January 5, 2015


New Release: If your vibe is architecture and design, this new Le Corbusier book may be of interest. Phaidon's new massive edition, Le Corbusier Le Grand, clocks in at 768 pages and the original slipcase edition apparently weighs almost 20 pounds! A new (and cheaper) format was published in November. Details on Amazon here. Le Corbusier is celebrated for his sleek modernist buildings, interiors, and furniture. Details: "A spectacular visual biography of the life and work of Le Corbusier (1887–1965), one of Modernism's most influential architects, urban planners, and theorists. Approximately 2,000 images and documents, many previously unpublished, feature his major built works, urban plans, paintings, publications, and furniture as well as sketches, archival photographs, and personal correspondence. Rarely seen photographs and correspondence shed new light on Le Corbusier’s relationships with Josephine Baker, Eileen Gray, Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso, Jean Prouvé, and many others. Insightful introductory essay by France’s most authoritative architectural historian and critic, Jean-Louis Cohen, and incisive chapter introductions by highly regarded Le Corbusier scholar Tim Benton. The same grandly oversized format as Warhol 'Giant Size'." As much as we celebrate modern design, however, it is interesting to note that James Bond author, Ian Fleming, had a great dislike for architects like Le Corbusier. In fact, Modernism itself has been under fire since it began. What's the beef? Story continues below.

Ian Fleming found Le Corbusier's work too stark and rational. In his book, Thrilling Cities, Fleming even referred to one of the designer's environments as a "flattened human ants' nests." And the author's negative feelings about Brutalist architect, Erno Goldfinger, even inspired the name of one of his most legendary villains. Fleming's reaction is not surprising, considering his preference for unpretentious dwellings and his famous need to escape away from his wife's stuffy dinner parties. There's no room to escape in open-plan living. He was most at home at GoldenEye, a simple house he had built for himself in Jamaica. Despite our love of modern design now, Fleming wasn't alone in his criticism. There has been a kind of mistrust in the culture. Some attribute it to the link between Fascism and Futurism, which launched in Italy in 1909. A cold, orderly, and technological existence versus the more traditional image of hearth and home, with its emphasis on family, cosy fireplaces, and comfy furniture. The mistrust runs along the same lines as the fear and fascination with science. An early cinematic critique can be found in The Black Cat (1934), which featured evil architect Hjakmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff) living in a mechanized, modernist mansion -with his own gallery of frozen women in the basement! The Cybernauts story in The Avengers famously criticized a modern world taken with gadgets and people replaced by machines. And doesn't this line of dialog ring true? "This heralds a new age. Computers no bigger than a cigarette box. Pocket television. And radios smaller than a wristwatch." Even Star Wars was founded on a thematic contrast between nature/spirit and technological terror. It is no mistake that on-screen Bond villains, with their aim to redesign society as an ordered utopia, are closely linked to Modernism. Compare the sleek, corporate environments of the baddies in almost any 007 adventure with M's world of club chairs, libraries, gourmet dining, and pipe smoke, and a thematic contrast really becomes apparent. Below: work by Le Corbusier.

We are so attracted by the modern aesthetic, from the new wave of loft-style real estate to the success of Apple products. But filmmakers continue to issue these subtle warnings, either by convention or design. An interesting example was the most recent version of the Body Snatchers story (The Invasion/2007), where the soulless duplicates suddenly became a well-dressed army representing consumerism and globalization. As much as we love to envision ourselves lounging in a minimal lair, I think Fleming and many filmmakers would caution us not to lose our humanity or individualism. I have noted "good-guy" spaces in contemporary Bond films becoming sleeker and more mechanical, which the designers try to balance by showing quirky desk ornaments and more traditional home environments. Is it a sign our heroes are becoming too rational and orderly? Is it a military mindset? Skyfall did a great job weaving in this theme by frequently calling attention to how the "old ways are the best." Despite my aesthetic critique from a cinematic lens, I do encourage Spy Vibers to check out the new Le Corbusier book from Phaedon. It's stunning! But maybe read it with a cup of tea by the fireplace- just in case. Learn More: Le CorbusierIan Fleming. Related Spy Vibe posts: Erno Goldfinger, Modern Architecture LP, Set For Adventure. Below: Contrast between some of my favorite 007 Baddie set designs by Ken Adam and variations of M's traditional office. Enjoy!

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