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Insights into the daily life of Le Corbusier: the agendas in the Fondation Le Corbusier.

Aperçu de la vie quotidienne de Le Corbusier : les agendas de la Fondation Le Corbusier.
Tim Benton

Résumé

The resources available for research at the Fondation Le Corbusier are many and varied. Among these, the agendas (diaries) offer particularly intriguing insights into the public and private life of Le Corbusier. These diaries present a number of difficulties to the researcher: the notes are often difficult to read and even more difficult to interpret. The organisation of the diaries has to be understood. The pages of the diaries are undated. Establishing the approximate dates for each page presents a challenge that can only be overcome by reference to a wide range of other documentation. This paper offers suggestions for how to analyse and interpret this difficult material. With a number of worked examples, an indication is given of some of the insights that can be obtained from mining this data.

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  • 1 Fondation Le Corbusier (FLC) F3-3 (1-11), F3-4 (1-8), F3-5(1-10) and F3-6(1-7). F3-6-7 is an addr (...)
  • 2 Tim Benton, “From Jeanneret to Le Corbusier: rusting iron, bricks and coal and the modern Utopia” (...)

1Historical documents present many kinds of difficulty to the researcher. Legibility is the first obstacle. It is not only the medieval and ancient palaeographers who have difficulty deciphering manuscripts. I have worked on the 36 personal diaries (“agendas”) that the architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) owned, spanning the interwar years1. Why study this material? The diaries are of particular interest because they record daily events, conversations and intentions for which no other evidence is available. The Le Corbusier archive is of interest beyond the biography of the architect. It presents a very complete record of architectural practice in the twentieth century, allowing for detailed analysis of successful and failed building projects. But it also contains a mass of material on the economic and cultural life of Paris and the many places Le Corbusier visited in his lifetime. For example, there are over one thousand letters and documents pertaining to the unsuccessful industrial and commercial undertakings that occupied Le Corbusier’s time and energy from 1917 until his bankruptcy in 19232. This documentation provides insights into the recession in France in the early 1920s and the problems posed by the war reparations clauses in the Treaty of Versailles. There is also a mass of documentation of Le Corbusier’s attempts to lobby international leaders and opinion formers to support his project for the Palace of the League of Nations which reveals many of the diplomatic fractures that undermined the attempts to establish a stable world peace.

  • 3 D. Pauly et al., Le Corbusier catalogue raisonné des dessins Tome I Années de formation et premie (...)

2Among the sources available to scholars are Le Corbusier’s sketchbooks and the little notebooks that he took with him everywhere and in which he noted things of interest and made sketches. These have been extensively studied, as have been his collections of postcards and photographs3. Many scholars have consulted the diaries in pursuit of particular pieces of information, but few have worked out how they were constructed and how to date the information. This is because, unlike conventional printed diaries, these agendas have no dates on each page. This note is intended to help scholars make use of this information. As I try to demonstrate, understanding the diaries requires lateral research into other sources. To this end, I have given a number of detailed examples showing how puzzles can sometimes be resolved by cross-checking with the correspondence, address books and other information.

The diaries

3This paper focuses on the thirty five diaries from the 1920s and 1930s with the addition of an address book. The diaries employ small squared paper with rounded corners and are hand-stitched. They have black imitation leather covers. Exceptions are the five diaries between 1932 and 1935 which have orange, green or grey card covers, three of them with the Gallia manufacturers stamp. The notebooks between 1920 and 1925 measure approximately 7 x 19 cm., several with the sticker of the Papeterie Normand, 32, passage du Havre, Paris. From February 1926 the notebooks are larger – 8 x 22 cm – and some bear the sticker of the Papeterie Royer, 54 rue de Seine. Most of the notebooks have between 48 and 52 pages, but the first (F3(3)1) and several from the later 1930s have between 90 and 105 pages. Some pages have become detached over the years. The agendas for the 1920s and 1930s therefore contain over 1500 pages, or 3,000 sides of notes (recto and verso), a considerable mass of data.

Figure . Le Corbusier, Diary covering June to September 1920, fols. 3v et 4r (FLC F3(3)1)

Figure . Le Corbusier, Diary covering June to September 1920, fols. 3v et 4r (FLC F3(3)1)

Figure . Le Corbusier, Covers of the agendas F3(3)4, F3(5)7 and F3(6)2

Figure . Le Corbusier, Covers of the agendas F3(3)4, F3(5)7 and F3(6)2

Deciphering the handwriting

  • 4 FLC F3 (6) 7.

4In these agendas Le Corbusier jotted down notes, often on the move or on the telephone, in pencil or pen. The clarity and legibility of the handwriting varies enormously, but it is impossible in some cases to decipher a name or word unless one has a good idea of what it might be. There are some aids to making reasonable identifications of names. An address book, mostly written by a secretary or assistant but with some additions by the master, covers the period of the 1940s with some names derived from the 1930s correspondence4. This is usually more legible than Le Corbusier’s notes.

Figure . Le Corbusier’s address book, compiled in the early 1950s (FLC F3(6)7)

Figure . Le Corbusier’s address book, compiled in the early 1950s (FLC F3(6)7)
  • 5 FLC F3 (11) 7. The first 15 folios include addresses, accumulated in haphazard order. The remaini (...)
  • 6 FLC A1(3)251-3. These lists include some information of place of origin. The spelling of the name (...)
  • 7 FLC F3(6)5 fol. 18v

5The names and details are clearly copied from Le Corbusier’s notes, since there are frequent question marks, and many of the names are accompanied by “M?”, indicating that the secretary did not know the gender of the person or whether they had a professional title. A notebook including names, addresses and telephone numbers in Le Corbusier’s hand also covers the 1940s5. A careful transcription of these two documents provides not only an index to around 700 names but in many cases identifications of their position or role, addresses and telephone numbers as well. Occasionally we find lists of people that can help decipher illegible names. For example, among the records for the Esprit Nouveau magazine we find some typed lists of subscribers6. In the diary for 1938 is a list of people to co-opt for his petition about the Palais des Soviets7.

