Even Le Corbusier's own biographer, Anthony Flint, has admitted that talking about the influential architect is "like bringing up politics or religion at the Thanksgiving table." The Swiss-born modernist is alternately heralded as a genius, a propagator of drab government districts, a misogynist, and an icon. No matter your view, however, many of today's grand metropolises owe a debt to his ideas. Although his legacy is controversial, Le Corbusier was never one to jump into the fray. "I prefer drawing to talking," he told a group of architecture students at Columbia in 1961. "Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies." Below, 13 facts about the pioneering architect.
13. He was born with the name Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris in 1887, but renamed himself Le Corbusier in 1920, as a byline for an arts journal. It was trendy in 1920s Paris to adopt a single name, and he chose a version of his grandfather's name, Lecorbésier.
12. Le Corb's father was a watchmaker in Switzerland. He learned to engrave watchcases as a young man.
11. He was fluent in German, having worked in Berlin for the architect and industrial designer Peter Behrens. Other members of Behren's practice included Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius.
10. He gave up architecture for four years between 1918 and 1922, preferring to focus on painting. His style was a less romantic form of Cubism, which he called "purism."
9. The Villa Savoye, finished in 1931, is one of Le Corbusier's most famous residences. However, the owners of the innovative elevated home in Poissy, France, Pierre and Eugenie Savoye, complained bitterly about how wet parts of their concrete villa got in bad weather. "It is raining in the hall, it's raining on the ramp and the wall of the garage is absolutely soaked," they wrote in a letter. The architect ignored their requests to fix the problem until they threated to take him to court.
8. In 1929, Le Corbusier conducted a passionate affair with the African-American entertainer Josephine Baker. They met on a ship bound for Buenos Aires, and by the end of the journey, Le Courbusier had sketched quite a collection of nude drawings of Baker, even though she was traveling with her husband. He later told his elderly mother about their fling.
7. In 1930, the architect married the Monaco-born fashion model Yvonne Gallis, who swiftly forbade him from talking about architecture at the dinner table. By all accounts, Le Corbusier loved Yvonne intensely but was not always nice to her, and conducted several extramarital affairs. But she could be cruel to him too. When he built a glass-walled duplex for them atop his Paris apartment in 1933, her response was "all this light is killing me, driving me crazy." (She also covered the bidet he placed next to their bed with a tea cozy.)
6. In 1936, Le Corbusier designed an automobile with his cousin and frequent collaborator, Pierre Jeanneret. The boxy result, called Voiture Minimum, was a "minimalist vehicle for maximum functionality." Although the car never made it to production, the architect produced dozens of sketches and later insisted, wrongly, that his vehicle inspired the Volkswagen Beetle.
5. In the late 1930s, Le Corbusier stayed in a pioneering modernist house, called E.1027, that was the first work designed by the architect Eileen Gray. He defaced the walls of her landmark home with eight sexually suggestive murals. Because of his greater fame, the French government elected to preserve his murals.
4. During World War II, Le Corbusier benefitted from a despicable new patron: the Vichy regime, which worked with the Nazis. The architect was appointed to a committee studying urbanism. He drew up a plan for the redesign of Algiers. Much to his chagrin it was ignored.
3. In 1947, Le Corbusier designed the master plan for the first planned city in post-independence India, called Chandigarh, and built numerous administrative buildings there throughout the 1950s. The design was extremely influential in city planning circles, especially in the former Soviet Union, but has been criticized for having too many giant, bland buildings and a layout that is unfriendly to pedestrians.
2. After Yvonne Le Corbusier died, in 1957, her widowed husband kept a macabre reminder of her close at hand. One of Yvonne's vertebrae had remained intact after her cremation, and the architect shuttled it between his back pocket and his work desk for the next eight years.
1. In 1965, Le Corbusier died while taking a long swim in the Mediterranean against his doctor's orders. Bathers spotted the 77-year-old architect struggling to clamber up the rocks to get out of the water, but he dismissed their offers of help. It is believed he had a heart attack; his body later washed up on shore. He is buried next to Yvonne under concrete marker reminiscent of an architectural model.