Automobile and architecture

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Architecture and the car: as the automobile evolved in tandem with modern architecture, it created myths, legends and new building types Gabriel Voison (1880-1973) gave up architectural studies to fly, and then to build aircraft for the French air force. After the First World War, Voison turned his hand to car manufacture, and, in partnership with his friend, the architect Noel Noel, planned tobuild inflatable aircraft hangars and prefabricated housing. Voison did build a sequence of fascinating, and rather expensive, lightweight, aluminium alloy-framed cars over the following fifteen years, although the low-cost aircraft hangars and prefab housing never quite got off the ground, or along the road. Yet, they very nearly did. Between experimenting and womanising, Voison made friends withthe ambitious young architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, Le Corbusier, who was, as his Vers Une Architecture confirms, utterly taken by the forms and technologies of aircraft and automobiles. For the young Le Corbusier, a house was a 'machine for living in', a kind of static car. In the future it would employ all the latest techniques and advances made in the world of Voison. This aesthetic andsocial love affair was mutual. Voison became one of Le Corbusier's early patrons, paying, for example, for the Pavillon d'Esprit Nouveau at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs held in Paris. Corbu's pavilion was one constructed module from his ideal Maisons Citrohan, a prefabricated apartment block that he envisaged being mass-produced across French and even global cities. Thename Maisons Citrohan was a curious pun on Citroen, the car manufacturer which had yet to design and produce that architects' favourite, the 2CV, a masterpiece of lowcost prefabrication. Quite what Voison thought of the name Citrohan is anyone's guess, but the car maker was clearly unoffended as he lent Le Corbusier cars in succeeding years. Indeed, as Le Corbusier was only too careful to point out,the driveway of his seminal Villa Savoye (1929) at Poissy was laid out according to the turning circle of a 1929 model Voison. Voison cars, in fact, appeared in photographs of many early Le Corbusier buildings: Corbu's was, in its own way, as close a relationship with a car manufacturer as was Albert Kahn's with Ford. In the same year Villa Savoye was completed, 5.3 million automobiles were madein Detroit, the foremost industrial centre in the United States. Le Corbusier, a Swiss craftsman turned Parisian journalist and polemical architect, might have talked in awe of the aesthetic of industrial enterprise, but Albert Kahn (1869-1942) was the incarnate spirit of industrial enterprise-made-architecture. Henry Ford, a virulent antisemite and Albert Kahn, a German Jewish emigre fromWestphalia, were, despite their differences, made for one another; their business relationship spanned thirty years, and revolutionised both automobile manufacture and architecture. Kahn, whose practice continues in business today, started out as an errand boy for the Detroit firm, Mason and Rice, working his way up to become chief draughtsman, with no formal training whatsoever. His commercial genius, ashe started up in business, was to pick up the kind of work that his Beaux-Arts trained contemporaries would have looked down on. Factories for Henry Ford? No chance. Leave those to Kahn. Kahn designed vast factories for Ford, originally for the manufacture of the ubiquitous Model-T, characterised by steel-trussed, saw-blade top-lit roofs, vast horizontal windows determined by the structural gridof the buildings and by tall chimney stacks.

The lure of mass production While Le Corbusier (a craftsman by background and painter by adoption) and his radical European contemporaries talked about an architecture of mass-production influenced by the aircraft, the automobile and industrial design, Kahn built it. 'Architecture', said Kahn, who went on to build more than 600 factories for...
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