  • 8 www.FondationLeCorbusier.fr Archives/Correspondance. Excluded from this list is correspondence as (...)
  • 9 Visiting card of René Addor FLC E1(1)8 and correspondence about various projects FLC E1(1)9-13.

6Another useful source of names is the index to the interwar correspondence provided by the Fondation Le Corbusier8. Under the heading “Correspondance the website includes some of the names of people with whom Le Corbusier corresponded in the period preceding 1946 arranged alphabetically. Organized separately are other collections of correspondence, such as that associated with the Briqueterie d’Alfortville, the Esprit Nouveau magazine and all the built and unbuilt architectural projects. After the war, the correspondence is listed under Courriers Chronologiques and organized by year. On the computers at the Fondation Le Corbusier, but not on the website, names throughout the database can be found using a global search. As a last resort, of course, names can be searched on the BnF Gallica site (for example, see note 41). To give an example among many: a name that could be read as “Addoc”, “Addi” or “Addo” appears frequently in the agenda for March to October 1935. The address book gives us R. Addor, engineer, of 16, Avenue Duval-le-Camus, Saint-Cloud, confirmed by correspondence in the archive9.

Interpreting the data

7The problems do not end when an apparently illegible text has been transcribed. There is a big difference between data and information, between signs transposed into recognisable language and a full understanding of what the words mean. A correctly transcribed name can be considered as data: information involves knowing who the person is, why Le Corbusier might have wanted to meet or talk with him or her and why this might be important. Data about an event become information when one knows when it took place, where, who participated and what was its significance.

Figure . Detail of folios 8v and 9r of the diary covering May 1938 to November 1939 (F3(6)5)

Figure . Detail of folios 8v and 9r of the diary covering May 1938 to November 1939 (F3(6)5)
  • 10 FLC F3(6)5 fol 9r.The architect Henri Pacon also lived at 9 rue Falguière.
  • 11 The Tuesday of the same week is dated 21 June 1938.
  • 12 FLC F3(6)7 fol.36r.
  • 13 FLC I1(1)130.
  • 14 FLC I1(1)132.
  • 15 FLC F3(6)7 folio 42r.
  • 16 Postcard from Le Corbusier’s mother to Le Corbusier and Yvonne at Rev-Estello 12 March 1938, lett (...)
  • 17 Letter of Le Corbusier to his mother 23 August 1938, with an account of his accident on the 13th (...)

8For example, in his diary begun on 20 May 1938 we read “Pégurier” of 9, rue Falguière10. This appears to be an invitation to lunch on Thursday 23 June 193811. The address book confirms this Paris address and adds that of her house “Rev Estello” (“près de Saint-Tropez)12. A letter from this lady to Le Corbusier’s mother of 31 March 1937 had invited her to stay at her house near Saint-Tropez, which she called “Le Pelou13”. She clearly asked Le Corbusier to redesign her house because he responds to this effect on 8 April 1937.14 On 13 May 1937 Le Corbusier writes to a Mr. Steele, explaining that Mme Pégurier is the widow of an artist with a large house at Saint-Tropez that she wants to sell for development as a hotel and for which she needs some finance. The address book informs us that Mr. Steele had an office at 33 avenue des Champs-Elysées and a home address at 21, rue de Pontoise and was presumably in a position to help her out15. Le Corbusier and Yvonne stayed with Mme Pégurier at “Rev Estello” in March 1938 and again in July and August 193816. This little snippet of life becomes interesting when we learn that Le Corbusier must have been staying at “Rev Estello” on August 13 1938, when he suffered a terrible accident swimming in the harbour of Saint-Tropez17. It also dispels the idea that the only place Le Corbusier and Yvonne visited on the Côte d’Azur was the Villa au bord de mer – E-1027 – designed by Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici in 1929.

  • 18 Tim Benton, “Le Corbusier e il vernacolare: Le Sextant à Les Mathes 1935”, Le Case per artisti su (...)

9The address book also supplies additional information. For example, under “P” in F3(6)7 we find not only the retired General of the French Salvation Army Albin Peyron, but the names and addresses of his two sons, one of whom, also named Albin, was the client of the weekend house ‘Le Sextant’ at Les Mathes, designed by Le Corbusier in 193518.

Content and organisation of the diaries

10Le Corbusier used these slim diaries for various purposes: notes about meetings or about things he had seen, reminders of things to do (often labelled “urgent”), appointments (identified by time and day of the week) and sketches or notes about things on his mind, for example, articles or lectures to prepare. He filled the notebooks from both ends. From the front (the “front-matter”) are the appointments and things to do; from the back (the end-matter) are the more discursive notes and sketches. When the notes from front and back met up, he began a new notebook. It follows from this that the pages in the “front-matter” proceed chronologically from left to right, while those of the “end-matter” advance from right to left (from the end in the direction of the beginning). Confirmation for this comes from one of the early agendas where he followed this system. On folio 41v (the penultimate page) of the agenda F3(3)2 which Le Corbusier says was started in February 1922, he noted events dated 16 and 17 February while on folio 40r he notes dates of the 19th to the 25th.

  • 19 FLC F3(5)4 fol. 8r Professor Rudolf Fueter, Rector of Zurich University played a key role in supp (...)
  • 20 FLC F3(3)3-47. These pages can only be dated approximately, to May 1922.
  • 21 See for example the axonometric view FLC 10919, B. B. Taylor, Le Corbusier la Cité de refuge Pari (...)
  • 22 Letter to his mother 27 September 1932 (FLC R2(1)178).

