As part of the Norman Foster Foundation Collection lives the Voisin C7, that was pre-owned by Le Corbusier. The iconic Voisin C7 was built in 1926 and shaped many of Le Corbusier’s ideas, ideas that he applied in his architecture and urban planning. For Le Corbusier, the automobile was the ultimate translation of modernity and technique combined together in a single object, and was a firm believer that architecture had many lessons to learn from such a machine.
Voisin C7 Lumineuse at the Norman Foster Foundation Pavilion, picture by José Manuel Ballester
Le Corbusier and his wife Yvonne Gallis with their Voisin C7 Lumineuse
Le Corbusier with his Voisin C7 Lumineuse
Within its Pavilion, the Norman Foster Foundation houses a Voisin C7 Lumineuse automobile previously owned by Le Corbusier. The presence of the car among the foundation’s other collections of drawings, models, and works of art signals the strong influence of automobiles upon architecture, evident in both Le Corbusier and Norman Foster’s work. Original photographs of Le Corbusier traveling with his beloved Voisin C7 Luminuese displayed at the Foundation and featured in the following collection, demonstrate the lasting impact of the automobile on the architect.
Le Corbusier was a self-declared devotee of French airplane pioneer Gabriel Voisin’s automobiles and repeatedly espoused motor vehicles in his writings and projects. For Le Corbusier, the automobile epitomized power, speed, and functionality such that it ushered in new perceptions of time and distance. Le Corbusier sought to accommodate and integrate these qualities in his visions for utopic urban megalopolises, investing himself in the automobile as a symbol of modernity and progress. Programmatically, Le Corbusier believed, for instance, that the automobile required a new urban layer separated from pedestrians that would transform the fabric of existing cities.
With these principles in mind, Le Corbusier approached the heads of leading French automobile companies including Peugeot, Citroën, and Voisin tin search of a solution to growing prominence of the automobile in the streets of Paris. The most receptive of these was Gabriel Voisin, who supported Le Corbusier’s plan, which was consequently named after him. Le Corbusier’s now controversial Plan Voisin aimed to create a contemporary Paris remade the city in the image of the automobile with superblocks and huge rectilinear arteries.
Le Corbusier was also highly influenced by the automobile in his designs at the scale of the building as well. Inspired by the innovations of automobile production processes, Le Corbusier imagined homes as ‘machines for living’ and subsequently developed a series of experimental pre-fabricated houses such as the Dom-Ino House or the Maison Citröhan. These principles were explained in Towards a New Architecture: ‘If houses were constructed by industrial mass production, like chassis, unexpected but sane and defensible forms would soon appear, and a new aesthetic would be formulated with astonishing precision’. The automobile left its mark on Le Corbusier’s other instances such as the Villa Savoye’s floorplan, designed around the turning radius of the car in order to allow the vehicle to seamlessly approach and interact with the house.
Bringing his passion for automobiles to an even more direct form of creation, Le Corbusier designed a car in 1936 together alongside his cousin and business manager, Pierre Jeanneret. It was the result of a competition sponsored by France’s Société des Ingénieurs de l’Automobile (SIA) that sought to create an inexpensive simple car for the people. It was meant to be a minimal vehicle with maximum functionality, therefore it was named Voiture Minimum. At 370cm long and 185cm in width, Le Corbusier and Jeanneret’s creation could comfortably accommodate three people in the front with an extra seat that could be transformed into a camp bed in the back. While never built, it did serve as an inspiration for later vehicles.