Le Corbusier: Architect of the Century

Hayward Gallery

Hayward Gallery, 5 March – 7 June 1987

The Hayward Gallery’s 1987 exhibition Le Corbusier: Architect of the Century, which explored the life and work of the pioneering modernist, was timed to mark the start of the architect’s centenary year. The exhibition was organised with the collaboration of the Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris, and selected by a committee that included architectural historian Tim Benton, Christopher Green of the Courtauld Institute of Art and Richard Francis of the Tate Gallery. Architect Neave Brown also contributed to both the selection and the design.

Le Corbusier: Architect of the Century featured furniture, original drawings and paintings, as well as photographs and models of the architect’s major public and private buildings.

At the time that the exhibition was staged, the architect’s claims for modernism – which had had such an influence on the development of both civic and domestic space across the world – were coming under fire. Notes from a committee meeting held during the planning stages of the exhibition show that the organisers were thinking carefully about how to address the ‘failure of modernism’ at the same time as celebrating Le Corbusier’s achievements.

The exhibition at the Hayward Gallery was accompanied by a wide range of events that took place across the Southbank Centre and beyond. Among them was a weekend Symposium organised in collaboration with the Thirties Society; a bus tour that took participants on a modernist trail through the capital; and a classical concert of music considered to be complementary to the exhibition, introduced by one of Le Corbusier’s close collaborators, the composer Iannis Xenakis.

Many of the press responses dealt directly with the recent shift in attitudes towards the work of this influential modernist. Michael Shepherd, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, noted that Le Corbusier, ‘the architect’s architect and hero-model’ had suffered a recent backlash that brought him down to human scale. With this exhibition, Shepherd argued, Le Corbusier’s work and theories were ‘up for re-assessment’.

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