Book Review: Le Corbusier: in his own words

Le Corbusier: in his own words by Antoine Vigne and Betty Bone
Papadakis, 2009
Hardcover, 48 pages

When my daughter was born last year, one of the gifts she received was a children's book on Roberto, the Insect Architect. This gift came from a friend, an architect. And being that it was given to a girl whose parents are both architects, the gift is entirely appropriate. But since then I've noticed a number of books on architects and architecture that are geared to children, like a reworking of the Three Little Pigs with Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Frank Gehry. Are there enough architects giving their own or other kids books on architecture to sustain this trend? Or is architecture achieving a level of popularity where books on the personalities creating architecture are appealing to a wider audience? It's probably not so black-and-white, but books like these have the potential of making architecture more understandable and appealing to a younger audience. Perhaps they won't all go on to become architects, but they will at least have an interest that acknowledges the importance of ideas and personalities in shaping buildings and cities.

This children's book on Le Corbusier uses, as the title indicates, the architect's own words to explain key concepts from his writings and in his buildings. The Maison Domino is here, as is the Modular, the Plan Voisin and much more. It could be called a "highlight reel" of Le Corbusier's career, but in a book for children that seems more than satisfactory. What comes to the fore in reviewing this book is how the architect's words work on the page. Devised by Antoine Vigne and illustrated by Betty Bone, the large-format book is a collage of drawings, clippings, photographs, colorful illustrations, and the architect's words layered on top. When Vigne and Bone have some fun -- juxtaposing the Unite d'Habitation in Marseilles with the inspiration of steamships on the architect, setting the building afloat on waves -- the book is most imaginative and successful. As well the book does a commendable job when it ties the various words and ideas of Le Corbusier together across subsequent spreads, though some become standalones detached from the larger whole of the architect's life.

Overall the book uses illustrations to convey complex ideas to a young audience. By using Le Corbusier's own words, the concepts cannot be dumbed down, but they can be further explained with the accompanying images. That is the key to the book's success. Produced in sponsorship with the Fondation Le Corbusier, in the future I could see the same treatment for other architects happening, particularly the other "two little pigs."