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Twelve days of Corbness

Marc Hagan-Guirey

Graphic designer and author Marc Hagan-Guirey tells Jan-Carlos Kucharek how Le Corbusier's buildings inspired his kirigami book with 12 models for Christmas and gives you two new templates to complete over the holiday

Credit: John Godwin

Given its orthogonal nature, I found that Le Corbusier’s work lent itself to Kirigami,’ says Marc Hagan- Guirey, author of Le Corbusier Paper Models. ‘The magic happens when you add an instantly recognisable detail to a simple cut-out and suddenly it becomes his work.’ He finds that thinking through the process of how one goes from two to three dimensions emulates the way the architect went from a sketch to the 3D imagination of the building itself.

A graphic designer by training, Hagan-Guirey's move into digital advertising left him disillusioned, so in a re-evaluation of his career he returned to the things that gave him joy as a child. Collecting action figures from charity shops, he had a fascination with making fortresses for them from shoe and egg boxes. Combined with a later love of movies, it was only a matter of time before he began to sublimate the two.

First came a Kirigami Addams Family mansion, then the kirigami house from The Exorcist. And when in 2011, he paid a visit to the Los Angeles home used as the set for the Vincent Price film ‘House on Haunted Hill’ – Frank Lloyd Wright’s 1924 Ennis House – the penny finally dropped. ‘I’d thought about a book of cut-outs called ‘Horrorgami’ but the wish to record this amazing architecture as kirigami basically led to what I do now,’ he explains.

After a Kirigami book on Wright came one on Le Corbusier, which will be published in February. Each of the 10 projects has a photo of the finished model, an explanation of the original building and a pull-out template of the model along with cutting tips, to allow you to be a budding Corb-cutter. We’re providing two templates below to allow you to have a go at the Maison Le Lac and the Pavillon Corbusier. Give it a go over Christmas and we’ll publish the photos of what they should look like in the New Year. Happy cutting readers!

Le Corbusier Paper Models- 10 Kirigami Buildings to Cut and Fold is published by Laurence King in February 2020. £20

Maison Citrohan.
Maison Citrohan. Credit: John Godwin

Maison Citrohan

In 1920 Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret exhibited their concept for Maison Citrohan in an effort to improve living standards after WWI. Inspired by the car, it was a social housing prototype that could be mass produced in a factory to make it more affordable for the working classes.

The architect’s earlier Dom-ino system, a portmanteau of the Latin word domus and innovation, was to become instrumental in his approach to construction; a skeleton frame that would require no internal load-bearing walls, with RC slab loads instead carried on concrete columns, freed up space. Citrohan is a manifestation of this system.

The Citrohan went through various manifestations. This kirigami model is based on the 1922 iteration, in which the body of the house is raised on pillars, creating a ground floor level with functional spaces like garage and pantry.

Villa Stein - de Monzie
Villa Stein - de Monzie Credit: John Godwin

Villa Stein-de Monzie

In 1918, Le Corbusier and painter Amédée Ozenfant pioneered the art form Purism in their book After Cubism. By the 1920s Le Corbusier’s notoriety had spread far and wide and the patronage of wealthy clients in pursuit of cutting-edge design allowed him to explore Purism in his architecture.

Gabrielle de Monzie and Michael and SarahStein often took joint holidays and in 1927 they approached Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret to design them a Paris holiday retreat.

Also known as Villa Garches, it mostly comprises a large white cube. As with Corb's Dom-ino system, the pillars supporting the floors allowed the facades to be non-structural. This is evidenced in the uninterrupted ribbon windows running the full length of the house and the free space within.

Academics comment that Garches can be read as a three-dimensional Purist painting: the skyline forming the backdrop and the building a composition of layered facades. In many ways, this is exactly how a kirigami model is designed.

Villa Savoye.
Villa Savoye. Credit: John Godwin

Villa Savoye

Villa Savoye is not only Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret’s best known house, it is one that would define the course of modern architecture. Built two years after the Villa Garches, Savoye would be the last of the Purist white villas and a paradigm in modern living.

The wealthy Piee and Eugénie Savoye commissioned a weekend retreat in the Paris suburb of Poissy, and while they were said to have had no preconceptions about the outcome, they were drawn to the architect’s much-lauded concept of a ‘machine for living in’.

In 1923 Le Corbusier published his manifesto ‘Vers une Architecture’, in which he stipulated his Five Points of Architecture for a truly modern-day building: the house on pilotis, a free floor plan, a roof garden, ribbon windows running around the building and a free facade. The Villa Savoye came to embody all of these aspects in harmonious unison.

Spiralling costs meant the project cost a staggering 900,000 francs, but its owners took delivery one of the most iconic buildings in modern history.

