This year marks the 50th anniversary of the construction of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Completed in 1963, it is Le Corbusier’s only major building in the United States, and one of his final commissions before his death in 1965. The renowned modernist architect envisaged a “synthesis of the arts,” the union of architecture with sculpture, painting, and other arts. In the spirit of Corbusier’s unique style, the building stands out among the more traditional architectural prototypes of the Harvard campus. This is evident right from his initial concept sketch of the building, where Corbusier utilized bold colors to denote the new building, while shading the surrounding Harvard campus in dark brown—a color not typically part of his visual palette.
The Center is unmistakably Corbusier, and reminiscent of the Villa Savoye with its smooth concrete finish, thin columns which break up the interior spaces, and a great curvilinear ramp which runs through the heart of the building, encouraging public circulation while providing views into the design studios. This achieves visibility and transparency of the creative process taking place within. To mark the anniversary of the buildings completion, Harvard displayed new material that revealed the evolution of this unique five-story structure. While Le Corbusier was never able to see his preliminary sketches come to fruition, the Carpenter Center for the Arts successfully unites a range of art disciplines, and continues to maintain the largest 35mm film collection in the New England region, as well as housing Harvard’s historic film archives.