Revisiting The Radiant City
A note accompanies this photo in Le Corbusier’s The Radiant City (1933):
“outside our apartments in the Radiant City: we come home from work and change; our friends are there waiting. High spirits, physical activity. And then we can go on to think about the 'serious' things afterwards."
I can see myself now, coming home after a long day's work and running the steeplechase with my neighbors. :) Le Corbusier’s plans, while at times charmingly unrealistic, are also blamed for inspiring the spread of giant housing projects in cities around the world. But is there enduring value in his thinking?
Two possibilities come to mind: 1) his embrace of new technology to improve living conditions, and 2) his use of space to minimize the ground cover of buildings.
As for technology, Le Corbusier tended to adopt ideas of mass production uncritically. However, his thoughts on prefabricated structures have great potential. As evident in the recent exhibition Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling, the featured houses in Dwell Magazine, and the assembly of LivingHomes, prefab architecture is coming into its own. What if we could design our own houses from components displayed online? Would this result in monstrosities or homes well-adapted to our needs? Could this be a way of realizing some of the building ideas in Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language?
While Le Corbusier's use of space wouldn't work for everyone, tall buildings on pilotis with roof gardens would minimize the acreage occupied by our homes. This could bring benefits associated with energy efficiency, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and (provided that amenities are within walking distance) reduced dependence on automobiles. I don't suggest that everyone should live in this kind of building, and the architecture could use rethinking; still the idea of freeing up space for agriculture, forests, and recreation sounds promising.
Although we might not find spontaneous track meets in our yards, I think Le Corbusier was on to something.
(Photo of runners scanned from The Radiant City. Photo of the Swiss Pavillion from www.culture.gouv.fr)