11The value of these agendas lies in part in the inherent interest of the notes and observations. For example in late June 1932 Le Corbusier notes : « Écrire Fueter ; avons intention photo collage, envoyer des documents ». This is the first indication of the photo mural which he and Pierre Jeanneret would unveil in the dining room of the Pavillon suisse a year later19. Some of the notes in the end-matter include drafts of lectures or presentations, sketches of paintings or buildings and commentaries on things he had seen and heard. For example, on folios 46v and 47r of an agenda begun in May 1922 are little sketches in plan and elevation of skyscrapers associated with his project for Une ville contemporaine de trois millions d’habitants and a note to put the railway stations underground20. In another agenda, on folio 46v we find a delightful Purist still life and a note about his project of Immeubles-Villas for the Franco-American company, dated July 1922. On folios 45v and 46r, which follow on in date (being part of the ‘end-matter’) are a set of plans for a small house. Around 16 September 1932, Le Corbusier made three astonishing sketches of ideas for developing the area around the Salvation Army hostel on the rue Cantagrel. These are connected with the Cité d’hébergement (or Cité d’hospitalisation) project, a massive extension of the Salvation Army hostel21. These sketches were done while he was at his mother’s house, a visit that ended on 26 September 193222.

Figure . Le Corbusier, fanciful perspective of Cité de refuge, already in construction (above) and project for developing the surrounding area with a Cité d’hébergement (FLC F3(5)4 fols 26v and 27r)

Figure . Le Corbusier, fanciful perspective of Cité de refuge, already in construction (above) and project for developing the surrounding area with a Cité d’hébergement (FLC F3(5)4 fols 26v and 27r)

Figure . Le Corbusier , sketch plan of area to North of the Cité de refuge, as far as the rue Tolbiac, indicating location of “immense housing estate” (FLC F3(5)4 fol 27v)

Figure . Le Corbusier , sketch plan of area to North of the Cité de refuge, as far as the rue Tolbiac, indicating location of “immense housing estate” (FLC F3(5)4 fol 27v)
  • 23 FLC F3(6)4 90r-75v passim. On folio 89v a sketch of a landscape is annotated “14 heures 45 (3[…] (...)

12Sometimes, the preparatory notes Le Corbusier jotted down for his lectures are of particular value because we have little or no other record of their contents. For example, in June 1934, during his tour of Italy, Le Corbusier made sketches and notes for his lectures in Rome and Milan23. On folios 77v and 78r, he inserts Italian examples, such as Bologna, with its famous medieval towers, and Genoa, into his usual arguments about town planning. In notes for an earlier lecture in Rome (folios 86v and 87r) he makes an interesting comment on the heavy burden placed by the past. Many buildings from the past reflect a loss of intelligence, he argues, but many remain irreproachable. On the facing page he illustrates the Cathedrals of Soissons and Notre Dame and, in a coloured sketch labelled Les Harmoniseurs he shows a view along the newly created via del Impero in Rome, with the Coloseum closing the view, the Basilica of Maxentius on the right and, on the left, a glazed façade. This was the site chosen for the Palazzo del Littorio, for the design of which a competition was being held. His argument is that old and new can coexist, united by the common scale of man.

Figure . Le Corbusier, notes for a lecture in Milan, June 1934 (F3(5)9 77v and 78r)

Figure . Le Corbusier, notes for a lecture in Milan, June 1934 (F3(5)9 77v and 78r)

Figure . Le Corbusier, a note on the past and sketches of the via del Impero Rome, June 1935 (FLC F3(5)9 86v and 87r)

Figure . Le Corbusier, a note on the past and sketches of the via del Impero Rome, June 1935 (FLC F3(5)9 86v and 87r)
  • 24 Tim Benton, Le Corbusier conférencier. Paris, Le Moniteur, 2007.

13Similarly, on various pages of the end matter of the agenda for February 1937 to May 1938 there are notes for his lecture on the “Phénomène créateur” at the Kunsthalle Zurich on 12 January 1938, on the occasion of the exhibition of his paintings. These preparatory notes for lectures are particularly valuable because very few of them were transcribed or described by journalists24.

Clues to intangible memory

  • 25 See for example a letter of 13 February 1922 in which Le Corbusier offers to build a house based (...)
  • 26 FLC E2(3)72.
  • 27 Le Corbusier wrote to Perret on 18 May calling on him to stand aside and complaining that Perret (...)
  • 28 FLC F3(3)3 fol 2v and F3(3)3 fol. 6v.
  • 29 FLC F3(3)3 fol. 22r.
  • 30 FLC F3(3)3 fol.14r.

14The abundant documentation in the Fondation Le Corbusier, including hundreds of thousands of letters, tends to record formal transactions. Most of the daily activity of the office – the telephone conversations, the meetings, the things to do that did or did not get done – are recorded in the diaries. Much of the information associated with these notes will never be known; we cannot tell what he said on the phone or in a meeting unless it led to a result worth documenting. But this fugitive record gives us a good idea about what was primarily concerning Le Corbusier. For example, Le Corbusier’s devotion to his master Auguste Perret began to go sour in 1922, leading to all-out conflict from December 1923. An early bone of contention was the studio house for the sculptor and collector Pierre Gaut, an early subscriber to L’Esprit Nouveau. Gaut and Le Corbusier were in correspondence in January 1922 to design and build a Citrohan-like house in the square Montsouris, not far from Ozenfant’s studio25. All seemed to be going well until Gaut wrote on 8 May to say that he had bought the site at a price significantly less than that quoted by Le Corbusier and that he was consequently entrusting the project to another architect26. This architect turned out to be Auguste Perret, and Le Corbusier was not pleased27. The diary records a number of meetings and telephone calls connected with this unhappy story, including notes to “écrire Lipchitz Gaut” (late April 1922) and “aller Lipchitz p. Gaut” (c. 2 May 1922)28. These mark Le Corbusier’s efforts to have Lipchitz persuade Gaut to accept his project. These notes seem to have preceded Gaut’s letter of rejection of 8 May. We also know from the agenda that Le Corbusier visited Gaut at 6.30 p.m. on a Tuesday, probably 23 May 192229 and rang Perret around 17 May30.

Personal life

  • 31 FLC F3(4)6 fol.28v.
  • 32 FLC F3(6)1 fol. 43v.
  • 33 FLC F3(6)1 fol. 45r and 50r.
  • 34 Le Corbusier to his mother, 15 August 1922 (FLC R1(6)191).

