June 6, 2013
I had a strange assignment at my Paris architecture school to compare my life to the life of Le Corbusier after a semester of Corbu’s biography class. I tried my best to and here is my humble comparison:
Even though young Jeanneret was told what his future profession is to be, for me it was in some way evident too, since my parents were both architects, having an architecture company, and well, I grew up in this environment. I guess it is true that the way we play in early childhood makes us capable for certain types of activities in the future more than others. My brother and I played with wooden basic geometrical forms that we used to build new forms with. Growing up, these primary parts became ever smaller, and the forms we built ever bigger and less alike its’ particles. Very like architecture. So it was my parents, not me, who decided I wouldn’t play with dolls. In this way, they did choose my profession instead of me, even though in latter years I thought that I had come to it myself. And so did my brother.
There is so little influence we have on our lives, and much more is imposed to us by our context: the times you grew up in, wars, geography, parents,… In my hometown, we were assigned to schools by where in the town we lived, so all the kids would live in a walking distance from their school, and there were no class-based differences between schools. Everyone, rich or poor, went to the same schools and got the same education. The language you would learn in your school (apart from English), depended on the school you attended, therefore, where in town you lived. Jeanneret studied pine leaves (*), I studied French. Geography.
Now the war only impacted me indirectly. I needed VISAs to travel. France did not want me. I went to France. I enrolled in architecture studies in my country. I studied Corbu. I went for an internship in France. I met a French guy. I entered master studies in France. And here we are. I am comparing my life to the life of the great Corbu. And what if my parents lived in another part of the town? I would have learned German and who knows where I’d be today. And what if my parents had given me dolls instead of blocks? And what if Corbu had been given car toys instead of Froebel toys? How much are we then responsible for our actions and accomplishments? How much of my life is me, and how much of it is the political and social circumstances that awaited me on my birth? What political circumstances had to emerge for Corbu to make Unité d’Habitation? What social situation awaited it for it to became so famous and debatable for the whole world to know about it? Different geographies respond differently to changes. I am yet to see how my own context will digest my work.
(*) in reference to the school he went to – the only artistic higher education available in his hometown, a school of decorative arts specialized in pocket watch ornaments to accompany the town’s production – where they studied nature-based art-nouveau ornaments (the pine was especially studied since it made the local paysage)
Visiting France finally wasn’t enough, I discovered the importance of changing the context of our everyday life. I visited a number of countries, two different countries per summer, during seven years. The more I traveled, the more I felt the need to travel even more. Like Corbu, I traveled alone. I wasn’t told to travel, it came to me itself, but my travels were nevertheless studious, as I got the opportunity to learn the way different people occupy public and private spaces, the way their climate and culture affected the constructed environment. I did not travel to visit famous monuments, even if it was often inevitable, I did it to meet the local population and the ways of their life. But then, what is architecture if not a way of claiming a territory based on its natural, social and built context ? Is it not an agglomeration of all the experiences of all the sensations we have while occupying a given space ? It is the view we have, and the way sun shines on us, and the feeling of belonging to the community… Because ultimately, architecture in not only about architecture, anything can become architecture and inspirations are found in most peculiar of things.
As Corbu did in my age, I live in Paris. It is not evident for someone of my origin to do so, especially since my country is so closed out today, because of a war that happened when I was no more than a baby. But Corbu lived the war too, his life was also marked by it. It influenced the way he conceived his thoughts on architecture according to it. On my turn, I will have to work with this closedness of my country once I return to it. It wasn’t easy for any of us to come to live here, all alone, without friends. After all we both come from small towns and are not used to this bigness and detachedness of people that inhabit the bigness. But with time friends are made, and you get to learn what the big city has to offer, and on what terms. Nevertheless, sometimes I feel I’m running on 50% of my capacities. I suppose it’s because of the differencies in mentalities. It would be strange here to jump around and speak loudly while laughing, I’m more calm than my real self.
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