Today, claass HAUS celebrates the great one.
Le Corbusier's sole American commission, Harvard's Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts has historically been Cambridge's favorite building to love to hate. Completed near the end of the genius architect's life, the concrete structure is brutal, unapologetic, and purely Corbu, a synthesis of new and old ideas locked in a visual confrontation. But whether the Carpenter Center is a bit misunderstood or just too self-referential for its own good, it remains an imaginative addition to Harvard's historic campus, an appropriately innovative and modern form devoted to the creative experience.
In 1957, the dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Design (GSD) and devoted follower of Le Corbusier, Josep Lluís Sert wrote to the master architect, persuading him to design a new visual arts building for the university. Still feeling a bit spurned by the outcome of the United Nations commission in New York, Le Corbusier eventually accepted, submitting a forceful and dynamic concrete design for the traditional red brick campus. The principled finale of a long career, the Carpenter Center combines the purist vocabulary of the architect's early work with the heavy concrete and angled brise soleils of his later designs. With its smooth concrete, overlapping volumes, and central curving ramp, the visual arts building is a cacophony of solids and voids, a lively sculpture birthed from opposing geometric forces.
As his only American building, Le Corbusier's Carpenter Center remains unquestionably significant, but even after fifty years, critical response to the design continues to vary. Most of the complaints stem from the structure's overwhelming dissonance within the larger Georgian Revival landscape, its contrast with the "Harvard brand" apparently too much for some to tolerate. But a design that might seem insensitive from the exterior is actually quite functional with flexible, open workspaces and finely tuned light perfect for painting and sculpting. A dynamic composition, the Carpenter Center stands as more than just a mass of concrete. It is a building meant to inspire and illuminate, and as one of Le Corbusier's last commissions, it serves as an unapologetic reexamination of his enduring architectural vision.
Find a more complete discussion (and great images) of the Carpenter Center here.
Image at top:
By Daderot (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
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