Oct. 3, 2023

Le Corbusier's architectural legacy takes centre stage at SAPL’s Design Matters event

City Building Design Lab exhibit marks North American debut of the remarkable collection of architectural models
SAPL Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier exhibit at CBDLab. Neil Zeller

In a celebration of one of the 20th century’s most influential architects, the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL) at the University of Calgary recently hosted a remarkable exhibition and lecture that shed light on the enduring legacy of the iconic Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965).

Le Corbusier led the international development of modern architecture in the 1920s. He is credited as one of the founders of modern architecture and his influence continues to be seen in buildings being constructed today

More than 240 individuals gathered at SAPL’s City Building Design Lab (CBDLab) in downtown Calgary on Sept. 13 for an opening reception and lecture. The event attracted a diverse audience, including current students and staff of SAPL, alumni, representatives from local architecture firms, City of Calgary delegates, and members of the public with a keen interest in architecture and city planning.

The travelling exhibition of models was created by RT+Q Architects PTE of Singapore and curated locally by SAPL professor Dr. Graham Livesey, PhD, and session lecturer Rob Birch, BSc’03, MEDes’14.

DIALOG, a North American architectural, engineering, interior design and planning firm, generously contributed to the cost of bringing the show to Calgary. The exhibition of models had recently completed a successful European tour over the past year and a half. In fact, this was the North American debut of the remarkable collection of architectural models, marking its 19th exhibition overall.

Evolution and geographical range of Le Corbusier's work

Rene Tan, principal of RT+Q Architects, spoke at the opening and shared the origin of this innovative idea. “The concept was born out of the challenges posed by the COVID pandemic when travel was restricted for about two years. The idea emerged to bring Le Corbusier to [the] people."

The exhibition features 150 unique, meticulously crafted 3D-printed models, miniature replicas paying homage to iconic buildings designed by the famous architect such as the Villa Savoye near Paris and the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp, France. Each model was created by Singaporean interns working at RT+Q Architects, with the creations serving as both their inaugural project and as a rite of passage. "The true heroes of this exhibition are the interns," Tan said. 

The SAPL version of the exhibition was curated to represent 15 different countries across Europe, Russia, North Africa, the Middle East, North America, South America and Asia in which Le Corbusier worked. The curators wanted the viewers to understand the evolution and geographical range of the designs and ideas of this architect’s work.

“Rob Birch and I curated the Le Corbusier exhibition together using 60 out of the 150 models delivered,” says Livesey. “Consistent with the launch of SAPL’s new Bachelor of Design in City Innovation (BDCI) program, we wanted to showcase the global reach of Le Corbusier’s architecture. The models are set up on ‘islands’ that represent the many geographical regions around the world in which he built.” 

For many attendees, particularly SAPL students and alumni, the opportunity to interact with replicas of Le Corbusier's iconic creations was a source of excitement and inspiration. One SAPL student said, "I've always admired Le Corbusier; growing up, I used to read a lot about him."

The intricate details and diverse range of buildings and structures on display left everyone captivated.

The exhibition opening was followed by the first lecture in the 2023-24 Design Matters series, given by guest of honour and presentation speaker Dr. Miquel Adrià, PhD, via Zoom. An architect, historian, educator and critic based in Mexico City, Adrià has written more than 30 books on Latin American architecture.

During his presentation, The Shadow of the Raven: Mexican Architects Following the Path of Le Corbusier, Adrià delved into how Le Corbusier influenced prominent Mexican architects by merging the traditional colonial architecture found in Mexico's countryside with Le Corbusier's modernist concepts. This convergence ultimately led to the modernization of Mexican cities and improved living conditions.

Adrià said evidence of Le Corbusier's enduring influence can still be observed in Mexican architecture, notably exemplified by the famous mass-housing project Conjunto Habitacional Nonoalco-Tlatelolco in Mexico City.

Adrià emphasized how Le Corbusier, despite never setting foot in the country, left an enduring mark on Mexican architecture through his pioneering ideas. His absence from the country did not diminish the profound social impact of his work, while also prompting contemplation of its potential colonial nature.

Conversely, it serves as a testament to the universal appeal of Le Corbusier’s ideas, demonstrating their ability to cross geographical and cultural boundaries.

Architecture and planning enthusiasts can look forward to the next Design Matters event at the CBDLab. Scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 12, the event will focus on Gender Responsive Planning with guest speaker Dr. Sara Candiracci, PhD, from Milan, Italy. For more information, check the Design Matters website.