A native of the Swiss Jura, Le Corbusier loved the Mediterranean, the light, the landscapes where great civilizations had emerged, and the rural architecture. The Cabanon bears witness to these ancient roots, and the architect, who was to die in the waves off Cabbé beach on 27 August 1965, now lies at rest in Roquebrune cemetery.
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That is how Le Corbusier described the wooden cabin (Le Cabanon) he built in 1952 on a plot of land adjacent to the Etoile de Mer restaurant that had been built in 1949 next to the Villa. Though of only modest size, it is the illustration of a series of research projects on the rules of harmonious dimensions defined in the ‘Modulor’. Till his wife Yvonne died in 1957, the architect spent his summers there with her and continued to use it as a holiday home until his own death in 1965.
In 1928, the cover of a book by Le Corbusier, ‘A house, a palace’, showed a fishing boat which testified to his admiration for the vernacular. This may explain the rustic appearance of the external walls of the Cabanon, a far cry from Le Corbusier’s famous white villas.
The originality of the Cabanon resides in the fact that it associates the spirit of the trappers’ cabins and the functionalism vaunted by the architects of the modernist movement. For the latter, defining a typology of living cell, reduced to a minimum space fulfilling several functions at once, is crucial. Beneath the single-slope roof of the Cabanon, a working area, a resting area, lavatory, wash-basin, a table, storage cupboards and a coat-rack are concentrated into a square cell measuring 3.66m by 3.66m and 2.26m high. The structure of all these wooden elements, prefabricated in Corsica by the joinery firm Barberis, was assembled on the spot like a Meccano kit.
Inside the Cabanon the furniture, made of oak and chestnut, and the plywood partitions compete with one another as clever ways of dividing up the available space and facilitating storage.
Fixed to the wall of the façade looking out on to the sea, a work table with a chestnut marquetry top is supplemented by a low cupboard with storage compartments. Separated from the lavatory by a red curtain, the bed incorporates a wooden head-rest with storage . The murals that decorate the entrance and the two folding shutters, the yellow parquet floor, the green, red and white panels in the ceiling and the splashes of colour from the coat pegs contribute to the harmony of this joyous sobriety.
It was the presence of this carob tree, now inseparable from and virtually an integral part of the Cabanon, that dictated the choice of the site for the Cabanon which it protects with its shade. As living in osmosis with nature was his aim, Le Corbusier would shower outdoors in an improvised “bathroom” under the carob’s foliage. Close by, a concrete table and a seat served as a place for contemplation and reflection. When he wanted to work, he needed to walk just a few steps to the builders’ hut that served as his workshop and where he stored his drawings.
In an exchange of letters with Charles Barberis, the carpenter who built the Cabanon, Le Corbusier had considered mass production (in wood or metal) of this prototype.
The Cabanon is now recognized as a manifesto of modern architecture, and two replicas have been made by the furniture designer Cassina. They are frequently exhibited all over the world.
Le Corbusier’s murals, which with dashes of colour polychromatically complement and offset the austerity of the minimalist habitat he had designed, decorate a wall of the entrance to the Cabanon and the inside panels of the two folding shutters.
The first painting executed by Le Corbusier in the Cabanon decorates the entrance. This is one of the first works in the series of 21 “Taureaux” (bulls) that kept the architect busy until the end of his days. One of the sources of inspiration for this painting which blends several motifs and ideas was a still life. The oxen he had drawn at Ozon in 1941 were another. Le Corbusier himself admitted that he regarded the Taureaux series as a ‘total and intimate Corbu-Yvonne confession’. On the other side of the wall, he painted another picture representing the Rebutato family and their dog by the sea. Inside the Cabanon, the artist painted on cardboard a series of figures, several of which allude to Yvonne. He also decorated the shutters with female figures.
Like those of Villa E-1027 and the Etoile de Mer, the garden around Le Corbusier’s Cabanon is a natural extension of the dwelling. It cannot be understood without reference to the concept of the “outside house” as highlighted by researchers such as Jean-Lucien Bonillo or Bruno Chiambretto.
Near the Cabanon, the carob tree sets the tone, dominating the prickly pears, yuccas and the agaves, which scramble down the slope towards the rocks. The garden also features typically Mediterranean plant species: pines, eucalyptus, pistachios, euphorbias, yuccas, prickly pears, lentiscus, Rhamnus alaternus, Phillyrea etc. It’s a very “natural” area, contrasting with the more landscaped gardens of the Etoile de Mer.
Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, better known by his pseudonym Le Corbusier, was born on 6 October 1887 at La Chaux- de-Fonds, in the canton of Neuchâtel, in Switzerland, and died on 27 August 1965 at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.
Architect, town planner, interior designer, painter, sculptor and man of letters, he discovers Cap Martin in the 1930s. Henceforth he is to spend most of his holidays there. He builds the Cabanon on the site along with a builder’s hut which he uses as his workshop, and later a few holiday cottages with accompanying furniture. Several of his murals can be found there, including those he painted in May 1938 on the interior walls of Villa E-1027. It was here too that he designed the Roq and Rob projects, of which the holiday cottages are a variant.
