Le Corbusier made this sketch during a lecture he delivered on November 27, 1935, under the title "City Planning." He was addressing the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects, as part of a lecture tour—his first trip to the United States. The trip was prompted in part by an exhibition of Le Corbusier's work at The Museum of Modern Art, organized by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock.
Le Corbusier's first version of his plan for the North African city of Algiers, developed between 1930 and 1933, represented the culmination of his 1920s work on urban design, and especially of his concept of the Ville radieuse. Even in its several later incarnations, the plan was also a loud demonstration of the disruptive effects of his architecture, which tended to obliterate the past in order to build a better future. Well aware of this quality, the architect called his plan the "Obus" or "shrapnel" plan. It featured a business center on the docks, where the preexisting buildings were to be torn down; a residential neighborhood on the difficult, hilly site of the Fort l'Empereur; and a giant motorway, the land below it to be filled by homes for 180,000 people. The plan was as magniloquent as it was visionary, as is evident in the right half of the drawing, where Le Corbusier's blue pencil highlights the new buildings. The plan on the left shows his vision for the new city culminating in the new buildings on the docks, marked in red on a yellow field.
The courage of Le Corbusier's Obus design, his readiness to tackle urban planning on a giant scale, influenced generations of later architects and indirectly informed the construction of a number of new cities such as Brasília. As for Le Corbusier himself, however, he continued to make new proposals until 1942, but his Algiers—like his other urban plans—was never built.
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. 86.