Henry Plummer
Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN 2013, English
Nonfiction, Architecture; Nonfiction, Photography
10 x 10 inches, hardcover, 168 pages, 160 color and 18 black-and-white illustrations
ISBN: 9780253007261
Suggested Retail Price: $39.00

From the Publisher. One of the great visionaries and pioneers of modern architecture, Le Corbusier was a master of light, declaring it both a fundamental basis of architecture and the key to personal well-being. In this portfolio of 160 photographs taken over 40 years, Henry Plummer captures Le Corbusier’s inspired use of natural light in three of his greatest achievements: the small pilgrimage chapel at Ronchamp, the Dominican monastery of Sainte Marie de La Tourette, and the parish church of Saint-Pierre in Firminy-Vert, all in France. In these modest religious works Le Corbusier deploys light to create enchanted, emotionally charged spaces wedded to the cosmic rhythm of sunlight and season. Cosmos of Light reveals how the artist reimagined sacred space and charted new ways that buildings can both reveal and inhabit the universe around them.

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John Hill

In 2013, The Museum of Modern Art examined the career of Le Corbusier in a comprehensive exhibition and a hefty companion book featuring numerous scholarly and critical essays charting the Swiss-French architect’s six-decade career. Yet like other great modern architects (Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Louis Kahn), even the most exhaustive account of Le Corbusier’s output cannot derail new explorations of his buildings and new books being released on the visionary architect every season.

An antithesis of MoMA’s unwieldy show and book can be found in Henry Plummer’s photographic and personal account of three religious structures in France designed by Le Corbusier: the chapel at Ronchamp, the monastery of Sainte Marie de La Tourette, and the parish church of Saint-Pierre in Firminy-Vert. Light, as the title makes clear, is the subject of the book. Le Corbusier famously declared that “Architecture is the masterly, correct, and magnificent play of volumes assembled in space,” and nowhere is that more moving than in these three concrete buildings designed after 1950, one of them (Firminy-Vert) completed posthumously.

While this statement is interpreted usually as an argument for the bright white surfaces of Le Corbusier’s “heroic” period in the 1920s and early ’30s, the idea resonates in these three buildings primarily because they are so dark—shadow is just as important as light. That these are places of prayer and introspection, and not houses or schools, is hardly accidental, even though Le Corbusier was, as Plummer puts it in this introductory essay, “an outspoken agnostic.”

Buildings like Villa Savoye whitewash their brick and concrete construction to create platonic abstractions, but the three béton brut structures that are the subject of this book are stripped of superficialities and bear the process of making. Further, light takes on an almost tangible quality to heighten one’s perception in the otherwise empty spaces. Plummer’s photos—taken over a period of 20 years—capture the way light turns these plastic creations (unprecedented in form and detached from religious precedents) into meaningful sacred spaces. Plummer manages to convey the way Le Corbusier puts us in touch with the light that comes from beyond—out of reach but all too real.

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