Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Fascism and Architects

The BBC has a story about one of the major minds behind modernist architecture – Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier: Do fascist links discredit architect Le Corbusier? The more you read about Le Corbusier, the more you realize just what a weirdo this guy was - he spent his last years nearly nude in a cabin inspired by human physiology. And this is the guy who practically invented modern architecture and is a hero to millions of architects?
Le Corbusier, born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret in 1887, moved to France from Switzerland at the age of 20 and later became a French citizen.

Some links to France's war-time government are well-known, but Mr de Jarcy says the new research shows much deeper ties.

"I discovered he was a member of a militant fascist group," he says. "And he published around 20 articles which were clearly fascist in nature, where he declared himself in favour of a corporatist state on the model of Mussolini. "There are also several witness statements from other group members, from his doctor who was a close friend, and from other militants."

Dr Caroline Levitt from Britain's Courtauld Institute says the commonly accepted fudge is that Le Corbusier had "ambiguous politics". And in some ways, she says, they were just that."His politics tended to shift," she told me. "He was more of an ideologist than a politician. He was interested in the potential of architecture - what it could do."

And it wasn't unusual for artists from that period to be labelled both communist and fascist, she says, and what made Le Corbusier so easily appropriated by both sides is his insistence on purification and classicism."He was trying to wipe out the troubled art of a troubled era, and suggest a life of order and clarity," she said. "That's very appropriable by the Right. But it was also about shaking up the established ideas of the bourgeoisie, which is more akin to ideas of the Left."

What isn't often talked about - or is consigned to a couple of lines - says Dr Levitt, is the work done by Le Corbusier for France's Vichy government in the early 1940s, drawing up city plans for Algiers. And when it comes to the issue of Le Corbusier, he says, there is a much wider relationship between the worlds of art and politics."Modernism as a concept has an awkward relationship with fascism. If you look at Brutalist, Fascist and Modernist architecture, there's a clear relationship. "Although Hitler and the Nazi high command vilified modern art, they also drew a great deal of their aesthetic from it."
It interesting just how much of  fascist background lurks behind modern architecture. For example, Corbu was hardly alone in his fascist sympathies: One of Americas Most Famous Architects Was a Nazi Propagandist (Paleofuture)
American architect Philip Johnson designed some of the most iconic buildings of the 20th century. Johnson, who died in 2005, has long been hailed as one of the greats. But there's one fact about the man that many people in the architecture community don't like to talk about: Johnson was a fascist who openly supported Adolf Hitler and the Nazis for nearly a decade.

Johnson visited Germany in the 1930s at the invitation of the government's Propaganda Ministry. He wrote numerous articles for far right publications. He started a fascist organization called the Gray Shirts in the United States. He was with the Nazis when they invaded Poland and wrote about how it wasn't as bad as the American press was making it out to be. He was an ardent supporter of the notoriously anti-semitic Father Coughlin. And he was so in the tank for the Nazis that the FBI even suspected him of being a spy.

"You simply could not fail to be caught up in the excitement of it," Johnson would tell an interviewer about attending a 1932 Hitler rally in Potsdam, Germany. " the marching songs, by the crescendo and climax of the whole thing, as Hitler came on at last to harangue the crowd."

Johnson embraced nearly everything Hitler stood for. As late as 1940, Johnson was insisting that photos of victims of the Nazis being shown in the American press were staged in Brooklyn. He openly talked about his hatred for the Jews — "a different breed of humanity, flitting about like locusts," as he would later describe them — and his belief in racial purity.

"The decline in fertility, so far as scientists have been able to discover, is unique in the history of the white race," Johnson wrote in a 1938 article. "In short, the United States of America is committing race suicide."

Johnson was an advocate of forced eugenics. He was called a fascist in Harper's. But none of this hindered his career. He would go on to become a well-respected member of the architecture community, rarely confronted with his disgusting past — a decade of racist, fascist hate-mongering.
Johnson, by the way, was the chief evangelist of modernist architecture in the U.S.A. If you read histories of the period, he almost singlehandedly brought the modernists over from Europe where they took over the departments of the nation's architecture universities. The result is things like this rather odd-looking emergency room that I ran across in my latest issue of Metal Architecture:

I wonder what the conservative citizens of Allen, Texas think. It kind of looks like the place those UN troops from the Jade Helm exercises would hang out, or possibly a FEMA detention center. We were joking at work the other day about how it seems all the current designs are inspired by improperly folded edges in Sketchup (inside joke).

For a history of architecture, see these earlier posts:

Post War Architecture

The Architecture of Doom

BONUS: Totalitarian Architecture of the Third Reich (Socialphy)


  1. I've never found this type of architecture to be attractive in the least. There was something organic and truly artistic about the architecture prior to 1940. Art Deco, Art Nouveau, the Tutor houses, the cottages. Even Bucky Fuller's unique houses had character and warmth. What you are showing me here is a perfect example of the how most buildings nowadays seem to look more like either something out of The Jetsons or mental institutions. But, the latter may actually seem quite fitting when you consider that modern society, at the crest of post peak oil, has become an insane asylum in its own right.

  2. Good work, but don't forget the architects who are also Objectivists, ones who were inspired by Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" to pursue both their careers and their politics. I know one, smart guy but an odd duck. At least he didn't follow his idol's example on love and sex, although I had to chase him away from my ex-girlfriend several times. Add that one to my list of insults of Objectivists.


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