Le Corbusier’s Paint Color Schemes

by admin on August 4, 2012


Le Corbusier is without doubt the most influential, most admired, and most maligned architect of the twentieth century. Through his writing and his buildings, he is the main player in the Modernist story, his visions of homes and cities as innovative as they are influential. Many of his ideas on urban living became the blueprint for post-war reconstruction, and the many failures of his would-be imitators led to Le Corbusier being blamed for the problems of western cities in the 1960s and 1970s.

Le Corbusier, born Charles Edouard Jeanneret, was a modern architect with a big ego and even bolder sense of design. During his almost fifty year career, he was one of the pioneers of the minimalist style now known as modern. He was also a creator of bold, rich colors he chose to accompany his designs. He was a proponent of city design, as well, and France and Sweden bear his mark to this day. He chose to break with his Arts and Crafts background and embrace design with no ornamentation, creating buildings that were stark, airy, and almost weightless to view.

Le Corbusier chose to study visual art as a youth, traveling and working across Europe after art school, absorbing design and colors as he traveled and broadened his experience. During his travels he studied the Parthenon, later saying in his books that it was a great influence on him. The sketches he created of it have become famous in their own right. His modern style was influenced by the past not only with the Parthenon, but his partnership with Cubist painter Amedee Ozenfant.

For a few years after his first architectural efforts, Le Corbusier chose to leave architecture and study painting, learning not only the value of color, but how to create paints. When, later in his career, he developed paints for buildings, this influence revealed itself as he ground his own minerals and pigments to achieve the boldest, richest colors. Like the Grand Masters of painting, Le Corbusier wanted unique paints, not something mass produced for all to procure.

Most Modern architecture and design may seem to be expanses of white, concrete and glass, broken by metal or chrome protrusions. Le Corbusier broke those minimalist expanses with bold swathes of his hand-made colors. Vibrant and bold, they served to point up the taut designs of his buildings. While he had forsworn ornamentation, color served as his punctuation. He was greatly influenced by the natural world, and while his walls of glass brought the outside in, his colorful interspersions continued the theme even after dark.

Even though he created these colors almost a hundred years ago, they still resonate with a classic beauty. The Switzerland based company KT Color has the collection, with eighty shades of paint designed by the Modern master Le Corbusier. Expensive as they are, the colors are still faithfully recreated to his recipes, and the minerals and pigments they contain are worth the investment. Modern paints pale beside the depth of color possible in them. While a computer could color match the paint chips, only the chemicals and minerals of the original composition can stand up to the test of time.

Part of the paint’s appeal is Le Corbusier’s hand still at work long after his death, in the palettes he created. Certain colors, he dictated, should be grouped together. Early in his career, he chose brights and pastels that would work best with primarily white walls. Later on, he added a palette designed to accentuate earthy tones as he incorporated concrete, wood, and raw plaster into his designs.

He developed his first color palette in 1931, and his second one in the 1950s, decades of honing and perfecting his palettes in between those debuts. In all the years that ensued, no one could have guessed that the two styles Le Corbusier had developed would continue to dominate Modern Architecture. He himself would have no doubt been smug to see that his designs, and his colors, are still relevant in the Twenty First Century. He is said to have thought of himself first as a painter, second as an architect. With his designs he sought to involve as many of the senses as possible, creating a polychromatic rather than monochrome atmosphere in his buildings.

Le Corbusier’s desire was to use color to create a psychological impact on the viewer. He considered his palettes to be “eminently architectural” and intended them for application to walls and furniture alike, as he did design and create furniture during his career. He asked that the palettes not be viewed one color at a time, but in combination. to experience the most instinctual reaction to the harmony of the colors. He considered red stimulating, blue calming, and green a natural color.