15The agendas also give us a glimpse of how the personal and professional lives of Le Corbusier intertwined. Although there are few references to his relationship with Yvonne Gallis, we do find notes about setting up a bank account for her with the Crédit Lyonnais bank in May 192831. And on 30 September 1935 we find an enigmatic note, “Dr Von”, presumably a rendez-vous with a doctor for his wife Yvonne32. On September 26 he notes the registration plates of a number of cars involved in a car accident, complete with sketch plan. He later complains that the insurance company had only reimbursed him 726 frs against his repair bill of around 1,800 frs33. The diaries hide hundreds of little secrets like this which often fill in gaps in the documentation or, like these examples, provide unique insights into his activities. In Agenda F3(3)5, covering the period July to November 1922, we find several references to doctors. For example, on fol. 6r he lists an appointment with Dr Renaudoux at 26 avenue Wilson, probably on Monday 10 July. Another appointment on Thursday 13 July confirms that something was amiss. Then, on fol. 21v, among a string of daily professional appointments, we find “Winter ; je dois 32.00 + 15 p divers + ambulance ». This must refer to paying back his friend and personal doctor Winter for accompanying him to or from hospital for a painful operation on his colon that he describes to his mother on 15 August34. The operation had been much more disagreeable than he had thought, and he was still on a diet.

Dating

  • 35 He makes similar notes of dates on several pages in this diary.

16It is clear from these examples that it would be very helpful to know as precisely as possible when each note was made. The question of dating presents particular difficulties. As has been said, unlike conventional diaries, these notebooks are undated. Although the Fondation calls them “agendas (diaries), only the later ones, after the Second World War, are commercial diaries with printed dates. When he noted forthcoming meetings, he noted only the time and day of the week. From 1922 he developed a technique of filling pages of the front-matter, occasionally, with the days of the week (Monday to Sunday) in order to list his appointments. I will call these “week-pages”. The trick is to identify to which week he is referring, which then dates the notes on the adjoining pages. Very rarely, he attributes a date to these “week-pages”. An example is in the diary F3(6)4 (25 February 1937 to 20 May 1938) where, on folio 47r he notes “lundi 29 nov” [1937], “mardi 30 nov” and “mercredi 1 dec35”.

Figure . Le Corbusier, Diary of November 1922 to January 1923, folios 9v and 10r, 5 December 1922 (FLC F3(3)5)

Figure . Le Corbusier, Diary of November 1922 to January 1923, folios 9v and 10r, 5 December 1922 (FLC F3(3)5)
  • 36 The first sketches for the Lipchitz and Miestchaninof studios were done around May 1923 but the p (...)
  • 37 FLC G1(01)33. SEIE (Société d’entreprises industrielles et d’études) was the company set up in 19 (...)

17Folio 10r of FLC F3(3)5 is a “week-page”. Against “mardi” he notes “2 [14.00] Lipchitz”, one of his regular lunchtime appointments with Jacques Lipchitz, for whom he was building a studio in Boulogne-sur-Seine36. For Friday he notes an appointment at 8.00 pm with Raymond Cogniat who had written a generally favourable account in En attendant on Le Corbusier’s project for the City for Three Million people, exhibited at the Salon d’Automne. The clipping provided by the Argus press agency gives the date as “décembre 1922”. On the facing page he made notes on a possible trip to Germany on 15-16 December. The week can be fixed precisely, however, by the note against Friday: “6 ½ [18.30] conseil SEIE”. We know from the minutes of the Assemblée Générale of SEIE held on 29 December that a meeting of the Conseil had been held on Friday 8 December 192237.

18Le Corbusier usually dates the first page of the diary. For example on the diary F3-3-5 he wrote: “commencé le 20 nov 1922. Given that he dated the beginning of the next diary 23 January 1923, we have a clear terminus post quem and terminus ante quem for F3-3-5. In this case, there are ten “week” pages, sufficient to cover the entire period. We can date each of these week-pages, therefore, and assume that any pages of notes before these week-pages relate to things before that week. By this calculation the third week after 20 November 1922 (F3(3)5 fol. 10r) begins with Monday 4 December, once again confirming that the meeting with Lipchitz on the Tuesday took place on the 5th of December.

19Unfortunately, there are usually insufficient “weeks” to fill the period covered by each diary. Le Corbusier did not usually note appointments during his vacations and only sporadically during his travels. This means that we can set aside weeks in August and at other times when we know he was travelling or was ill. For example, in the case of another diary – F3(6)1 – it is sufficient to discount the four and a half weeks of his vacation in August to fill the period of the diary with ‘weeks’. The chronology is confirmed by a reference on folio 42v to “lundi 16 sept.”

  • 38 FLC F3(3)1-3.
  • 39 This refers to the illustration advertising the Dalcrozian class of “Cours de Rythmique” run by L (...)
  • 40 See Tim Benton, 2003, op.cit.
  • 41 FLC A1(14)269.

20When there are insufficient “weeks” to cover the period of a diary, dating relies on comparing the notes to letters or other pieces of information in the archive, In the first three agendas, dealing with the period June 1920 to November 1922, there are no “weeks” at all38. In F3(3)1, folio 78v we find “Albert illustration 11 Sept Rythmique, which gives us one fixed point39. To fix the approximate dates for each page, we have to look for connections with other documents. Fortunately, we have a lot of dated correspondence from this period, when Le Corbusier had a secretary and was engaged in a number of failed business schemes linked to the Briqueterie d’Alfortville40. So, on folio 2r Le Corbusier notes “voir Wallace prospectus and there is a letter to Wallace et Dreger about publicity for L’Esprit Nouveau magazine dated 31 May 192041. On folio 3r is a note “Étudier tuyaux Eternit”. Eternit was the name of the French company that Le Corbusier wanted to direct, supplying asbestos tiles and tubing manufactured by the Swiss Everite company. Sure enough, there is a letter to Everite on 15 June about Everite asbestos tubes. Next to this is a note “Écrire Loos” which follows on from a telegram Le Corbusier sent to Adolf Loos on 26 May. And so on. Piecing together the fragments of surviving correspondence gradually builds up a chronological picture.

