Skyscraper by the roots

By the Lettrist International

Potlatch #5 20 July 1954

In these days where everything, every aspect of life, is becoming more and more repressive, there is one man who is particularly repulsive, one who is clearly more on the side of law and order than most. He builds individual living cells, he builds capital cities for the Nepalese, he builds vertical ghettoes, he builds morgues for an era that well knows what to do with them, he builds churches.

This modular Protestant, Le Corbusier-Sing-Sing, this dauber of neo-cubist shells, sets in motion "machines for living in" to the greater glory of God, who created carrion and corbies in his own image and likeness.

It is understandable that while modern urban planning has not yet made itself worthy of the name art, let alone that of a cadre de vie, it has, on the other hand, always found inspiration in police detectives; after all, Haussmann only gave us these boulevards to make it easier to roll cannons through them.

But today, the prison is becoming the preferred housing type, and while Christian morality advances unopposed, Le Corbusier is trying to do away with streets. He even brags about it. His program? To divide life into closed, isolated units, into societies under perpetual surveillance; no more opportunities for uprisings or meaningful encounters; to enforce an automatic resignation. (We should mention in passing that the existence of the automobile benefits everyone, except, of course, for a few "economically disadvantaged" individuals. The recently deceased Chief of Police, the unforgettable Baylot, likewise remarked after the last end-of-term student parade that street demonstrations were no longer compatible with traffic requirements. And the point is brought home to us every 14th of July.)

With Le Corbusier, the interplay and insight that we have a right to expect from truly impressive architecture -- disorientation on a daily basis -- have been sacrificed in favor of the rubbish chute that will never be used to dispose of the required Bible, already ubiquitous in American hotels.

Only a fool could see this as modern architecture. It is nothing more than a regression en mass to the old, not properly interred world of Christianity. At the turn of the century, the mystic from Lyon Pierre-Simon Ballanche, in his "City of Atonement" had already framed this ideal of existence -- with descriptions that prefigure the "cites radieuses."

The City of Atonement must be a living image of the sad, monotonous law of human vicissitudes, of the unbending law of social necessity: even the most innocent customs must be attached at the root, everything must be a constant reminder that nothing is stable and that man's life is a journey through a land of exile.

For us, however, the earthly voyage is neither sad nor monotonous; social laws are not fixed; questioned habits must give way to an incessant renewal of the marvelous. The first comfort we seek is the elimination of all such ideas as these, along with the flies that spread them.

What does Mr. Le Corbusier know about human needs?

Cathedrals are no longer white. And we are glad of the fact. "Brightness" and a place in the sun: we know how that tune goes, played on organs and MRP drums, and the fields of heaven where defunct architects are put out to pasture. "Enlevez le boeuf, c'est de la vache."



To Contact Us:
ISSN 1084-7340.
Snail mail: POB 1115, Stuyvesant Station, New York City 10009-9998