Decoding Modernism: The Quintessence of Le Corbusier's Five Points of Architecture

Written by: Nauradika Of London



Time to read 4 min

In the tapestry of modern architecture, few threads are as bold and as influential as Le Corbusier's Five Points of Architecture. This framework not only revolutionized how buildings were designed and experienced but also laid the groundwork for much of modernist architectural thought. Let's embark on a journey to explore these five foundational principles that have shaped the landscape of contemporary design.

1. The Pilotis: Elevating Aesthetics and Function

The pilotis, or support columns, serve as the skeletal framework that elevates a building above the ground. This ingenious design move was not merely aesthetic but functional, liberating the ground floor from structural walls and allowing for an open, flexible plan. The pilotis elevated architecture in a literal sense, allowing for a continuity of the landscape beneath the structure, enhancing the building's relationship with its environment.

2. The Roof Garden: Reclaiming Lost Space

In densely populated urban environments, Le Corbusier saw the potential of the roof as a reclaimable living space. The roof garden concept was born from the idea that buildings take away the green space they are built upon. By incorporating gardens on rooftops, Le Corbusier aimed to restore, if not enhance, the greenery, providing residents with private outdoor spaces that offer respite from the urban sprawl.

3. The Free Plan: The Liberation of Space

The free plan was made possible by moving the structure of the building away from its walls and into the columns (pilotis), allowing for an unprecedented flexibility in interior spatial arrangement. This architectural freedom meant that walls could be placed, or not placed, in various configurations to suit the needs of the occupants, liberating living spaces from the constraints of traditional structural layouts and promoting a fluid, dynamic form of living.

4. The Free Facade: The Canvas of Modernism

By transferring the building's structural support to the pilotis, Le Corbusier also freed the building's exterior from structural constraints. This liberation resulted in the free facade, where the exterior walls could be designed as non-load-bearing "skins". This allowed for experimental and expressive uses of materials and form, and for the inclusion of horizontal windows, which bring in uniform natural light, enhancing the well-being of the inhabitants.

5. The Horizontal Window: A Ribbon of Light

The ribbon window, a long horizontal window, is perhaps the most visually recognizable of Le Corbusier's principles. Stretching across the facade, these windows disrupt traditional vertical window alignments and offer uninterrupted views and a continuous stream of natural light. This not only democratizes light, ensuring it reaches all parts of an interior space but also connects the occupants more closely with the exterior landscape.

The Legacy of Innovation

Le Corbusier's Five Points of Architecture are not mere guidelines but a manifesto that challenged and changed the architectural status quo. These principles were first manifested in the Villa Savoye, near Paris, which serves as a textbook example of these innovative ideas in action. The villa stands as a testament to the power of architectural thought to reshape the built environment.

Today, the influence of Le Corbusier's five points can be seen in the work of countless architects and designers across the globe. They represent a departure from traditional forms and functions, a leap towards a future where architecture is not just about buildings but about the quality of life, light, and the relationship between structure and nature.

As we reflect on these principles, it's clear that Le Corbusier's vision was not just about creating a style but about fostering a deeper connection between humans, their spaces, and the environment. His work continues to inspire, challenging us to think differently about the spaces we inhabit and the legacy we leave behind.

Le Corbusier's Five Points of Architecture have influenced numerous buildings around the world, each embodying his innovative principles to various extents. Among the most famous buildings that adhere closely to these principles, three stand out for their iconic design and historical significance:

  1. Villa Savoye (Poissy, France) - Completed in 1931, Villa Savoye is often considered the quintessential example of Le Corbusier's Five Points of Architecture. Elevated on pilotis, with a functional roof garden, an open floor plan, a free facade, and long horizontal windows, the villa encapsulates Le Corbusier's architectural manifesto. It's a masterpiece that demonstrates the harmony between functional space and the surrounding environment, making it a pivotal work in modern architecture.

  2. Unité d’Habitation (Marseille, France) - This residential building, completed in 1952, is another landmark project that embodies Le Corbusier's architectural principles. Known for its innovative approach to communal living, the Unité d'Habitation features a roof garden, free façade designs supported by pilotis, and an interior free plan among its various living spaces. The building also incorporates modular proportions and utilizes long horizontal windows to maximize light and views for its inhabitants.

  3. Notre Dame du Haut (Ronchamp, France) - While not a residential building, this chapel, completed in 1954, demonstrates Le Corbusier's principles in a more spiritual and expressive context. The roof appears to float above the walls thanks to the concealed windows, and the free form plan allows for an organic flow within the sacred space. Although it adapts the Five Points in a more interpretive manner, the chapel's design emphasizes the roof garden concept through its sculptural roof and employs a free facade that supports the unique lighting and volumetric composition of the interior.

These buildings not only adhere to Le Corbusier's Five Points but also exemplify how these principles can be interpreted and adapted to various types of architecture, from residential to sacred spaces, showcasing the versatility and enduring influence of Le Corbusier's vision on the built environment.