Storm brewing ahead of Le Corbusier retrospective

Gail Taylor
Tuesday 31 Mar 2015

Books expose new details of architect’s fascist leanings

WAN editor, Michael Hammond speaks exclusively to François Chaslin, the author of a controversial Le Corbusier biography and his alleged leanings towards Hitler during the Second World War. 

The book, entitled simply Un Corbusier, has just been published – not long before a retrospective of the iconic architect’s work takes place at the Pompidou Centre in Paris on the 50th anniversary of his death in April. According to an article in the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper, the book accuses Le Corbusier, whose real name was Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, of ‘expressing admiration’ for Adolf Hitler. 

Chaslin claims that in a letter in the 1920s, the architect refers to ‘Jewish cretins’, and also reveals that he was ‘keen on eugenics’ and worked from 1942–1944 in a foundation as a ‘technical advisor’ to Alexis Carrel, a doctor and eugenics technician. The book says that in 1942 he wrote to his beloved mother saying that Hitler was ‘a glimmer of good’ and rejoiced in the great ‘clean-up’ that was about to happen.

A second book by Xavier de Jarcy entitled Le Corbusier, a French Fascism is also mentioned in the Sunday Times report. De Jarcy told the newspaper, “The most shocking thing is not that the world’s best-known architect was a militant fascist. It’s the discovery that a veil of silence and lies was thrown over this reality.”

However, others argue that the timing of Chaslin’s book is a deliberate attempt to throw mud at Le Corbusier’s name at a time when many people are, or were, intending to celebrate it. Leading French architect and a well-known expert on Le Corbusier, Jean-Louis Cohen told us that he feels the ‘campaign’ against Le Corbusier is excessive, and that while he may have been anti-Semitic at times, he was no more so than ‘the average French petit-bourgeois’.

He also raised the valid point that if Le Corbusier is to be questioned in this way, we should also be talking about ‘architects working for French, British, Italian colonialists’ and about ‘architects working with a very different language for all the totalitarian regimes’ out there.

However, when Michael Hammond spoke to François Chaslin, he denied that his book is intended to disrupt the Pompidou Centre exhibition. Rather, he described the book as a ‘literary portrait’ or ‘collage’ and pointed out that of its 500 pages, only about 100 relate to fascism. He feels the media has seized on that aspect alone. He also said that he very much liked Le Corbusier’s work, had around 400 books about him, had visited all his buildings around the world, and felt that he was ‘the most important architect of the past century’.

When asked if it was painful to write unpalatable things about an architect he admired so much, Chaslin said that it was not. He explained that he was a historian and therefore understood that the quality of, say, a painter or musician was ‘not necessarily the quality of the man in psychological terms’.

Listen to the full podcast interview with François Chaslin, Xavier de Jarcy, and Jean-Louis Cohen.

Gail Taylor

Features editor

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