The Weissenhof Estate

This from Open University

Famous Buildings:
L’Esprit Nouveau Pavilion (Paris)
Villa Savoye (Poissy)
Unité d’Habitation (Marseilles)

L’Esprit Nouveau

Le Corbusier is without doubt the most influential, most admired, and most maligned architect of the twentieth century. Through his writing and his buildings, he is the main player in the Modernist story, his visions of homes and cities as innovative as they are influential. Many of his ideas on urban living became the blueprint for post-war reconstruction, and the many failures of his would-be imitators led to Le Corbusier being blamed for the problems of western cities in the 1960s and 1970s.

Like Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, and other architects of his generation, Le Corbusier had little architectural training. But he did have a strong conviction that the twentieth century would be an age of progress: an age when engineering and technological advances, and new ways of living, would change the world for good. Only architecture was failing to embrace the future, as new buildings continued to ape various historical styles.

In 1908, Le Corbusier went to work with Auguste Perret, the French architect who had pioneered the use of reinforced concrete, and then Peter Behrens, the German exponent of ‘industrial design’. Behrens admired the engineer’s ethic of mass production, logical design, and function over style, and Corbusier brought two of these early influences together in his ‘Maison Dom-Ino’ plan of 1915.

This house would be made of reinforced concrete and was intended for mass production, but was also flexible: none of the walls were load-bearing and so the interior could be re-arranged as the occupant wished.

A House Is A Machine For Living In

By 1918, Corbusier’s ideas on how architecture should meet the demands of the machine age led him to develop, in collaboration with the artist Amédée Ozenfant, a new theory: Purism. Purist rules would lead the architect always to refine and simplify design, dispensing with ornamentation. Architecture would be as efficient as a factory assembly line. Soon, Le Corbusier was developing standardised housing ‘types’ like the ‘Immeuble-villa’ (made real with the Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau of 1925), and the Maison Citrohan (a play on words suggesting the building industry should adopt the methods of the mass production automobile industry), which he hoped would solve the chronic housing problems of industrialised countries.

His radical ideas were given full expression in his 1923 book Vers Une Architecture (“Towards a New Architecture”), an impassioned manifesto which is still the best-selling architecture book of all time. “A house”, Le Corbusier intoned from its pages, “is a machine for living in.”

But despite his love of the machine aesthetic, Le Corbusier was determined that his architecture would reintroduce nature into people’s lives. Victorian cities were chaotic and dark prisons for many of their inhabitants. Le Corbusier was convinced that a rationally planned city, using the standardised housing types he had developed, could offer a healthy, humane alternative.


The first of his grand urban plans was the Ville Contemporaine of 1922. This proposed city of three million would be divided into functional zones: twenty-four glass towers in the centre would form the commercial district, separated from the industrial and residential districts by expansive green belts. In 1925, Corbusier’s ambitious Plan Voisin for Paris envisioned the destruction of virtually the entire north bank of the Seine to incorporate a mini version of the Ville Contemporaine. Understandably, it remained only a plan.

More realistic was the Ville Radieuse (1933-1935), in which long slab blocks were laid out in parkland and where the housing types were considerably cheaper than the Immeuble-villas which filled earlier plans. A version of this was built at the Alton West Estate in Roehampton, England in 1958.

After the Second World War, with Europe’s housing problems worse than ever, Le Corbusier got his chance to put his urban theories into practice. The Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles (1952) is a synthesis of three decades of Corbusian domestic and urban thinking. Seventeen storeys high and designed to house 1,600 people, the Unite incorporates various types of apartment, shops, clubs and meeting room, all connected by raised ‘streets’. There is also a hotel and recreation facilities. It is now an immensely popular building, and a coveted address for Marseille’s middle-class professionals today.

When Le Corbusier died in 1965, the backlash against Modernism was gaining momentum. His theories on urban renewal were plagiarised by local authorities on tight budgets, which often failed to understand the essential humanism behind Le Corbusier’s plans. Ronan Point was the result. But blaming Le Corbusier as the architect of post-war housing failure ignores the deep concern for human comfort and health that underpinned his work.

Resources and other articles on Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier New York Times
The Colors of Le Corbusier
Apartment Therapy 2008 Le Corbusier


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