Le Corbusier Ville Radieuse (1930)

“Exact Air,” from Le Corbusier’s Radiant City (1930)

Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse (1930)

Exact air? Queens and Brooklyn could probably use it, seeing the tornado that just passed through here. Perhaps it’s too fantastic, pure technological messianism. Still, it’s interesting. Le Corbusier on “exact air”:

But then where is Utopia, where the temperature is 64.4º?…
And why the devil do men insist on living in difficult or dangerous climates? I’ve no idea! But I can observe a worsening situation:
The variety of climates had forged races, cultures, customs, dress, and work methods suited to the obtaining conditions.
Alas, the machine age has, as it were, shuffled the cards — the age-old cards of the world. Since the machine age, the product of progress, has disturbed everything, couldn’t it also give us the means to salvation?
Multiplicity of climates, play of seasons, a break with secular traditions — confusion, disorder, and the martyrdom of man.
I seek the remedy, I seek the constant; I find the human lung. With adaptability and intelligence, let’s give the lung the constant which is the prerequisite of its functioning: exact air.
Let’s manufacture exact air: filters, driers, humidifiers, disinfectors. Machines of childish simplicity.
Send exact air into men’s lungs, at home, at the factory, at the office, at the club and the auditorium: ventilators, machines so often used, but so often used badly!
Let’s give man the solar rays which will penetrate the all-glass facades. But will be too hot in the summer and terribly cold in the winter! Let’s create ‘neutralizing walls.’ (And ‘sun control’).

— Le Corbusier, The Radiant City: Elements of a Doctrine of Urbanism to be Used as the Basis of Our Magine-Age Civilization (1933), pg. 42.

Le Corbusier's Ville Radieuse (1930)

Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse (1930)

S. Gorny on Le Corbusier’s proposal:

Sometimes his imagination carries him (Le Corbusier) toward Soviet Moscow, and in that case, to a series of questions about the organization of collective living, he proposes solutions of vital interest. Sometimes he turns back toward Paris, and in his mind’s eye he sees the nervewracked big-city dweller under present-day capitalism who must be rescued from noise and chaos, from the crowds and the stench of the streets: then he proposes the ineffectual measures of the most radical city planning.

When we read H.G. Wells’ description of the city of the future, where the sky is replaced by a roof stretching over the entire city, where the sun is replaced by a constant and factitious light, where the artificial temperature is always even, we imagine a highly intelligent man, cloistered in his study, feeling the inevitable approach of a collectivist era and, in a rush of impotent wrath, striving to compromise the future by every means; all of Wells’ works in which he tries to imagine the society of the future are pervaded by this tendency.

But when we read a few passages from Le Corbusier’s report, we come away with the impression that he consulted none other than Wells about the problems of urban organization.

[Quoting Le Corbusier] “The adoption of so-called ‘exact respiration,’ a system based on the production of what it has been agreed to call ‘exact air,’ should allow each resident to enjoy pure air and to maintain even temperature and humidity in his rooms. The system consists of this: As to the isothermicity of the translucid walls, experimental laboratories will be able in the near future to give us a new translucid material whose isothermal properties will be equal to that of the thickest wall. From then on, we will witness the inauguration of a new era: buildings will be altogether hermetically closed, the use of air in the rooms being provided for by the closed air circuits mentioned above. Windows will no longer be needed on the facades; consequently neither dust nor flies nor mosquitoes will enter the houses; nor will noise. Experiments on the absorption of sound, especially in the buildings of steel and reinforced concrete, must be pursued!”

[Gorny again] We repeat: it was our feeling that so morbid a fantasy could have been engendered only in the stale air of a solitary study, by an intellectual representative of bourgeois society who can see no other way of escaping the noise and stench of the big cities. It is therefore strange and startling to hear these same themes uttered by Le Corbusier, one of the foremost practical workers in the field of reconstruction of material culture.

— Quoted in ibid., pg. 46

6 thoughts on ““Exact Air,” from Le Corbusier’s Radiant City (1930)

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  3. Even the air that God gave to us, we modify through machines and make it artificial. What happened to human race? We become so stupidly artificial, and we drift so much away from nature.
    Is that economic, to breathe artificial air instead of natural one? Or is that healthy?
    I’m pretty sure the best solution for a human to live is a natural one, but we become so easy-going that only few of us want to return to a previous, more traditional, style of life, and even more fewer can do that. Pity! This planet was a beautiful place before…
    Radious city? What can be so radious when all that a city can produce is gas, noise, and destroy earth for construction, and what can be so beautifully about a city when it is literally a scar on the surface of the earth, where people live in aglomeration. That is what cities are, scars on the surface of the earth! Too much concrete, too much steal, too much bricks, too much glass, too much plastics,… where is the love for the natural materials? Or we are afraid that those are not to good for construction? It can be demonstrated that natural material are sometimes more durable, and always more rational to use than artificial ones. Of course you will not make a sky-scraper of wood, but it can result that you don’t need a sky-scraper…
    Too much talk already, and I don’t know if there is anybody to listen.

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