Figure . Le Corbusier, Diary covering June to September 1920, folios 39v and 40r (FLC F3-3-1)

Figure . Le Corbusier, Diary covering June to September 1920, folios 39v and 40r (FLC F3-3-1)
  • 42 FLC G1(2)271. One of the difficulties of using simple digital search engines in archives is that (...)
  • 43 Eg Le Corbusier to Praportchetovitch 13 July 1920 (FLC G1(2)265. Le Corbusier refused to pay for (...)
  • 44 G1(2)285.
  • 45 Le Corbusier to Adolf Loos, at 3 Gisela Strasse, Vienna, chasing him up for further articles that (...)

21Sometimes, we can triangulate different clues. For example, on folio 39v, we read, “écrire Bonifas Prapo Voisin”. In a letter to Paul Bonifas of 20 July 1920, Le Corbusier refers to Praportchetovitch’s prefabricated wooden houses (without naming him)42. Le Corbusier had ordered one of these prefabricated houses from Praportchetovitch, and there is correspondence about this in June and July 192043. We must assume that Le Corbusier was not happy because he strongly advises Bonifas not to use these houses which, he says, are merely baraques and unsuitable for use in winter. Instead, he urges him to use the Voisin prefabricated houses currently on show at the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs. The letter also mentions the Voisin aeroplane and automobile company. A Voisin prefabricated house by Noël and Patout is illustrated in L’Art décoratif d’aujourd’hui, and Le Corbusier was writing the articles for this book in 1923. On folio 39v Le Corbusier notes, ‘Télé[phone] Lafuma’ and on the facing page 40r specifies: ‘Lafuma 31 ct [31 July] 13 538’. On 30 July Le Corbusier sends Lafuma a cheque for 13,538 frs for the purchase of paper for the magazine, specifying that the cheque is predated 31 July44. On folio 39r we find another instruction: “écrire Loos”, and there is indeed a letter to Loos dated 21 July 192045. All this is sufficient to date the entries around folios 39r to 40r to late July 1920.

22It can be seen that this kind of research depends on a considerable backlog of data. In my own case, I have accumulated a database of around 20,000 documents, mostly concerning Le Corbusier but also some other fields I have studied. This has enabled me to “decode” the agendas that overlap with my own research interests. But my personal database only records documents relevant to research projects I have undertaken. Beyond that, the significant database at the Fondation Le Corbusier must provide the basis for further work.

The Fondation Le Corbusier archive

  • 46 This is a letter concerning Le Corbusier’s refurbishment of FLC E1(13)3.

23The Fondation archive includes around 400,000 documents of various sorts that have been digitised and can be accessed through a database. Unfortunately, this database has certain limitations. Most of the documents are held in A4 cardboard boxes, containing up to 200 sheets each. These were originally given alphanumeric identifications (eg H1(1)1) and the individual documents inside each box given numbers. Unfortunately, these numbers have been changed twice in the history of the Fondation but are now stable. The current database consists of an index of the label of each box rather than an index to each sheet. Over the years, the archivists have added considerable further information to each “label”, which has enriched the search engine. For example, the labels of boxes including the post war correspondence, which are ordered chronologically, have the names of each person included. When you find one of these names in the search engine, the database leads you to the box, and you must scroll through all the documents in that box in order to find the document you want. This is not a problem, but many of the labels of boxes dealing with specific subjects have not been annotated in this way. For example, there are several boxes of documents for each of Le Corbusier’s built and unbuilt projects, containing tens of thousands of letters to clients and entrepreneurs. These names do not all appear in the general online index. To give one example, the painter and glazier used by Le Corbusier and Jeanneret in almost all their constructions of the 1920s, A. Célio, is referred to only once in the Fondation database under correspondence46. To find documents associated with this man, you have to search the boxes for each project on which he worked. Similarly, there are over 1,700 documents connected with the Briqueterie d’Alfortville and the various agencies for which Jeanneret worked between 1918 and 1923, mostly consisting of letters to business associates. Hardly any of these names appear in the index under “Correspondance. Or again, Le Corbusier engaged in a massive propaganda campaign to reverse the judgement of the competition for the Palace of the League of Nations including several hundred letters. Many of these have been identified under Correspondance, but not all. For example, seven letters are recorded to or from the Czech ambassador Stephen Osusky, but many more exist in the archive. This is a problem when dealing with the agendas for 1930-1931, which are full of references to Ambassador Osusky.

When did the Jeanneret-La Roche project begin?

  • 47 Confusingly, Le Corbusier’s secretary at this time was also called Esnault.
  • 48 H1(2)51.
  • 49 Esnault to Le Corbusier 30/3/1923 (FLC H1(2)51 and agenda F3(3)6 39v.
  • 50 H1(2)53 and agenda F3(3)6 fol. 42r.
  • 51 Tim Benton, 2007, op.cit. p. 47.

24Part of the function of the agendas is to provide negative evidence of contacts. For example, Le Corbusier dated the large house projected for the mouth of the square du Docteur Blanche as 1922, but there is no documentation to support this. This project was located on land being managed by the Banque Immobilière de Paris and its director Esnault47. In the agenda for January to April 1923 we find several mentions of “Jasmin” and “Montmorency” – indicators of the sites in Auteuil Le Corbusier was researching. He was familiar with the area, having adapted the house of M. Berque in the Villa Montmorency in 1921-2 and worked on a big project in 1922 to build a block of apartments for the Franco-Américaine company and its director Charles Sée. The first precise mention of any of the stakeholders in the projects that eventually led to the La Roche and Jeanneret-Raaf houses is in agenda F3(3)6 on folio 36r which I date to 29 March 1923. He writes, “5 Esnault” – a meeting with Esnault at 5.00 p.m. On the previous page he had noted : « Aller Esnault p. Sarmiento lui demander les combinaisons hypothèques » and on folio 37 he notes « Télé [phoner] Sarmiento » and « aller Esnault ».The letter of 30 March to Esnault confirms the visit on the previous day and specifies that Sarmiento would visit the bank “mardi prochain à 3h30 avec un achat en vue48. Esnault in his letter of reply on 31 March says he will be away until the 9th April and, sure enough, Le Corbusier makes a note after 8 April, “Télé Esnault terrain villa Montmorency Alb[ert]49. A second meeting with Esnault for 5.00 pm on Thursday 12 April is noted on folio 42r, and this is also confirmed by a letter next day.50 In this case the diary fills in the gaps consistently with the paper trail. The fact that there are no mentions of Mr Esnault or any of the other possible clients for the Jasmin site in the 1922 diaries supports my view that the project illustrated in the first volume of the Œuvre complète was probably done for the first meeting with Esnault, on 29 March 192351.

