Le Corbusier, Contemporary City (1929)
Congrès Internationaux de l’Architecture Moderne

Ostensibly, a group of architects organized themselves in defense of Le Corbusier’s
entry for the League of Nations Competition, which they felt should have been
selected.  Alexander Tzonis noted that Le Corbusier used this rejection as a
motivating force behind a new ideological campaign to mobilize architects into
thinking of a new agenda in modern architecture.  In the first meeting held in 1928,
Le Corbusier “established an agenda of six urgent questions on modern technique
and its consequences, standardization, economy, urbanism, education of the youth,
and the state of architecture. The group came to be known as CIAM with the initial
declaration signed by 24 architects from 8 countries.

CIAM chose to stress economy and function over aesthetics, with its principal
concern being urbanism.  It set the initial goal of increasing housing production,
which it felt should be mechanized in order to be effectively mass produced.  During
the first stage of development (1928-33), Frampton noted that the German architects
dominated the assembly, stressing a
New Objectivity, which was the basis of the
Bauhaus and the Deutscher Werkbund. They attempted to arrive at a set of
minimum standards for housing, characterized by the efficient low cost proposals of
Ernst May.

Most of these architects had arrived independently at various housing solutions and
city plans, which built on previous concepts.  The stress was on sanitation and
hygiene, as most European cities were still suffering from the effects of
industrialization and the aftermath of WWI.  Ebeneezer Howard’s
Garden City, a
beltway community outside London, was seen as an appropriate model, and had
already been reshaped into Tony Garnier’s
Industrial City.  Some architects, like Le
Corbusier, had grandiose schemes, which called for the total redevelopment of
cities, such as his
Plan Voisin for Paris.  But, it was these more simple and cost-
effective schemes which took precedent during the first stage of development.

Eventually, Le Corbusier would seize control of CIAM, and embark on a new stage
with the signing of the
Athens Charter on the SS Patris, which cruised from Athens,
Greece, to Marseilles, France, on a romantic voyage of discovery.  The charter
outlined 111 positions contained in five main headings: Dwellings, Recreation,
Work, Transportation, and Historic Buildings.  The charter was essentially an
extension of Le Corbusier’s “Contemporary City,” which committed the Congress to
rigid functional zoning with green belts between functions, and a single type of urban
housing, characterized by the
immuebles villas.  The tone had shifted away from a
previous ardent socialist position to that of a neo-capitalist view, as it attempted to
lure corporate sponsors.  The charter did accept historic buildings as a part of the
city fabric, seemingly another concession to public tastes. This charter would have
far reaching consequences after WWII.

Bibliography

Banham, Reyner, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, Germany: Berlin, the
Bauhaus, the Victory of the New Style, Architectural Press, Oxford, paperback edition
1972

Curtis, William J.R.,
Modern Architecture since 1900, Skyscraper and Suburb, the
USA between the wars; The Ideal Community: Alternatives to the Industrial City; The
International Style; The Spread of Modern Architecture to Britain and Scandinavia,
Phaidon, London, paperback edition 1996

Frampton, Kenneth,
Modern Architecture: A Critical History, The International Style:
theme and variations 1925-65, The Vicissitudes of Ideology: CIAM and Team X,
Thames and Hudson, London, paperback edition 1992

Giedion, Sigfried,
Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition,
The League of Nations Competition, The Weissenhof Housing Settlement, Aalto’s
First Buildings, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, hardback
edition 1969

Gössel and Leuthäuser,
Architecture in the Twentieth Century, Housing Estates,
Machines for Living in, The International Style, Taschen, Köln, paperback edition
2001

Hitchcock and Johnson,
The International Style, W.W. Norton and Company, New
York, paperback edition 1995

Tzonis, Alexander,
Le Corbusier: The Poetics of Machine and Metaphor, Palaces,
Seascrapers, Virgilian Dreams, Universe Publishing, New York, paperback edition
2001

Weston, Richard,
Alvar Aalto, Functionalism and Beyond, Phaidon, London,
paperback edition, 1997

Page  1    2    3    4                                                                       return to reading room
From The League of Nations Competition to the
Formation of the Congrès Internationaux de
l’Architecture Moderne (CIAM)
The International Style