Review for Jürgen Joedicke’s “The Ramp as Architectonic Promenade in Le Corbusier’s Work,” published in Daidalos 12 (1983), page 104-8.

Jürgen Joedicke, in his article “Die Rampe als architektonische Promenade im Werk Le Corbusiers,” tried to expand the widely-accepted interpretation of Le Corbusier’s own reflection on his visit to the Carthusian monastery of Ema, a small town in the Florence suburb of Galluzzo. What Le Corbusier discovered through his experience of this historical architecture was derived from an interview. Corbusier in the conversation admitted that he had perceived in it the relationship between individual isolation and collective community. And this insight later became a central concern for his “urban-architecture” practice. What Joedicke revealed, in addition to this underlying analogy between architecture and the city, is that the fact that the ramp connecting the main entrance of the monetary and the personal cells deliberately leads people not only to the upper level but also to the opposite direction from which they entered the building. In other words, after ascending the ramp, one was expected to look at the place from where they started to proceed. Given this insight, the author further stated that the most important housing project by Le Corbusier, the Villa Savoye, in fact, too, embodies the similar principle as in the ramps, which not only acts as functional element that allows the user to go up from one level to another but also plays a conceptual role that connects the private and public areas within the house, producing a more dramatic and complex experience than that of traditional domestic architecture. Joedicke also asserted, through his comparative analysis of Le Corbusier’s observation of the Ema monastery and the Villa Savoye, that the ramp in both projects, as the central structural element, formulated Corbusier’s favorite spatial configuration concept, architectonic promenade. According to the author, rather than time, the so-called “fourth dimension” of space, human perception by virtue of constant bodily movement evoked by carefully constructed passages throughout the structure was the central feature of Le Corbusier’s work. At a result, it is fair to say thatthere was a new conception of space for modern architecture germinated in Corbusier’s visit to the Emma monastery. What is more, Joedicke lastly directed the reader’s attention to the destination of the ramps in Villa Savoye; that is, a framed aperture through which one can see into the distant landscape. The author intended to argue that the relationship between the building and the surrounding landscape is antithetical rather than integral, meaning that the natural landscape was left intact by the elevated volume and was meant to be seen from a distance for sculptural and aesthetic contemplation.

Villa Savoye in Poissy

Joedicke’s interpretation of Le Corbusier’s spatial configuration, the promenade architecturale, is not only unprecedented but also original. The author attempted to build a connection between Corbusier’s early journey to Italy in 1907 and his Villa Savoye built in 1931. Regardless the validity of its argument, this article reflects the author’s attitude toward architectural work as manifestations that were directly derived from memories of architect’s personal experience. This tendency for synthesizing an architect’s design approach, however, might be considered somehow narrow, for it selectively put less weight on external factors that could be equally substantial for the formation of one’s design philosophy. In the case of Le Corbusier, for example, Richard Etlin’s classical essay, “Le Corbusier, Choisy, and French Hellenism:The Search for a New Architecture” accented Le Corbusier’s debt to the nineteenth-century tradition of French Hellenism. Etlin argued that the architectural promenade idea was largely tied to this Latin tradition, which Corbusier originally received through the writings of Viollet-le-Duc and Auguste Choisy. In addition, it would not be fair if we ignore the fact that“promenade” was a term favored by the filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, much admired by Le Corbusier, whose theory of montage played a significant role in the history of modern film industry. Since Corbusier has stated that “architecture and film are the only two arts of our time,” it would have led to a more comprehensive understanding of the “promenade architecturale” if the scholar had have included this aspects of Corbusier’s interests into consideration. After all, Le Corbusier is one of most complex figures in the history of modern architecture, as he disbelieved in any“absolute truths” and always insisted that “personal experience” as “the real test,” which relates to many aspects of his extremely multifaceted life.

Posted by:Liyang DING

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