A Center for Corbusiers

Le Corbusier's final project opens to the public with Mon univers

The colorful Centre Le Corbusier has been reopened to the public. (Courtesy ZHdK)

To even the most casual observer, Le Corbusier has become a household name. His lifetime achievements in brutalist architecture, city planning, and pilotis represent his tireless search for modernism, and now, more than a half-century after his death, the Swiss architect’s legacy is being reconsidered with the public reopening of his final work, the Centre Le Corbusier, in Zurich.

Originally named the Heidi Weber Museum, or “La Maison de l’Homme,” Le Corbusier designed the museum for his friend and patron Heidi Weber. A tireless devotee to the architect and his other forays into art, Weber envisioned displaying her large collection of Corbusier-designed objects in this purpose-built building. It is the only museum exclusively dedicated to an architect as a visual artist and includes his paintings, sculptures, furniture, tapestries, and collages, among other media. The museum recognizes the building itself as central to the collection and narrative as well, as many of Corbusier’s artistic ideas are manifest in his final body of work—despite being one of his only buildings composed almost entirely of glass and steel.

Courtesy ZHdK

The building aligns with many modernist ideals and aesthetics. The structure was prefabricated, with the steel parts cast in foundries off-site and installed in the largest pieces possible. The primary color scheme is a nod to the De Stijl, a popular Dutch movement focusing on color founded after World War I. Corbusier also manages to integrate his signature concrete elements in the highly stylized inner staircase and in the fabrication of an external ramp. The concrete is raw and textured, and the lines of the formwork are visible for posterity. Warm wooden elements on walls and on the stairs add a soft contrast between the natural and manufactured materials of the building, as seen in his famous works at Ronchamp and the Maisons Jaoul.

Courtesy ZHdK

Le Corbusier died the same year he completed the design for the museum, however. The building was completed two years later in 1967, but only after the chaos of the unexpected death and the assemblage of a new construction team. The building faced further complications after its final opening, as its sole proprietor, Heidi Weber, struggled to maintain the museum both physically as well as programmatically, with the building often only sporadically open as Weber juggled logistics and operating costs.

In 2014 Weber’s 50-year operating term came to a close, and the city of Zurich began its search for a replacement that would celebrate Le Corbusier’s legacy and final work in the way the architect envisioned. The Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, a specialist institution for art and communication, was selected in 2019 and both city and museum agreed to invest in inside-out renovations. Local architects Silvio Schmed and Arthur Rüegg were selected to head up the project, and the pair collaborated on the restoration process while adhering to preservationist principles.

The opening exhibition, Mon univers, runs through November 17 and achieves the exhibition vision of the famous Swiss architect and his patron—an impressive and comprehensive collection of Corbusier’s art and objects acquired on world travels, coupled with both a photographic exhibition highlighting the architect himself by René Burri.

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