurant, was done for the joy of working and making people happy, not earning wages. People haven't yet embraced the idea of working for personal satisfaction. We complain when someone goes over their lunch break by 5 minutes, and it kills us to work past when we are supposed to.

So while Le Corbusier's ideas never came to pass, and the Utopian ideas he maintained would never work in his, or our, society, we should keep striving toward it. We must achieve harmony with the world around us, in both the earth and the stone structures we erect to go about our lives in.
But as I have come to this conclusion, I still want to look at why we live in the houses that we do, what people have to gain from this arrangement, and what modern day neighborhoods have taken a step toward making an economical, environmental, and social living structure possible.

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