Modern Man: The Life of Le Corbusier

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Modern Man: The Life of Le Corbusier
Villa Savoye in Poissy, France, completed in 1929, affirmed Le Corbusier’s role as a star architect and ushered in the International Style / © Anthony Flint/Anthony Flint

In “Modern Man,” Anthony Flint attempts to liberate Le Corbusier from the indictments that have plagued his legacy. “His ideas and his template for disruption have value that has been obscured by the withering dismissal of those who see him as the destroyer of cities,” Flint argues. “There is much that works and much to be learned from Le Corbusier — and it’s in danger of being tossed aside, a baby thrown out with the modernist bathwater.”

But Flint’s book is less a polemic than a popular account of the architect’s life, from his early years as a watchmaker’s son in Switzerland, to his formative travels through Europe (when he sketched the Parthenon with near-religious fervor), to his drafting of the manifesto “Après le cubisme,” to his final days along the French Riviera, where he died in 1965 of an apparent heart attack while swimming.

Flint achieves surprising emotional depth, capturing intimate details of Le Corbusier’s relationships with his elderly mother (to whom he bragged of his sexual conquests with the likes of singer and actress Josephine Baker) and his wife, Yvonne Gallis, a fashion model from Monaco. After Yvonne died in 1957 and was cremated, Le Corbusier, in a grim act of sentimentality, retrieved an intact vertebra from the ashes and kept it on his work desk. ….