What Le Corbusier gave to Grafton

How the brilliant Irish practice draw from one of the greats of yesteryear when creating buildings for the future
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Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell of Grafton Architects. Photo by Andrea Avezzu, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell of Grafton Architects. Photo by Andrea Avezzu, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

With his wild plans and well-developed sense of his own genius, the work of Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier seems worlds apart from the careful, considered architecture of Shelley McNamara and Yvonne Farrell's Grafton Architects.

However, the founders of this award-winning practice – and current curators of the genuinely moving Venice Architecture Biennale – share far more with Le Corb than you may initially think - as our new book on them explains.

"By the end of the 1960s, all of the first generation of modern architecture, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, had passed away," writes Robert McCarter in our Grafton Architects book. "Yet Le Corbusier’s works were among the strongest influences on Farrell and McNamara and their fellow students, Shay Cleary and Tony Murphy, in the early 1970s, to the degree that they were referred to as ‘the Corb Squad’.

 

Children playing at the Cité Radieuse (1959) Marseille, by René Burri
Children playing at the Cité Radieuse (1959) Marseille, by René Burri

"In explaining why they were influenced by Le Corbusier rather than Mies van der Rohe, McNamara and Farrell note Le Corbusier’s ‘sculptural quality and structural rigour’, as well as the way he seemed to begin ‘afresh’ with each new project.

"Studying Corb’s work was really a kind of apprenticeship," they say in the book. "Mies was more about closing and refining, whereas Corb was more open. The social content of Corb’s work – the relationship of the individual to the collective – really caught our imagination. His Unité d’Habitation, Marseilles, 1952 apartment building is a vertical village. And it is very exciting to meet children on bicycles in the lifts going up to the terraces on the roof." 

 

A model for a new School of Economics for the University of Toulouse 1 Capitole, by Grafton Architects
A model for a new School of Economics for the University of Toulouse 1 Capitole, by Grafton Architects

While we can't guarantee you'll come across kids with bicycles in the elevators of McNamara and Farrell's buildings, McCarter detects echoes of Le Corbusier's work in Grafton Architects' buildings. 

Their piazza and pergola for the University of Limerick's medical school is, in McCarter's words, "like a stretched and enlarged variation on the front portion of Le Corbusier’s Curutchet House in La Plata, Argentina." 

And Grafton's design for a new School of Economics for the University of Toulouse also draws from Le Corb's Argentine work, writes McCarter. "The levitated volumes are suspended above the street, anchored by vertical courtyards, carved open by horizontal terraces and give views in all directions – all of which were inspired by the similar characteristics of Le Corbusier’s Curutchet House in La Plata. " 

 

Renderings for Institut Mines-Télécom by Grafton Architects
Renderings for Institut Mines-Télécom by Grafton Architects

Meanwhile, Le Corbusier’s La Tourette Monastery of 1959, "with its cruciform, pin-wheeling arms extending across a large central courtyard" may have inspired the large public spaces of the research and education building for Institut Mines-Télécom, currently being built in the Paris-Saclay research park south of the French capital. 

 

Exterior rendering of the Town House, Kingston-up-Thames by Grafton Architects
Exterior rendering of the Town House, Kingston-up-Thames by Grafton Architects

Grafton Architects' first project in the UK, the Town House, a multi-purpose building for Kingston University, south-west of London, also bears the mark of the Corb Squad, and "may be understood as an interpretation of both Le Corbusier’s first Carthage Villa design of 1928," writes McCarter, "with its interlocking double-height rooms allowing overlapping diagonal views from the ground to the roof." All in all, a fine place for the art, design and product designers of tomorrow to begin their University life! 

 

Grafton Archictects

For more Grafton Architect's influences, outlook and creations, order a copy of our new book here.


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