Maison de Week-end.
Maison de Week-end. Credit: John Godwin

Maison de Week-end

This diminutive but influential 1934 house was designed for a bank director as a weekend getaway from Paris, in La Celle-Saint-Cloud. At only 2.4 m tall, the rear corner of the building reaches level with the perimeter wall and is sheltered by the trees of its garden.

With its use of stone, masonry and a turf-covered roof, the residence could be mistaken for a hermit’s hut. This was deliberate – the intention was to contrast with the surrounding bourgeois villas. Despite the rustic look, the Maison de Week-end was an extremely sophisticated project in both engineering and construction methods.

The L-shaped house is a large square room flanked by two smaller extrusions leading to bedroom and bathroom/ kitchen. A skylight ran in the deepest part of the plan by the boundary wall, allowing light to pour in. Contrasting with the exterior, interiors were beautifully finished, its most notable feature being a bent-plywood vaulted ceiling inspired by Le Corbusier’s Mediterranean trips.


Maisons Jaoul.
Maisons Jaoul. Credit: John Godwin

Maisons Jaoul

Located in the desirable suburb on Neuilly-sur-Seine, a mile from central Paris, two houses based on Le Corbusier’s Modulor proportion system were built on a small 93m2 plot for the families of André Jaoul and his son Michel in 1951. Highly sculptural in appearance, they are perfoarated with asymmetrical clusters of windows and wooden cladding.

Maisons Jaoul are significant in the architect’s oeuvre because they cemented the transition to raw concrete, or béton brut. In post-war Europe, concrete and brick remained the cheapest and most accessible construction materials. This brutalism exposes the building’s materials and construction to the viewer, its structure running from outside to inside, like letters running through a stick of rock.

For this reason, the kirigami model representing La Casa A is in a sectional cut format, the brick facade stripped away to expose the internal structural aspects and revealing the central supporting spine and brick-lined, concrete vaulted ceilings.

Unité d’Habitation.
Unité d’Habitation. Credit: John Godwin

Unité d’Habitation

Le Corbusier’s commanding tower block in Marseille was the first of a number that were built across France, part of a high-density residential housing project commissioned by the French government. Considered one of the most significant brutalist buildings to be constructed, it went on to become the poster-child for social housing around the world and was UNESCO World Heritage listed in 2016.

The Unité d’Habitation epitomises Le Corbusier’s ideology of a machine for living in on a grand scale. The 18-storey block contains 327 apartments of 23 varieties for around 1600 residents, and was designed to cater for both the private and communal needs of its residents.

Designed as a ‘vertical garden city’, it contains streets running the length of the building. On the 7th and 8th floors there were commercial outlets such as a bakery, grocer, post office and doctor’s surgery. And on the roof terrace were a gym, paddling pool, café and even a running track.

Le Corbusier’s admiration from steamships is evident in the mammoth, funnel-like smoke stacks; its roof elements echoing both Greek temples and the modernity of industrial design.

Maison de la Culture.
Maison de la Culture. Credit: John Godwin

Maison de la Culture

During WWII, Firminy, a mining town outside the industrial city of Saint-Étienne, suffered enormous damage. Eugéne Cludius-Petit, mayor of the town and a friend of Le Corbusier, appointed him to design a new town centre, to be known as Firminy-Vert, incorporating a stadium, swimming pool, church and youth centre. The project would be Le Corbusier’s second largest urban complex, after Chandigarh in India, and his largest in Europe.

It is striking in its appearance, with two canted, 112m long east and west facades; the more extreme western side overhanging a steep slope. A shallow, parabolic concrete roof sweeps up toward the sky – a demonstration of remarkable engineering.

These principal faces have a continuous series of tall, vertical windows of varying widths, some clear, some filled with coloured glass. These may appear random but they were calculated with thelp of Iannis Xenakis, a composer who worked with the architect to subliminally infuse rhythm into the building’s design.

The bas-relief on one gable end, in Le Corbusier’s later painting style, is of a bull, branches, a human ear and a conch shell. A simplified version of this appears on the kirigami model.

Villa Sarabhai.
Villa Sarabhai. Credit: John Godwin

Villa Sarabhai

The client, Madam Manorama, asked Le Corbusier to design a house for her and her two sons in Ahmedabad, India, in 1955. Her brief demanded a house without doors, so he used pivoting walls to allow them to adapt it to their needs – hosting their extended family, or letting them to retreat into private nooks.

Having to deal with high humidity, torrential monsoon storms and punishing sunshine, he constructed the villa of red brick with rough-cast concrete render, and oriented it to channel cooling north-easterly breezes.