In 1919, in collaboration with Amédée Ozenfant and Paul Dermée Le Corbusier founds the periodical L’esprit nouveau which is published until 1925.
In 1920, year in which he meets Fernand Léger, he adopts the pseudonym Le Corbusier, from the name of one of his ancestors from Albi.
In 1922 began his long collaboration with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret. This is a busy year, in which he gave his first lecture at the Sorbonne, and met Yvonne Gallis, a model from Monaco whom he was to marry in 1930, and submitted his plan for the contemporary city of three million inhabitants to the Autumn Salon.
1923 sees the publication of ‘Towards an Architecture’, the Jeanneret-Ozenfant exhibtion at Léonce Rosenberg’s ‘modern effort’ gallery and construction of the villas La Roche and Jeanneret (Paris Auteuil).
In 1924, Le Corbusier sets up his workshop at 35 rue de Sèvres (Paris 6). He gives lectures in Geneva, Lausanne and Prague.
In 1925, he builds the Pavilion of the New Spirit as part of the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris and the cité Frugès at Pessac. This is also the year in which he produces studies for ‘The neighbour plan’ and the villa Meyer.
In 1927, he takes part in the competition for the house of the League of Nations in Geneva. He builds the villa Stein at Garches, the house Planeix in Paris and the Weissenhof villas in Stuttgart.
In 1929, Le Corbusier, in collaboration with Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret, presents his furniture at the Autumn Salon. He builds the villa Savoye at Poissy and carries out studies for the Mundaneum and town planning in South America.
In 1930, having taken French nationality, Le Corbusier marries Yvonne Gallis on 18 December.
1935 sees the publication of ‘Aircraft’ and ‘La Ville Radieuse’, construction of the weekend house at La Celle Saint Cloud, and of the villa the Sextant (Les Mathes).
1936, year marked by his journey to South América on board the Graf Zeppelin, Le Corbusier is consulted, along with Oscar Niemeyer, Lucio Costa, Alfonso Reidy and others, on the construction of the Ministry of Education and Health. In Paris, he studies the project for a stadium with a capacity of 100 000.
In 1938, he exhibits paintings at the Kunsthaus in Zurich and the L. Carré gallery in Paris and paints five murals at Jean Badovici’s Villa E-1027 at Cap Martin.
1942 sees the foundation of ASCORAL (Assembly of Builders for an Architectural Renovation). Le Corbusier is sent on an official mission to Algiers. The workshop in rue de Sèvres in Paris re-opens.
In 1950, he is appointed Adviser to the government of Punjab for the construction of its new capital city, with Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew . Publishes Modulor I, ‘poetry on Algiers’ and ‘l’unité d’Habitation de Marseille’.
1951. 18 February : during his first visit to India, Le Corbusier goes to Chandigarh and Ahmedabad. Presents the monument ‘The Open Hand’ of Chandigarh and starts work on projects for the Assembly, the High Court, the Governor’s Palace, the Secretariat and the Museum. The same year he is excluded as designer from the competition for the construction of the seat of UNESCO in Paris. Builds the chapel Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp.
In 1952, builds his Cabanon at Roquebrune-Cap Martin. On 14 October, he submits to the Minister for Reconstruction and Town Planning, Eugène Claudius-Petit, his project for the Cité d’habitation in Marseilles.
In 1956, refuses to teach at the School of Fine Art.
In 1957, in addition to construction of living units in Berlin and Briey en Forêt, Le Corbusier builds the Maison du Brésil at the university campus in Paris, with Lucio Costa, the Convent Sainte Marie de La Tourette at Eveux, and the Museum of Western Art at Tokyo.
In 1963, work begins on construction of the Le Corbusier Centre in Zurich.
In 1965, resumption of the study of the Open Hand Monument for Chandigarh, award of the Diploma by the Boston Society of Architecture, publication of Texts and Drawings for Ronchamp and construction of Firminy Stadium.
On 27 August 1965, Le Corbusier died at Cap Martin whilst bathing in the Mediterranean. On 1 September, his official funeral was held in the Cour Carrée at the Louvre. He was then buried in Cap Martin cemetery.
Above text reproduced with the kind permission of the Le Corbusier Foundation
The fragility of the Cabanon and the workshop hut raises problems for visits by the public. No-one is allowed to enter the hut and restoration work will begin on both buildings in the near future. As for the Cabanon, groups of no more than four persons, accompanied by the guide, are allowed to enter , and for a visit of no longer than 2 to 3 minutes so as to allow a smooth rotation of visitors.
It is vital that neither the paintings nor the furniture should be touched; nor may the handles or openings be manipulated by anyone but the guide.
The Cabanon and the workshop hut, after completion of work safeguarding their respective roofs, in May 2015, will be shortly be the subject of full-scale restoration.
The humble builders’ hut, which was originally erected by one of Le Corbusier’s assistants, was in a precarious condition. Waterproofing, painting and wood treatment will be necessary for its conservation.