Thursday, July 17, 2014

The tumult and the joy of writing Modern Man, my forthcoming biography of Le Corbusier


Creation is a patient search, said Le Corbusier, the subject of my new book, Modern Man: The Life of Le Corbusier, Architect of Tomorrow. Over the last two years, I've begun to appreciate what he meant. Researching and writing Modern Man has been an invigorating and slightly exhausting experience. But it's all paying off in the coming months. The official publication date is November 4, and we're beginning to figure out how to tell the world about the book. Editor Ed Park and everyone at Amazon Publishing has been superbe from start to finish. One of the greatest pleasures of being immersed in a subject like this is watching how Le Corbusier and 20th-century modernism keeps cropping up in the contemporary conversation. At my author's Facebook page, I've been curating related content, from the latest Chanel fashion line -- Coco Chanel and Le Corbusier both had summer houses in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, though the architect's place was a bit smaller -- to the need for efficient housing in the explosive worldwide urban expansion that is well under way, to the embrace of Le Corbusier by Kanye West. I am already grateful for the esteemed group that has provided advance praise, otherwise known as blurbs, for Modern Man, and it appears that there has already been a pre-publication review. In a First Things post headlined Medieval Modernist, author Peter J. Leithart appreciates the passages related to Le Corbusier's travels as a young man, specifically the inspiring visit to the monastery at Val d'Ema in Italy. "He admired the grandeur of Gothic, and drew pictures of Notre Dame among other cathedrals," Leithart writes. "But he relished the simplicity and poverty of monastic architecture." All quite true, and just one of many sometimes slightly contradictory influences pulsing through the great architect's mind over time. My goal was to write a biography of genius, and in the end suggest how Le Corbusier's approach to innovation and (sorry for the cliche) thinking outside the box might inform urban planning, urban design, and particularly housing construction today. If Le Corbusier was the Steve Jobs of his day, projects like the Villa Savoye outside Paris were the architectural equivalent of the IPhone. Many scholars have written about Le Corbusier, in very specialized ways; I hope that Modern Man will be an enjoyable read for a much broader audience.

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