France’s best-known 20th century architect, Le Corbusier, was a “militant fascist” who was far more anti-Semitic and a fan of Hitler than previously thought, two new books reveal.
The unsettling disclosures about the links of one of the world’s most famous modern architects to France’s wartime collaborationist Vichy regime have been released just ahead of a major Paris exhibition of his work.
It has long been known that Le Corbusier, famed for his revolutionary concrete creations, including a housing project in Marseille called La Cité Radieuse, had some ties to France’s collaborationist regime under Field Marshal Philippe Pétain.
But the latest, far more damning, revelations have shocked admirers and threaten to cast a shadow over commemorations of the 50th anniversary of his death.
Paris’s Pompidou Centre, which is to open a three-month long exhibition dedicated to Le Corbusier on April 29th, faces allegations of totally failing to mention the controversy.
Xavier de Jarcy, a journalist who wrote about the find in his book “Le Corbusier, un fascisme francais” (Le Corbusier, a French fascism), told AFP: “I discovered he was simply an outright fascist.”
The architect “was active during 20 years in groups with a very clear ideology” but that “has been kept hidden”, confirmed another author, Francois Chaslin, who published Un Corbusier.
Born in Switzerland in 1887 as Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, the architect moved to Paris at 20 and in 1920 adopted his nickname Le Corbusier from an ancestor. Ten years later he took French citizenship.
Known as one of the main pioneers of the modern movement in architecture, he influenced France’s post-war planning policy for decades with his ideas of functional apartment blocks with parks. The policy ended in 1973 over claims these were soul-destroying and led to urban ghettoisation.
Paris only narrowly avoided seeing its historical centre wiped off the map in favour of one his 1925 “plans”.
The new books show Le Corbusier embraced fascism in Paris in the 1920s, and was close to Pierre Winter, a doctor who headed France’s Revolutionary Fascist Party.
Together they created Plans, an urban planning journal, followed by another called Prelude.
Mr Jarcy said that in “Plans” Le Corbusier wrote in support of Nazi anti-Semitism and in “Prelude” co-wrote “hateful editorials”.
In August 1940, the architect wrote to his mother that “money, Jews (partly responsible), Freemasonry, all will feel just law”. In October that year, he added: “Hitler can crown his life with a great work: the planned layout of Europe.”
Mr Chaslin said he had unearthed “anti-Semite sketches” by Le Corbusier, and ascertained that the French architect had spent 18 months in Vichy, where the Nazis ran a French puppet government, where he kept an office.
The Le Corbusier Foundation, which works to promote the architect’s memory and works, barely touches on this side of his life, relegating his Vichy role to an “extended stay” in the town.
One of the foundation’s experts, Jean-Louis Cohen, said he was “shocked by this controversy”, saying it was “manipulative”, but conceding that the research was thorough.
The organisers of The Measures of Man, the Pompidou Centre exhibition on Le Corbusier, said they had glossed over the fascism controversy because their display “doesn’t address the entire work” of the architect, but that a previous 1987 exhibition had done so.
However, Serge Klarsfeld, a famous French Nazi-hunter, dismissed such arguments as insufficient.
“All the aspects of Le Corbusier’s personality” should be included in the Pompidou Centre exhibition, Mr Klarsfeld told AFP.
Mr Chaslin said the current controversy corresponded to what psychoanalysts call “le retour du refoulé” (the resurfacing of suppressed memories), saying: “When you hide something too much, one day it explodes.”