This serene lateral perspective of Le Corbusier’s and Pierre Jeanneret’s Swiss Pavilion conceals the difficulty of the conditions in which the building was realized. The Cité internationale universitaire de Paris had been founded in 1921 to accommodate foreign students in the city. Architecturally it had grown rapidly into a collection of often sappy, overstyled buildings, each associated with one of the nations represented at the university. Le Corbusier and his cousin and associate Pierre Jeanneret at first refused the commission for the Swiss Pavilion, which was offered to them in 1930 by the Comité des Universités suisses. The president of the Cité universitaire himself felt that the allotted budget was inadequate; in addition, the building was to sit on soft, unsteady soil that would make the foundations hard to calculate and build. Yet Le Corbusier and Jeanneret finally accepted the commission.
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret—Le Corbusier—was among the most innovative and revolutionary architects of the twentieth century. Even before adopting his famous pseudonym, in 1920, he had set out to revise the creative relationships between engineering and architecture and between architecture and art. His and Pierre Jeanneret’s manifesto essay 5 Points d’une architecture nouvelle (1926), only one among his many opinionated contributions to the field, laid out five features he considered basic to the new architecture, and all of these features but one, the roof garden, appear in the scheme for the Swiss Pavilion: the pilotis elevating the building off the ground; the free plan, in which the weight of the building is born by columns separated from the building’s outer walls, allowing a flexible interior space; the free facade, a consequence of the free plan; and the long horizontal windows.
Not only is the finished Swiss Pavilion beautiful in its efficiency, it also anticipated a new way of building entire city neighborhoods. This presentation drawing shows a building that could indeed be a proud element of Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse, the model of the ideal city that the architect was developing and that he would first publicize in 1933. Le Corbusier’s signature pilotis, transformed here into sturdier pylons, provide an intuitive and fluid solution to pedestrian circulation. The orientation of the building to absorb as much healthy sunlight as possible, and the disposition of the public and private spaces, testify to Le Corbusier’s idealistic belief in the power of architecture to organize and uplift individuals and whole communities.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Paola Antonelli, in Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 74.