  • 52 G1(2)232.
  • 53 Letter from Fabrique de Fenêtres Kiefer in Zurich to Le Corbusier, 24 August 1920, addressed to C (...)
  • 54 FLC G1(2)208.
  • 55 Le Corbusier to Rodriguez 12 June 1920, planning a meeting with Simonot in Bordeaux (G1(2)212).

25We can assume that the notes proceed chronologically from the first page. So it is usually enough to fix three or four pages at different points to construct a chronological map of the diary which may limit possible choices. This is not always easy. For example, on folio 7v of F3(3)1, Le Corbusier writes “Écrire parents p vacances B”. ‘B’ may stand for the picturesque hamlet of Chables-sur-Blonay in Switzerland where the Jeanneret family often rented a chalet for their vacation. In a letter to the lawyer Tell Perrin on 21 June 1920 he said he would be joining his parents in Châbles-sur-Blonay in 18 days52. Other documents attest to the fact that Le Corbusier was staying with his parents in Châbles in August53. We are helped by a note on folio 5v that reads: “URGENT cheque Praportchetovitch”. In a letter to Praportchetovitch of 19 June 1920, he confirms his order and includes a cheque for 1,800 frs54. There is also a reference, on folio 8v to planning a trip to Bordeaux and a letter of 12 June refers to planning a meeting in Bordeaux55. Putting all this together, we can deduce that these notes were made between 12 and 19 June and refer to events that would take place subsequently. It is impossible to be more precise than this. Agenda F3(3)1 is particularly difficult because, as has been stated, there are no ‘weeks’ to divide up the pages of notes. With only one date in the whole diary, in the end-matter, on folio 88v, recording a payment to his brother Albert of 100 francs on 6 August 1920, there is great variation possible in the dating, particularly since the next agenda only begins on 1 February 1922.

26The system of “weeks” begins tentatively with F3(3)4 (July-November 1922) with three “weeks” indicated but by F3(3)5 there are ten “weeks”, covering each week from 20 November 1922 to 26 January 1923. Most of the subsequent agendas for the 1920s and 1930s have a reasonable array of “weeks” once the weeks for vacations and extended travel are discounted. There are some omissions. There are no diaries between September 1920 and February 1922, from April to June1923, from January to July 1924 and from November 1926 to January 1928 (with the exception of some fragments of the agenda F3(4)5). The agenda for September 1929 to July 1930 is missing, so that we have no notes of the long lecture tour in South America but we do have an agenda for the 1935 lecture tour of the United States.

27What is the point of this labour-intensive research into the dating of the agendas? The diaries give an insight into a whole field of otherwise undocumented activity. For example, Le Corbusier’s meetings with his doctors or his sessions at the gym playing basketball are often indicated. Much of Le Corbusier’s work was done on the telephone or in face to face meetings. Although we cannot usually know what happened in these conversations, their frequency and timing alone are of great value in understanding the sequence of events. The diaries are also helpful in establishing the dates of trips and vacations. We often find lists of train times before a trip. Although he was usually so busy on his visits abroad for lectures or conferences that the system of “weeks” does not survive, an indication of notes taken while away from Paris is often betrayed by the word “Retour, indicating something that has to be done when he returns.

28The agendas provide an astonishingly rich, if tantalising glimpse not only into Le Corbusier’s professional and private life but also to that of many busy architects in the inter-war period. I hope that this work will help open up this rich resource to researchers.

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Bibliographie

Tim Benton, “From Jeanneret to Le Corbusier: rusting iron, bricks and coal and the modern Utopia”, Massilia, 2, 2003, p. 28-39.

Tim Benton, Le Corbusier conférencier, Paris, Le Moniteur, 2007.

Tim Benton, Les Villas parisiennes de Le Corbusier et Pierre Jeanneret, 1920-1930 Paris, Éditions de la Villette, 2007 [1984].

Tim Benton, “Le Corbusier e il vernacolare: Le Sextant à Les Mathes 1935”, Le Case per artisti sull'Isola Comacina, A. Canziani. Como, NodoLibri, 2010, p. 22-43.

Tim Benton, LC foto : Le Corbusier : secret photographer, Baden/London, Lars Müller/Springer distributor, 2013.

H. A. Brooks, Le Corbusier's formative years : Charles-Edouard Jeanneret at La Chaux-de-Fonds, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Luis Burriel Bielza and Giuliano Gresleri, Le Corbusier la passion des cartes, Bruxelles, Mardaga, 2013.

Giuliano Gresleri, Le Corbusier, viaggio in Oriente: gli inediti di Charles Edouard Jeanneret, fotografo e scrittore. Venezia/Paris, Marsilio/Fondation Le Corbusier, 1985.

Le Corbusier et al., Album La Roche [avec un essai de Stanislaus von Moos trad. par Irène von Moos], Paris, Gallimard-Electa, 1996.

Le Corbusier and D. L. Pauly, Le Corbusier : albums d’Afrique du Nord : voyages au M’Zab 1931 et 1933, Bruxelles/Paris, AAM éditions/Fondation Le Corbusier, 2013.

Danièle Pauly et al., Le Corbusier catalogue raisonné des dessins Tome I Années de formation et premiers voyages, 1902-1916 avec la collaboration d’Isabelle Godineau et de Gauthier Bolle. Bruxelles, AAM éditions, 2019.

Brian Brace Taylor, Le Corbusier la Cité de refuge Paris 1929-1933, Paris, L’Équerre, 1981.

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Notes

1 Fondation Le Corbusier (FLC) F3-3 (1-11), F3-4 (1-8), F3-5(1-10) and F3-6(1-7). F3-6-7 is an address book.

2 Tim Benton, “From Jeanneret to Le Corbusier: rusting iron, bricks and coal and the modern Utopia”, Massilia 2, 2003, p. 28-39.

