Le Corbusier: THE MODULOR [A HARMONIOUS MEASURE TO THE HUMAN SCALE UNIVERSALLY APPLICABLE TO ARCHITECTURE AND MECHANICS ]. Harvard University Press, 1954. First edition in English (from the 2nd French edition of 1951). Third printing. A fine hardcover book in full decorated cloth in a near-fine dust jacket: mild age-toning to spine. Tiny and faint bookstore stamp to front free endpaper. Interior unmarked and very clean. An exceptionally well-preserved copy. Out-of-print.
A HARMONIOUS MEASURE TO THE HUMAN SCALE
UNIVERSALLY APPLICABLE TO ARCHITECTURE AND MECHANICS
7.75 x 7.75 hardcover book with 244 pages illustrated by the author. Translated by Peter De Francia and Anna Bostock. The Modulor, Le Corbusier's system of measure was based on the Golden Section and Fibonacci numbers, tailored to the average human body, and was employed in his architectural designs.
From Michael J. Ostwald's "Review of Modulor and Modulor 2 by Le Corbusier (Charles Edouard Jeanneret)": Le Corbusier developed the Modulor between 1943 and 1955 in an era which was already displaying widespread fascination with mathematics as a potential source of universal truths. In the late 1940s Rudolf Wittkower's research into proportional systems in Renaissance architecture began to be widely published and reviewed. In 1951 the Milan Triennale organised the first international meeting on Divine Proportions and appointed Le Corbusier to chair the group. On a more prosaic level, the metric system in Europe was creating a range of communication problems between architects, engineers and craftspeople. At the same time, governments around the industrialised world had identified the lack of dimensional standardisation as a serious impediment to efficiency in the building industry. In this environment, where an almost Platonic veneration of systems of mathematical proportion combined with the practical need for systems of co-ordinated dimensioning, the Modulor was born.
For Le Corbusier, what industry needed was a system of proportional measurement which would reconcile the needs of the human body with the beauty inherent in the Golden Section. If such a system could be devised, which could simultaneously render the Golden Section proportional to the height of a human, then this would form an ideal basis for universal standardisation. Using such a system of commensurate measurements Le Corbusier proposed that architects, engineers and designers would find it relatively simple to produce forms that were both commodious and delightful and would find it more difficult to produce displeasing or impractical forms. After listening to Le Corbusier's arguments Albert Einstein summarised his intent as being to create a "scale of proportions which makes the bad difficult and the good easy." A more mundane motive might also partially explain this endeavour. Le Corbusier saw that such a system could be patented and that when it became universally recognised and applied he "would have the right to claim royalties on everything that will be constructed on the basis of [his] measuring system."
According to Le Corbusier, the initial inspiration for the Modulor came from a vision of a hypothetical man inscribed with three overlapping but contiguous squares. Le Corbusier advised his assistant Hanning to take this hypothetical "man-with-arm-upraised, 2.20m. in height; put him inside two squares 1.10 by 1.10 metres each, superimposed on each other; put a third square astride these first two squares. This third square should give you a solution. The place of the right angle should help you to decide where to put this third square." In this way Le Corbusier proposed to reconcile human stature with mathematics.
Le Corbusier's Modulor represents a curious turning point in architectural history. In one sense it represents a final brave attempt to provide a unifying rule for all architecture - in another it records the failure and limits of such an approach. Le Corbusier is quite open when he notes that the Modulor has the capacity to produce designs that are "displeasing, badly put together" or "horrors." Ultimately he advises that "[y]our eyes are your judges" and that the "Modulor does not confer talent, still less genius." He also completely abandons the Modulor when it does not suit and persistently reminds people that since it is based on perception then its application must be limited by practical perception. Large dimensions are impossible to sense with any accuracy and so Le Corbusier does not advocate the use of the Modulor for these scales. Similarly construction techniques render the use of the modular for very small dimensions impractical. This proviso is important to remember and it is in part responsible for the way in which Le Corbusier eventually applied the rule. Having developed the Modulor and used it selectively in a few designs it then became largely invisible (and also immeasurable) in Le Corbusier's later works where it instinctively informed his eye as a designer but did not control it.
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