Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center at Harvard

Le Corbusier’s only building in the United States (aside from the UN Headquarters, where he collaborated with such architects as Wallace K. Harrison and Oscar Niemeyer) is rather incredible. The Carpenter Center for The Visual Arts, located next to Harvard’s Faculty Club and not far from Harvard embodies Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture, but also responds to context uniquely.

The building is certainly an aggressive breakaway from Harvard’s predominantly Georgian campus. The long, outdoor circulatory ramp that cuts through the building builds off of the street pattern but starkly and blatantly ignores the more traditional circulatory patterns at Harvard. At the same time, the ramp (which, given its location near the edge of campus, does not get that much use) creates a drawn-out, expertly handled architectural promenade by which the visitor is guided upward and inward to a place where windows into the various studios are all around him / her. Throughout, the blurring of exterior and interior seems to be a theme. This creates a wonderful sense of deeply rooted connection from the studios to the surrounding campus, and certainly heightens the experience of interacting with the building.

The building, like most of Le Corbusier’s, is predominantly of concrete, with carefully placed windows and deliberate, spare use of color. Finished in 1963, before Le Corbusier’s 1965 death, the building is in some ways a culmination of Le Corbusier’s explorations of form. To wit, the result is a brilliant building with fatal flaws. In its agression and disrespect for its surroundings, the building is a model for what much of the public dislikes about Modern architecture. At the same time, the building is brilliantly designed and incredible to visit. It’s a testament to the ideas of one of the twentieth century’s most important architects — both the good and the bad.

There are some pictures on ArchDaily, and here are a couple of mine from my recent visit:


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