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RIBA celebrates one of the most modest yet fundamentally important projects of an architectural icon - Le Corbusier's Cabanon at Roquebrune-Cap Martin.

Le Corbusier’s Final Resting Place

RIBA celebrates one of the most modest yet fundamentally important projects of an architectural icon - Le Corbusier’s Cabanon at Roquebrune-Cap Martin.

Set within the rocky coastal cliffs of Roquebrune-Cap Martin, secreted away from the passing pedestrian route, Le Corbusier’s modest summer hideaway continues to inspire, more than half a century since its completion.

What a better way to mark the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) than with a replica structure of Le Corbusier’s Cabanon? The most intimate work of arguably the most influential architect of the 20th century has been copied with precision by Cassina, the Italian manufacturer, who holds exclusive access to the maestro’s archive of design sketches and prototypes and, since 1964, also the sole worldwide reproduction rights for his furniture designs. The installation highlights the symbiosis that has existed between architects and furniture designers since the late 19th century.

In August 1952, when Charles-Edouard Jeanneret – better known as Le Corbusier – presented his wife Yvonne with an impressive birthday gift of a tiny Cabanon overlooking the Mediterranean sea, few could imagine the impact that the 15 meter square rustic holiday home would have on contemporary architecture, even today.

During the month of December prior to its construction, the architect swiftly drafted up a sketch of the tiny Cabanon as a simple pine clad hut with a plywood and oak interior, so diligently planned that not a centimeter of space was used inefficiently. Originally planned to feature an aluminum clad façade, Le Corbusier finally opted for a rustic look in keeping with the hut’s savage surroundings. The interior is dominated by decorative details, such as the vivid red, green and blue ceiling panels in contrast to the warm yellow floor and a vibrant mural, painted by Le Corbusier. Each of the two windows feature mirrored shutters that fold back to reflect its beauteous outdoor surroundings.

Storage units double as headrests, bases and partitions. The Cabanon exemplifies Le Corbusier’s famous philosophy that the home is “a machine for living”, with furniture eschewing decorative details and the elimination of unnecessary detail, in favor of simple forms based on function and economy of materials – the fundamental principles of modernism. Taking this “less is more” mantra of modernism (the famous aphorism of the architect’s celebrated contemporary Mies van der Rohe), the Cabanon is modestly furnished using recycled objects, such as crates which double as stools and reading lights procured from railway carriages. What is noticeably lacking from the layout is a kitchen. This is replaced by a door, leading out to the café next door - L’Etoile de Mer - where the couple enjoyed meals with their friend and neighbor, Thomas Rebutato. It is on the micro plot of land, donated to the couple by Rebutato to the architect, that the illustrious original hut still stands.

One of the most significant aspects of the Cabanon is that this was Le Corbusier’s only personal project, aside from a smaller adjoining hut, which the architect used as a workspace. The exhibition not only offers insight into the work of the great architect, showing the dialogue of the Cabanon from concept to final completion, but also the intimacy of the project, placing the architect in the role of client. Built almost half a century after the construction of his first house, the Fallett Villa in 1905, this micro home also became Le Corbusier’s final resting place. On August 27, 1965 - thirteen years after its final completion - the architect suffered a heart attack in the Mediterranean sea on which his beloved holiday home overlooked. Behind its unpretentious and unimposing façade, Le Corbusier’s beloved Cabanon remains one of the most remarkable examples of micro-architecture.

Le Corbusier’s Cabanon is on show at the Royal Institute of British Architects until April 28, 2009.

Also on show at the Barbican Art Gallery in London: Le Corbusier – The Art of Architecture, until May 24, 2009.

The original Cabanon in Roquebrune Cap-Martin is open to the public. To arrange a visit, contact the Office du Tourisme, Roquebrune Cap-Martin.
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