Tag Archives: le corbusier

Measure for Measure


Edward Steichen photographed Marion Morehouse (Mrs. E. E. Cummings) wearing a lamé dress by Lucien Lelong that epitomized the slender flapper column of the 1920s.

Edward Steichen

The anatomy of the human body and the laws of mathematics are ever entwined in the fragile harmonies of proportion. Our sense of proportion begins with the structure of the body, an idea that dates back to the writings of Vitruvius himself, the eminent architect of the Roman era in the 1st century BC. His conclusion has long survived the principles of logic and the measure of time, evidenced by Vitruvian Man, the drawing made by Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century, a definitive symbol of proportion in which the extended arms and legs of the male figure find their furthest reach at the edges of the closed circumference of a circle and the mathematical perfection of the square. Symmetry. Geometry. Equilibrium. Of course, Vitruvian Man doubles as the Christ figure stretched upon a cross, a religious icon of everlasting art historical consequence. Christ—the anatomy of man in God’s image—and the cross—the structural geometric intersection—align in precise aesthetic and spiritual equipoise.

Proportion determines the logic of design for any object, whether a dress, a lamp, or an automobile. Good proportion results from a marriage of line, length, width, weight, balance, and shape. Add volume. And material. And a reductionist’s precision. When all of these elements come together in a form that seems inevitable, then the object’s proportion is the final measure of its beauty. The long, slender stalk of the calla lily, say, supports the graceful rounded line of the flower, its delicate petals unfolding in an ineffable flourish. Organic. Geometric. Poetic. Here is a beautifully proportioned gift of nature.


This lavish floor-length gown by Christian Dior is an ode to 1940s glamour in Erwin Blumenfeld’s reductionist composition, which might have drawn inspiration from Kandinsky.

Erwin Blumenfeld


Proportion can be gauged in the juxtaposition of one object to another—perhaps a couch is too large in the context of other pieces of furniture in a room; at the same time, without realizing it, we rely on proportion to evaluate everyday objects in a rational world: If a building is too tall for its footprint, how will it endure the laws of gravity? If the seat of a chair is too low to the ground, how comfortable do we expect it to be? If a coat is too large for the woman who wears it, how reliable is her judgment?

Two masters of proportion, reduction, and distillation in the 20th century were the towering architects Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Corbu, as he was known, advanced the Vitruvian idea of the human body as a foundation for architectural design in his universal system of proportion called the Modulor, which relied on the measurements of the human figure to improve the appearance and function of his buildings. Mies, on the other hand, relied on the mathematical elegance of the “golden ratio”—“the width is to the length as the length is to the sum of the width and length”—to create, among other buildings, the Farnsworth House, a masterpiece of proportion and logic.


Horst P. Horst accentuated the more casual geometry of Christian Dior in his photograph of Suzy Parker wearing a pleated skirt which fans out in a sexy riff on the hourglass figure of yore.

Horst P. Horst

The correct proportion of the human body has been susceptible to attitudes and customs over the course of history. In the Baroque era, for example, fleshy, voluptuous women were in fashion and the clothing of the period accommodated a broader profile. The contours of women’s fashions changed considerably, when, in the 19th century, the hourglass figure became all the rage. And that would give way to a much sleeker and more geometric silhouette in the early 20th century. Edward Steichen, the renowned Vogue photographer, posed Marion Morehouse (Mrs. E. E. Cummings), his favorite model, in a lamé dress by Lucien Lelong that epitomized the slender flapper column of the 1920s. Not only are the contours of her body so gracefully draped and breezily suggested, Steichen also captured the impeccable proportion of the dress in her stance, poise, and attitude. The pearls, shoes, chair, and cigarette compose a portrait of high style and consummate chic.

In 1940s couture, the New Look rearranged the silhouette, adding geometry to the figure in counterpoint to the natural curves of the body. The brilliant reductionism in Erwin Blumenfeld’s photograph of a model in a lavish floor-length Dior gown is an ode to proportion: The triangular skirt, the model’s angled elbow, the semicircular fan in echo of her hair evoke a composition of proportional balance that might have drawn inspiration from Kandinsky.


Francesco Scavullo photographed Nan Kempner, New York’s idea of the perfect hostess, showing off her evening armor in a simple black column topped with a metallic Yves Saint Laurent bolero coat.

Francesco Scavullo

Horst further accentuated the geometry of Dior in his photograph of Suzy Parker leaning against a studio backdrop, her pleated skirt fanning out in a sexy riff on the hourglass figure of yore.

Just as in fashion the sinewy hourglass figure was streamlined to the taut silhouette of the flapper column, in transportation the majesty of the horse gave way to the mechanized horseless buggy, and, eventually, to the grandeur of fine engineering. The Duesenberg Cord, for example, struck an impeccable proportion with its monumental profile and commanding stance that came to represent the highest ambitions of the industrial age.

Bill Cunningham, the late photographer and arbiter of style, once said that “fashion is the armor with which to survive the realities of everyday life.” Scavullo photographed Nan Kempner, New York’s idea of the perfect hostess, showing off her armor in a simple black column topped with a metallic Yves Saint Laurent bolero coat. Here is a portrait of exemplary proportion struck in the contrast of light and dark, organic and geometric, line, length, width, weight, balance, and shape—a calla lily by any other name.

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The 2018 Pritzker Prize Is Awarded to Balkrishna Doshi

The Indian luminary, a seminal figure in the world of South Asian architecture, has been awarded the highest honor in architecture


At an event this morning at Philip Johnson’s Glass House, it was announced that the 2018 Pritzker Prize has been awarded to the Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi. Born in Pune, India, in 1927, he’s rubbed shoulders with and learned from some of the biggest architects of the 20th century, such as Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn. And now, with the awarding of the prize, Doshi will also become a household name, of similar stature to the men he once idolized.