The building’s exterior reveals its structural logic, with 12 load-bearing parallel walls creating 10 bays at ground and four at the upper level, with a brick-lined, vaulted concrete roof, whose projections protect the main space from the worst of the sunshine, capped by concrete spandrels. The presence of all the gargoyles reveals the building’s capacity to deal with monsoon rain; and yes, that is a first-floor slide into the pool.

High Court, Chandigargh.
High Court, Chandigargh. Credit: John Godwin

High Court, Chandigargh

In 1960, Nehru, the first prime minister of India, appointed Le Corbusier to plan the city of Chandigargh, envisaging it as ‘unfettered by the traditions of the past – an expression of the nation’s faith in the future’. Le Corbusier aimed to counter the nightmare of congestion with his ‘7V’ principle: a hierarchy of roads, from major highway (V1) to pedestrian walkways (V7). Laid down as a grid, the city was originally designed with 52 interdependent neighbourhoods.

The High Court was the first part of the Capitol complex to be completed. A monumental concrete canopy rests atop a wave of gently flowing arches. A trio of mammoth piers, accentuated by their painting in bold colours, splits the building into two blocks and forms an imposing portico. Expansive brise-soleil runs across the facade and to the front of the High Court building are enormous reflecting pools, bisected by the road access to the portico.

Despite criticism of the architect’s imposition of western aesthetics in an Indian city, the city is prosperous and has more than doubled in size from its intended 500,000 inhabitants, and in 2016 was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts.
Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Credit: John Godwin

Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts

In 1969 Le Corbusier was invited to construct a building for the arts department at Harvard. The centre stands out, in this Ivy League University, among a sea of traditional, red-brick neighbours – and not without controversy. The building is an amalgam of his major themes: the pilotis of his earlier, Purist works alongside the exposed concrete of his later brutalist phase. It’s notable that the architect insisted that the concrete be polished and smooth to touch, apparently at great expense.

Formed of a number of overlapping cubes and curves, windows with angled baffles protect the interiors from direct sunlight and on opposite sides of the building, two large, curved studios are raised on huge pillars, some as tall as 9m.

Most interestingly, the building’s heart is bisected by an S-shaped curving ramp, snaking from one existing street to another. It allows the public to pass through as they would always have been able to, but able to witness the building’s studios and entrance spaces as they do so. It is a public artery connecting to the building’s heart and lungs. 

Despite his longstanding fascination with images of American industry the architect – frustratingly – would have to settle with this as his only USA work.

Maison Le Lac.
Maison Le Lac. Credit: John Godwin

Villa Le Lac

In 1923, a 36-year old Le Corbusier designed the Villa Le Lac in Corseaux on Lake Geneva, Switzerland, as a home for his elderly parents in what would be one of the great architect's first built projects. And while it was specifically for them, the building represented a gestation of far bigger aesthetic ideas that were already forming in his mind, as he recalled in 1954: ‘In 1923, I boarded the Paris-Milan express several times, or the Orient Express (Paris-Ankara). In my pocket was the plan of a house. A plan without a site? The plan of a house in search of a plot of ground? Yes!’ In a way, the narrow, simple, 64m2 house of a single bay was the prototype for a new, minimalist mode of living.

It was not quite there yet; it would be his ‘white houses’ that would embody his developed aesthetic ideas, but three of his Five Points of Architecture are manifested here: the open floor plan, the roof garden and the ribbon windows – the 11m long version powerfully framing a magnificent view of the lake. 

It might be small parental home, but this melting pot of modern ideas could be seen one of the architect's most personally invested works.

Pavillon Le Corbusier.
Pavillon Le Corbusier. Credit: John Godwin

Pavillon Le Corbusier

Inaugurated in 1967, a year after Le Corbusier’s death, the Pavillon Le Corbusier in Zurich was the architect’s final realised work. When in 1960 Swiss art collector and patron Heidi Weber commissioned a museum to Le Corbusier’s artworks and furniture, she insisted that the space be designed as a Gesamtkunstwerk, by the architect whose artefacts the museum contained.

The completed 600m2 building seemed to represent a shift for the architect from concrete and stone, to a new language of pre-fabricated steel elements combined with multi-coloured enamelled plates fitted to the central core. The most conspicuous element is the overarching roof, formed of two 12m by 12m triangular section forms of pre-fabricated welded metal sheets, which were transported to site and lifted to their final 9m height.

With the roof providing due protection, the rest of the two-storey structure of coloured steel panels and glazing was assembled on site beneath it to create five single-storey galleries and one double-height exhibition space.

This first expression of a new language emanating from the architect in his latter years was cruelly curtailed by his drowning on 27 August 1966 at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin at his beloved Côte d'Azur.