3 D. Pauly et al., Le Corbusier catalogue raisonné des dessins Tome I Années de formation et premiers voyages, 1902-1916 avec la collaboration d’Isabelle Godineau et de Gauthier Bolle. Bruxelles, AAM éditions, 2019; G. Gresleri, Le Corbusier, Viaggio in Oriente: gli inediti di Charles Edouard Jeanneret, fotografo e scrittore, Venezia/Paris, Marsilio/ Fondation Le Corbusier, 1985; Tim Benton, LC foto: Le Corbusier: secret photographer, Baden/London, Lars Müller/Springer distributor, 2013 ; Le Corbusier et al., Album La Roche [avec un essai de Stanislaus von Moos trad. par Irène von Moos]. Paris, Gallimard-Electa, 1996 ; L. Burriel Bielza et al., Le Corbusier : la passion des cartes, Bruxelles, Mardaga, 1997.

4 FLC F3 (6) 7.

5 FLC F3 (11) 7. The first 15 folios include addresses, accumulated in haphazard order. The remaining pages include notes and appointments. At the end are some pages of visiting cards. Most of the addresses (folios 2-15) relate to the period of the war and shortly after. On folios 16v and 17r are lists of folders and suitcases left in the Queens Hôtel Vichy after Le Corbusier’s departure in 1942. A card from Helena Simkhovitch is the only record of his trip to New York in 1946.

6 FLC A1(3)251-3. These lists include some information of place of origin. The spelling of the names is not perfect. Lists of names associated with the journal Plans can be found in FLC A2(3)93-98.

7 FLC F3(6)5 fol. 18v

8 www.FondationLeCorbusier.fr Archives/Correspondance. Excluded from this list is correspondence associated with the architectural projects, travel, lectures, publications and some other subjects such as the Briqueterie d’Alfortville (1880 documents) or Société Éverite which are listed under “Ateliers”.

9 Visiting card of René Addor FLC E1(1)8 and correspondence about various projects FLC E1(1)9-13.

10 FLC F3(6)5 fol 9r.The architect Henri Pacon also lived at 9 rue Falguière.

11 The Tuesday of the same week is dated 21 June 1938.

12 FLC F3(6)7 fol.36r.

13 FLC I1(1)130.

14 FLC I1(1)132.

15 FLC F3(6)7 folio 42r.

16 Postcard from Le Corbusier’s mother to Le Corbusier and Yvonne at Rev-Estello 12 March 1938, letter of 19 July 1938 to Mme Pégurier asking if he and Yvonne could stay (FLC E1(18)152, confirmed by a postcard from Georges Pelorson to Le Corbusier, readdressed to Rev Estello on 19 July 1938 (FLC E2(18)151 and another from Le Corbusier’s brother Albert of 12 August 1938, also readdressed to Rev Estello (FLC R1(10)19). A page of the diary F3(6)5 fol. 17v, that can be dated to around 18 July notes the address ‘Mme Pégurier Rev Eestello, rue Gambetta Saint-Tropez, Var.

17 Letter of Le Corbusier to his mother 23 August 1938, with an account of his accident on the 13th (FLCR2(1)263).

18 Tim Benton, “Le Corbusier e il vernacolare: Le Sextant à Les Mathes 1935”, Le Case per artisti sull'Isola Comacina, A. Canziani. Como, NodoLibri, 2010, p. 22-43.

19 FLC F3(5)4 fol. 8r Professor Rudolf Fueter, Rector of Zurich University played a key role in supporting Le Corbusier against criticism from many of his compatriots.

20 FLC F3(3)3-47. These pages can only be dated approximately, to May 1922.

21 See for example the axonometric view FLC 10919, B. B. Taylor, Le Corbusier la Cité de refuge Paris 1929-1933, Paris, L’Équerre, 1981, pp. 74-79 and Fig. 82 and Œuvre complète 1929-1934, p. 109.

22 Letter to his mother 27 September 1932 (FLC R2(1)178).

23 FLC F3(6)4 90r-75v passim. On folio 89v a sketch of a landscape is annotated “14 heures 45 (3[…] Rome) 4 juin 1934.” The lecture notes and other observations extend to folio 75v.

24 Tim Benton, Le Corbusier conférencier. Paris, Le Moniteur, 2007.

25 See for example a letter of 13 February 1922 in which Le Corbusier offers to build a house based on his Citrohan project for 60,000 francs, plus 40,000 for the land (FLC E2(3)66) and the reply of 18 February in which Gaut accepts these terms (E2(3)69. Le Corbusier proceeded to present his client with the tenders on 11 March, amounting to 50,500 francs, complete with fittings except for the central heating (E2(3)71.

26 FLC E2(3)72.

27 Le Corbusier wrote to Perret on 18 May calling on him to stand aside and complaining that Perret viewed him as a rival who had stolen his ideas (FLC E2(3)74).

28 FLC F3(3)3 fol 2v and F3(3)3 fol. 6v.

29 FLC F3(3)3 fol. 22r.

30 FLC F3(3)3 fol.14r.

31 FLC F3(4)6 fol.28v.

32 FLC F3(6)1 fol. 43v.

33 FLC F3(6)1 fol. 45r and 50r.

34 Le Corbusier to his mother, 15 August 1922 (FLC R1(6)191).

35 He makes similar notes of dates on several pages in this diary.

36 The first sketches for the Lipchitz and Miestchaninof studios were done around May 1923 but the project only got under way in January 1924 with thee first set of numbered drawings (Tim Benton, Les Villas parisiennes de Le Corbusier et Pierre Jeanneret, 1920-1930, Paris, Éditions de la Villette, 2007)

37 FLC G1(01)33. SEIE (Société d’entreprises industrielles et d’études) was the company set up in 1916 to supervise the brick factory at Alfortville and for Le Corbusier to design projects for the parent company SABA (Société d’applications du béton armé) managed by his friend Bornand (H. A. Brooks, 1997). Le Corbusier's formative years : Charles-Edouard Jeanneret at La Chaux-de-Fonds. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, pp. 473).

