Jan de Heer, the author of the book ‘The Architectonic Colour: Polychromy in the Purist Architecture of Le Corbusier’ has been writing publications about architecture and art concerning architecture for over forty years. He takes an interest in writing about the work of the French architect Le Corbusier. Originally published in Dutch in 2008, the book was translated into English with a few improvements. It deals with the analysis of Purist painting and Purist architecture, with an emphasis on the relationship between form and color, and the concept of polychromy that Le Corbusier developed for his designs.

Book in Focus: The Architectonic Colour: Polychromy in the Purist Architecture of Le Corbusier by Jan de Heer - Sheet1
Jan de Heer_©www.arsmusica.be

Le Corbusier was one of the most prominent architects of the twentieth century. Through his building, essays, and artwork, he has a great role to play in contemporary architecture.

“Color lies at the heart of his (Corbusier’s) oeuvre, and its preservation is as crucial as that of the structures themselves.”

-Barbara Klinkhammer, 2011

Since 1918, Corbusier, who was an artist, architect, urban planner, painter, sculptor, and designer was working on developing and creating new concepts regarding Purism collaborating with another painter named Amédée Ozenfant. Their reflections on the relationship between form and color led to creating the supposed “large gamma” – which includes yellow and red ochres, earthy colors, white, black, ultramarine, and a few more blended colors. Le Corbusier addressed the profound link between this gamma and architecture with the term “architectonic color”. 

Le Corbusier’s Architectural Polychromy

Book in Focus: The Architectonic Colour: Polychromy in the Purist Architecture of Le Corbusier by Jan de Heer - Sheet2
The 63 architectural colours ©www.lescouleurs.ch/en/

Featuring 63 fascinating shades, the Architectural Polychromy that Le Corbusier created is a masterpiece among all architectural tools. There were two color assortments designed in the form of keyboards– in 1931 and 1959, all of the shades are naturally harmonious, exceptionally pleasing to architectural perspectives, and can be combined according to any needed convenience. Le Corbusier’s color system has a historical, aesthetic, and associated foundation for each of the 63 architectural colors. The colors create atmospheres that go far beyond the functional requirements.

Book in Focus: The Architectonic Colour: Polychromy in the Purist Architecture of Le Corbusier by Jan de Heer - Sheet
The Colour Keyboards of 1931 (left), and of 1959 (right)

Book Review

In this volume, Jan de Heer examines a critical part of Le Corbusier’s oeuvre. With Purist architecture, which Corbusier developed from 1920 onwards, he set out on a completely different path from his early works. His structures were made of reinforced concrete, with a layer of plaster applied before being entirely painted with colors derived from the gamma.

In 1925, after a rift with Ozenfant, Le Corbusier embarked on a new architectural path. In the 1950s, He gave more preference to natural polychromy and so eventually the Purist polychromy progressively faded from his work. Le Corbusier had several theories on polychromy, which put him closer to Paolo Veronese than to Theo van Doesburg.  

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©Amazon

Color, according to his purist belief, is entirely dependent on the material form. After World War II, color began to emerge as an “autonomous” design aspect among the interplaying elements in Le Corbusier’s architectural impression. While his purist buildings have a refined palette of muted tones based on each color’s constructive qualities and spatial dynamics, his postwar buildings have a vivid palette of primary or pure hues. To incite bold and expressive responses or as mere ornamentation, vibrant colors began to be applied adjacent to rough exposed concrete.

Colour is an incredibly effective triggering tool. Colour is a factor in our existence.

  • Le Corbusier, 1936
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Maisons-la-Roche_©FLC/ADAGP

During 1936 in Rome, a paper was presented by Corbusier entitled “Les tendances de l’architecture rationaliste en rapport avec la collaboration de la peinture et de la sculpture” (“Rationalist architectural trends in relation to the collaboration of painting and sculpture”). He attributed polychromy as an essential element in the shaping of space and further discussed the relationship between architecture and the figurative arts. According to Le Corbusier, architecture is a function of the plan and the section – the entire concept consists of horizontal and vertical approaches to express volume and space. 

Polychromy is an architectural technique as powerful as the plan and the section. Better than that: polychromy is itself an element of the plan and the section. 

  • Le Corbusier, 1936
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Le Corbusier sketching the color design for the Claude and Duval Factory_© Jean- Jacques Duval

Le Corbusier placed great emphasis on the color scheme of each of his structures. Even though he entrusted most of the construction site supervision to his employees, he had complete control over the color scheme, indicating the importance he placed on this form of aesthetic and architectural expression.

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Polychromie Architecturale_©FLC/ADAGP
Unité d’Habitation of Berlin_©Twitter

Curious minds continue learning the philosophies about the polychromy of Corbusier through books and websites. This book is a must-read for the art-enthusiasts, architecture students and a great collection for painters as well as architects. Jan de Heer, throughout this book, covers many conceptions regarding space, form, and color and philosophies of painters – living, dead or undesired. He discussed Purism and Experimental Aesthetics and shared the words of the famous Ozenfant and Jeanneret, Fechner, and Lalo – including many visual interpretations, sketches, vivid palettes, colored illustrations, writings, and photographs. Mostly, Jan wrote about architectonic polychromy and Le Corbusier, De Stijl, Salubra keyboards, Polychromic Architecturale, and further conversed on some realized projects with regards to polychromy. He provided various examples demonstrating the qualities of colors – how colour modifies space, classifies objects, and how colour philosophies react strongly upon our sensitivities.

The thought-provoking book was featured on “25 Free Architecture Books You Can Read Online” on ArchDaily, and is available with the full preview on https://books.google.com

References:

  1. Arsmusica. (2021). JAN DE HEER. https://www.arsmusica.be/fr/biographie/jan-de-heer/ [Accessed: 29/09/2021].
  2. Klinkhammer, B. (2011). After Purism: Le Corbusier and Color. In Preservation Education & Research: Vol. Four (pp. 19–35). https://www.ncpe.us/publications/volume-4-2011/ [Accessed: 30/09/2021].
  3. Les Couleurs. (2020). Le Corbusier’s Architectural Colours. https://www.lescouleurs.ch/en/ [Accessed: 30/09/2021].
Author

A final year student currently pursuing B.Arch. in Bangladesh. Her passions are intertwined with Art, Travel, Architecture, and Literature. She aspires to travel, learn, evolve with time and thereby bring something to light through journaling her journeys.

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