‘If I had to teach you architecture…’
In early 1938, a group of AA students launched the magazine FOCUS. Campaigning for educational change, they secured an astonishing editorial coup – an article from none other than Le Corbusier himself, entitled ‘If I had to teach you architecture…’. This week’s AA Collections Blog reprints selections from the article…:
“The architecture of the new age has triumphed the world over. But it is still subject to violent and insidious oppression. It upsets too many prejudices, too many vested interests. The whole country is controlled by commercial obstructiveness, and by architects who employ old-fashioned technique, and so find it impossible to meet the demands of a new clientele. They invoke sacred traditions, good taste, beauty – Pericles or Louis XIV, whichever you like…”
The teachers in the schools are extremely worried by the curiosity of their students, by their indiscreet questions, and their almost irrepressible enthusiasm. Life is no longer a joke for the majority of teaching staff in most schools… One of the crucial aspects of the whole question lies in the teaching of architecture in schools. In this respect, certain countries are asleep and cling to tradition: the students are all right, but the instructors… They still don’t hesitate, two thousand years afterwards, to become more Roman than the Romans, more German than the Germans, etc. Nationalism only serves to encumber architecture with all sorts of trappings which have nothing to do with the actual problem…
What is even more ludicrous to see is the fierce opposition of our fathers and grandfathers (magistrates, town councillors, etc) to any manifestation of the modern spirit. Who are the towns of the future designed for? For those who will soon be dead, with their habits anchored to the pit of their stomach, or for those who are yet unborn?
I would strive to inculcate in my pupils a keen sense of control, of unbiased judgement, and of the ‘how’ and ‘why’… I would encourage them to cultivate this sense until their dying day. But I would want them to base it on an objective series of facts. Facts are fluid and changeable, especially nowadays, so I would impress on them that everything is relative…
Here is golden rule: use coloured pencils. With colour, you accentuate, you classify, you disentangle. With black pencil you get stuck in the mud and you’re lost! Always say to yourself: Drawings must be read. Colour will come to the rescue…
Now that I have appealed to your sense of honesty, I should like to inculcate in you, and in all students of architecture, a hatred of ‘drawing board stylism’, which is merely covering a sheet of paper with alluring pictures, ‘styles’ or ‘orders’ – these are fashions. But architecture is space, breadth, depth and height, volume and circulation. Architecture is a conception of the mind. It must be conceived in your head with your eyes shut… Architecture is organisation. YOU ARE A ORGANISER, NOT A DRAWING BOARD STYLIST.
- Le Corbusier at the AA in 1947, with his translator, Clive Entwistle, and AA student Allen Ballantyne. AA Archives.
- FOCUS No. 1, 1938; Le Corbusier on the main AA stairs in 1953. AA Archives.
- Le Corbusier at the AA in 1953, talking with J.M. Richards and AA President, Howard Robertson. AA Archives.