Daily Features

Le Corbusier: A Legacy in Books

The influential modern architect, whose 135th birthday will be observed next year, authored and designed more than fifty books during his lifetime.

By Peter Kraus November 9, 2021

Interior pages from Le Corbusier’s Des Canons, des Munitions? Merci! Des Logis ... s.v.p (1938).

The architect Le Corbusier, whose given name was Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, lived a long and productive life, from his birth in Switzerland in 1887 until his death in France in 1965. Like his great contemporary Frank Lloyd Wright, he left behind a legacy not only of iconic buildings and architectural designs but also of books. In addition to being important for the study of his work, a number of these publications play a significant role in the art of twentieth-century book design. The following is a chronology of some of the highlights of Le Corbusier’s book production.

Le Corbusier, front cover of Vers une Architecture (1923).

In 1920, along with the poet Paul Dermée and the painter Amédée Ozenfant, Le Corbusier founded the magazine L’Esprit Nouveau: Revue Internationale Illustrée de l’Activité Contemporaine, which ran for twenty-eight issues until it ceased publication in 1925. It was here that the architect first used Le Corbusier as his name and where he submitted articles that would form part of his landmark book Vers une Architecture, which he published in 1923 (translated into English as Toward an Architecture in 1927—and subsequently, often as Towards a New Architecture). The book contains seven essays that reject the contemporary trends of eclecticism and Art Deco and advocate for an architecture intended to fundamentally change how humans interact with buildings. This proposed new mode of living derived from a new spirit that defined the industrial age, and demanded a form of architecture based on function and an aesthetic based on pure form. Le Corbusier followed this in 1925 with L’Art décoratif d’Aujourdhui (The Decorative Art of Today). The book was an attack on the very concept of decorative art. His basic premise, repeated throughout the book, was “Modern decorative art has no decoration.” While the publications Le Corbusier produced during the 1920s featured modestly decorated covers, they showed a marked austerity in design.

In 1931, Le Corbusier published Die Farbenklaviaturen (The Color Keyboards)—a practical version of his color theories, which had first appeared in L’Esprit Nouveau. In this, his first collection created for the Swiss wallpaper-manufacturing company Salubra, he organized a selection of tones on twelve sample cards in such a manner that one could use a slider to isolate or combine different sets of three to five colors. Each of these cards provided a different chromatic atmosphere, intended to produce a particular spatial effect such as calling for the use of paler colors with natural pigments to be used to create warmth and light, while deeper shades could enhance or camouflage elements in a room. Thus Le Corbusier created not only a tool useful for interior design but also a testament to his “Purist” theory of color.

Le Corbusier, examples from Die Farbenklaviaturen (1931).

During the 1930s, Le Corbusier’s focus was largely on urban design, with his most important ideas for the modernist city—standardization of buildings, effective transportation systems, abundance of green space and sunlight—formulated in La Ville Radieuse (The Radiant City, 1935). In the same year, he published Aircraft. Issued by the English publisher Studio, Aircraft celebrates flight, casting the airplane as the zenith of modern technological achievement. The book, including its design, which combines dramatic photographs with short, bold captions, explores a new perspective on the built environments we inhabit offered by the “bird’s-eye” view that flight affords.

Le Corbusier, interior pages from Aircraft, (1935).

Three years later, in 1938, Des Canons, des Munitions? Merci! Des Logis ... s.v.p was published, perhaps Le Corbusier’s masterpiece in terms of book design. Instead of straightforward text and illustrations, the book is a marvelous jumble of typefaces and illustrations that achieve an almost Dada-like effect.

Le Corbusier, title page spread from Des Canons, des Munitions? Merci! Des Logis ... s.v.p (1938).

A showcase for Le Corbusier’s Pavillon des Temps Nouveaux, which he created for the Paris International Exposition of 1937, Des Canons served as a plea for the application of the same technologies that were utilized for the fabrication of munitions and armaments of war to the realization of an enlightened architectural urbanism—as signaled by the book’s title, which translates loosely as “Cannons, Munitions? Thank You, We’ll Have Housing, If You Please.” The title was increasingly relevant to the re-arming of France during this time.

In 1943, his vision for urban planning La Charte d’Athènes (The Athens Charter) appeared, which laid out the complete remaking of the modern city (based on La Ville Radieuse) eleven years after it had been drafted by the participants in the third International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM). This work was prefigured in La Charte de L’urbanisme of the same year and constitutes one of the most complicated parts of Le Corbusier’s printed legacy, because it places him in the employ of the Vichy government in France. Published in Paris by the collaborationist government under the German occupation, this pamphlet is evidence of a part of Le Corbusier’s biography about which little has been said, namely, his enthusiasm for fascism, and the fact that during World War II he moved to Vichy and offered his services to the Pétain regime.

Le Corbusier, interior lithograph from Le Poème de l’Angle Droit (1955).

In 1955, Le Corbusier’s tour de force of book illustration Le Poème de l’Angle Droit (Poem of the Right Angle) was issued by Tériade, the publisher of Matisse’s Jazz and other great illustrated books. The poems that comprise the book were composed between 1947 and 1953. Like most of Tériade’s publications, the texts are reproduced from Le Corbusier’s handwritten manuscript and accompanied by a brilliant series of lithographs by the architect. Aside from Vers une Architecture, Le Poème de l’Angle Droit is considered Le Corbusier’s most lucid synthesis of his recurring themes—including color, the reconciliation of opposites, and of course, the right angle, a major component of his proportional systems—and is the perfect pinnacle of his involvement with books.

The above examples are just a few of the roughly fifty books authored, and often designed, by Le Corbusier—a taste to encourage exploration of the totality of his printed output.

For those interested in finding out more about the books highlighted in this article, including questions pertaining to possible acquisition, please contact Peter Kraus at Ursus Books & Gallery: (212) 772-8787 or

Peter Kraus is the founder and current owner of Ursus Books & Gallery in Manhattan, which offers a comprehensive selection of art reference books, superb copies of rare books in all fields, and decorative prints.

This is the fifteenth installment in a collaboration with Peter highlighting important books from the past.

Previous articles in this series are “The Illustrated Book in Italy, 1918–1945,” “Dutch Book Design: 1914–1945,” “The Photo Book in Japan: 1920s–1940s,” “The Artist’s Book in America: The Arion Press in the 20th Century,” “Unusual Book Design for Unusual Times: Revisiting the Work of Iliazd,” “Desert Island Books,” “Architecture and the Illustrated Book,” “The Way It Happened: Modern Art Exhibition Catalogues,” “Matisse as Book Illustrator and Designer,” “Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler: Publishing Artists and Authors in the Early 20th Century,” “Paris and the Artist’s Book in the 1920s and ’30s,”  “Discovering Old Design Books in Japan,” “A Dialogue with Color,” and A Flowering of Creativity: Ladislav Sutnar and F. T. Marinetti.”

comments powered by Disqus