Balkrishna Doshi, who turned 90 years old last summer, is best known for designs in his native India. Many of them, such as his Aranya Low Cost Housing in Indore, were built for social reasons. Designed in 1989, Aranya currently provides residence to some 80,000 people through a system of houses, courtyards, and a labyrinth of pathways. Within this world Doshi created, 6,500 homes range from one-room units to larger, more spacious abodes, accommodating low- and middle-income Indians. Doshi is known for incorporating Indian heritage into his buildings: Another of his designs, the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, was inspired by traditional mazelike Indian cities and temples, their design manifest in the scheme’s interlocking buildings and courtyards.

A look at a courtyard within the Indian Institute of Management.

Photo: Courtesy of the Pritzker Architecture Prize/VSF

“Infused with lessons from Western architects before him, he forged his artistic vision with a deep reverence for life, Eastern culture, and forces of nature to create an architecture that was personal,” the Pritzker organization says of this year’s winner. “Alongside a deep respect for Indian history and culture, elements of his youth—memories of shrines, temples, and bustling streets; scents of lacquer and wood from his grandfather’s furniture workshop—all find a way into his architecture.”

Like many of Doshi’s designs, Aranya was created to accommodate those Indians living with low and middle incomes.

Photo: Courtesy of the Pritzker Architecture Prize/VSF

Founded in 1979, the Pritzker Prize is the apogee of accomplishment in the world of architecture. Upon winning the award, architects become instant celebrities. Previous winners include Zaha Hadid, Philip Johnson, Oscar Niemeyer, Norman Foster, and Renzo Piano, among many other luminaries. Last year’s winners were RCR Arquitectes, a Spanish trio that built a strong reputation from their embrace of multiculturalism through the prism of design. For some, the 2018 announcement may also have come as a surprise (Doshi did not make AD‘s round up of potential 2018 Pritzker Prize winners). The naming of Doshi as the recipient of the prize—along with the $100,000 that goes with it—leaves influential architects such as David Chipperfield, David Adjaye, and Steven Holl wondering if their monumental moment will come in 2019.

Balkrishna Doshi, winner of the 2018 Pritzker Prize.

Photo: Courtesy of the Pritzker Architecture Prize/VSF

Before winning the 2018 Pritzker Prize, Doshi had been awarded the Padma Shri (the fourth-highest civilian award in India), as well as the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (a recognition by the French government of significant contributions to the arts). Doshi is the 45th Pritzker Prize Laureate, and the first from India.

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Four keys to designing autistic-friendly spaces

Autism, in part, gave us modern architecture, writes PDR’s Julie Troung.


JANUARY 25, 2018 |

Four keys to designing autistic-friendly spaces

Photo: PDR Corp.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurobehavioral condition, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in every 68 births have autism in the U.S. Individuals with this condition may experience hypersensitivity of the senses, difficulty understanding what others are thinking and feeling, and cognitive delays. 

We have the potential to improve design quality for everyone by understanding how individuals with autism view the world. While autism in part gave us modern architecture, making ASD inclusivity a priority in design is a necessary step that could encourage innovation and potentially propel us into a new era of architecture.

You might wonder how autism could have given us modern architecture, well the answer lies in the use of eye tracking. As stated in a study in Common Edge, they have found that individuals with autism respond to visual stimuli completely different from neuro typical individuals. A neuro typical person focuses on the eyes, mouth, and nose of a face. 

Those with ASD ignore the central face and instead focus on outer features. Because a person with autism has brain connections in overdrive (hyperplasticity), they avoid details such as windows or eyes. 

This is why architects who have autism like Le Corbusier, who began his career in the 1930s, was attracted to simplicity. Therefore, some people credit Le Corbusier and consequently autism for the simplistic modern architecture movement.

There is a wide array of ways that we can design autism-friendly spaces. As stated in an article “Why Buildings for Autistic People Are Better for Everyone,” you can achieve prioritizing human health and welfare into our design routine by incorporating the following points:

1. Acoustics. Individuals on the autism spectrum are extremely, and at times, painfully sensitive to sounds. Providing better insulated spaces and allowing for manipulation of sound pressure levels would be beneficial. An example of acoustic manipulation would be adding pink sound.

2. Lighting. Light and color affect human’s mood, behavior and cognitive behavior. Just think, if you were to sit in a dark grey room for an hour compared to a light yellow room, would you feel a difference? Most autism friendly designs have small areas of bright color and light unsaturated earth tones.

3. Spatial configuration. Spaces that are orderly and defined are easier for the autistic mind to process. The use of sequential circulation, storage for non-essential items, sub-dividing rooms, and making spaces reconfigurable can help individuals with autism to better focus.

4. Materials. Furniture has the potential to influence the function, privacy and size of a space. For ASD, modular furniture and malleable spaces are preferable. Easily sanitized finishes are also important because some people on the autism spectrum can have a compulsive-like need for cleanliness.

Designing for ASD does not just benefit those who have autism. These design focuses can create timeless, enjoyable and multifunctional spaces for all.  If we approach design through an autistic lens, we do not prioritize standardization in lieu of accommodation. Acoustics, lighting, spatial configuration and materials are essential in quality design. By understanding all human experience through research, we can create better spaces and serve all who inhabit.

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Outside in: Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence on interior design

For the editor of a lifestyle magazine, Elizabeth Gordon of House Beautiful was a little wound up. The target of her wrath? “A self-chosen elite that is trying to tell us what we should like and how we should live.”

Continue reading Outside in: Frank Lloyd Wright’s influence on interior design