38 FLC F3(3)1-3.

39 This refers to the illustration advertising the Dalcrozian class of “Cours de Rythmique” run by Le Corbusier’s brother Albert (L’Esprit Nouveau n°1, p. 123, published in October 1920).

40 See Tim Benton, 2003, op.cit.

41 FLC A1(14)269.

42 FLC G1(2)271. One of the difficulties of using simple digital search engines in archives is that spelling of names is critical. Le Corbusier spells Praportchetovitch three different ways in his correspondence with him (none of them correct). I have taken the spelling from an advertisement in Le Petit Parisien, Paris 28 April 1920, page 4 promoting the Praportchetovitch “baraquements pliants” for “agriculteurs” (BnF Gallica).

43 Eg Le Corbusier to Praportchetovitch 13 July 1920 (FLC G1(2)265. Le Corbusier refused to pay for the baraque and later tried to return it to Praportchetovitch (9 March 1922, FLC G1(3)473).

44 G1(2)285.

45 Le Corbusier to Adolf Loos, at 3 Gisela Strasse, Vienna, chasing him up for further articles that he had promised the editors of L’Esprit Nouveau (FLC E2(9)72).

46 This is a letter concerning Le Corbusier’s refurbishment of FLC E1(13)3.

47 Confusingly, Le Corbusier’s secretary at this time was also called Esnault.

48 H1(2)51.

49 Esnault to Le Corbusier 30/3/1923 (FLC H1(2)51 and agenda F3(3)6 39v.

50 H1(2)53 and agenda F3(3)6 fol. 42r.

51 Tim Benton, 2007, op.cit. p. 47.

52 G1(2)232.

53 Letter from Fabrique de Fenêtres Kiefer in Zurich to Le Corbusier, 24 August 1920, addressed to Chables s/Blonay. (FLC U2(9)1).

54 FLC G1(2)208.

55 Le Corbusier to Rodriguez 12 June 1920, planning a meeting with Simonot in Bordeaux (G1(2)212).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure . Le Corbusier, Diary covering June to September 1920, fols. 3v et 4r (FLC F3(3)1)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/craup/docannexe/image/4301/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 228k
Titre Figure . Le Corbusier, Covers of the agendas F3(3)4, F3(5)7 and F3(6)2
URL http://journals.openedition.org/craup/docannexe/image/4301/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 213k
Titre Figure . Le Corbusier’s address book, compiled in the early 1950s (FLC F3(6)7)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/craup/docannexe/image/4301/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 113k
Titre Figure . Detail of folios 8v and 9r of the diary covering May 1938 to November 1939 (F3(6)5)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/craup/docannexe/image/4301/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 62k
Titre Figure . Le Corbusier, fanciful perspective of Cité de refuge, already in construction (above) and project for developing the surrounding area with a Cité d’hébergement (FLC F3(5)4 fols 26v and 27r)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/craup/docannexe/image/4301/img-5.png
Fichier image/png, 268k
Titre Figure . Le Corbusier , sketch plan of area to North of the Cité de refuge, as far as the rue Tolbiac, indicating location of “immense housing estate” (FLC F3(5)4 fol 27v)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/craup/docannexe/image/4301/img-6.png
Fichier image/png, 151k
Titre Figure . Le Corbusier, notes for a lecture in Milan, June 1934 (F3(5)9 77v and 78r)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/craup/docannexe/image/4301/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 152k
Titre Figure . Le Corbusier, a note on the past and sketches of the via del Impero Rome, June 1935 (FLC F3(5)9 86v and 87r)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/craup/docannexe/image/4301/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 23k
Titre Figure . Le Corbusier, Diary of November 1922 to January 1923, folios 9v and 10r, 5 December 1922 (FLC F3(3)5)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/craup/docannexe/image/4301/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 59k
Titre Figure . Le Corbusier, Diary covering June to September 1920, folios 39v and 40r (FLC F3-3-1)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/craup/docannexe/image/4301/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 180k
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Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

Tim Benton, « Insights into the daily life of Le Corbusier: the agendas in the Fondation Le Corbusier.  »Les Cahiers de la recherche architecturale urbaine et paysagère [En ligne], Matériaux de la recherche, mis en ligne le 10 septembre 2020, consulté le 23 novembre 2020. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/craup/4301; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/craup.4301

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Auteur

Tim Benton

Tim Benton est professeur en histoire de l’art (Emeritus) (Open University, Angleterre). Son livre Les villas de Le Corbusier et Pierre Jeanneret : 1920-1930 (1984) a été réédité en français, allemand, anglais et italien (2007). Son ouvrage Le Corbusier conférencier, (2007, éditions anglais et français) a reçu le Grand Prix du livre de l’Académie de l’architecture. Le livre LC Foto Le Corbusier photographer (Lars Muller, 2013) et son livre Le Corbusier peintre a Cap Martin. (Éditions du Patrimoine, 2015) (Prix de la Méditerrannée) développent ses recherches. L'exposition et catalogue Le Corbusier: mes années sauvages (Le Piquey, 2015 et Roquebrune, 2016) ont été un point de départ pour le film Les vacances de Le Corbusier, 2015. Une autre exposition - E-1027 Restauration de la villa en bord de mer - a été associée à un catalogue du même nom, en 2016. Une troisième exposition et catalogue ont été inaugurés à Roquebrune-Cap-Martin : Tim Benton, Elisabetta Gaspard Emina, Maria Salerno and Magda Rebutato, Ici règne l'amitié, Rencontres en bord de mer : E-1027, l'Étoile de mer, le Cabanon à Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. (Paris, 2019). Il vient de publier le guide du site : Cap Moderne ; Eileen Gray et Le Corbusier, la modernité au bord de mer (Éditions du patrimoine, 2020). Son article « E-1027 and the Drôle de Guerre », AA files (2017) examine les relations entre Eileen Gray, Jean Badovici et Le Corbusier. Il a collaboré avec l’Association Cap Moderne à la restauration et la gestion du site à Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.

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