Izbas, Le Corbusier, and Grain Elevators

A comment about Russian izbas–a sort of country cabin–from commenter AJP Crown on Language Hat has led me on an interesting visual digression into grain elevators and Modernist Movement architect Le Corbusier. The links are listed below.

Modernism is all right, I guess, being a sort of cousin to Deco. But Le Corbusier is a bit troubling as a supporter of the now discredited urban sprawl. He also originated the concept of slablike high-rises like Cabrini Green. These public housing projects used to litter Chicago’s south side and are in the process of being demolished.  Any visitor to Chicago who took a drive south on the Dan Ryan Expressway would always comment on the old smoke stains rising from the windows of one huge dilapidated building after another.

Still, some of Le Corbusier’s other projects are visually interesting.  These would be great buildings to have somewhere in the neighborhood as a destination for walks.  I wouldn’t care to live in one, though–there’s something soulless about them.

I much prefer the 1940’s style WPA projects.  A lot of these, like the Starved Rock Lodge in Illnois built by the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, were built by quite good craftsmen who were tickled pink just to have work.  They poured all of their skill into massive lodges with stone fireplaces and solid furniture made with quarter sawn oak and mortise and tenon joints. Walking into this type of building just gives me a comfortable feeling–maybe reminiscent of being spoiled by grandparents. It feels like the kind of place where you don’t have to wipe your feet.


High rise izba in Russia with disturbing proportions.

Russian museum izbas.

Le Corbusier

Four minute film–montage of Le Corbusier buildings.

List of links to photos of Le Corbusier architectural works.

Photographs of grain elevators

Some great photos of cylindrical grain elevators on rivers.

According to comments on this landscape architecture website, “Le Corbusier was completely fascinated by them, by their simplicity, honest use of material, and the fact that they were mostly conceived through function. In fact, according to Lisa Mahar-Keplinger in her slim volume on grain elevators (see link in post), he and along with Erich Mendelsohn and Walter Gropius had ‘no difficulty adopting it, both formally and symbolically, as a model for their international vision of architecture.'”

Typical midwestern grain elevators from a historical society here, here, and here.

A Canadian grain elevator being rescued–and appearing to move by itself in a Monty Python-esque manner across the screen.

Interiors–Photo of large granary here, 2 minute video of small granary here.

New uses for old grain elevators

Interior of grain elevator power station as museum.

Grain elevator as hotel-the Quaker Square Inn at Akron, Ohio.

“The Granary”–office space in Philadelphia here and here.

Rock-climbing gym in Bloomington (?), Illinois.

Student housing in Oslo, Norway. (photo on right by saipal)

The Silophone–a weird art/sound project in Montreal (click “about Silophone” circular target logo then click “concept”):

Silophone makes use of the incredible acoustics of Silo #5 by introducing sounds, collected from around the world using various communication technologies, into a physical space to create an instrument which blurs the boundaries between music, architecture and net art. Sounds arrive inside Silo #5 by telephone or internet. They are then broadcast into the vast concrete grain storage chambers inside the Silo. They are transformed, reverberated, and coloured by the remarkable acoustics of the structure, yielding a stunningly beautiful echo. This sound is captured by microphones and rebroadcast back to its sender, to other listeners and to a sound installation outside the building.

Condos from grain elevators at Lake Calhoun–Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Exterior sketch from architect here (scroll down to last page of photos at end of article); interior here (scroll down).

10 Responses to “Izbas, Le Corbusier, and Grain Elevators”

  1. marie-lucie Says:

    Interesting set of buildings.

    The name of the famous architect is Le Corbusier, never Corbusier alone.

  2. Nijma Says:

    Thank you; I changed it.

  3. Crown, A.J.P. Says:

    Nijma, what a great collection of material! You ought not to confuse poor old Corb’s work with what was done in his name (“Still, some of Le Corbusier’s other projects are visually interesting”). Of course, you’re right that his big failing was in urban design, but if you look inside those slabs (l’Unité in Marseilles, for example) the apartments themselves are really wonderfully designed, often on two levels. They aren’t the prison-cell architecture of US public housing. The quality of the exterior spaces he designed himself was also very high, it just wasn’t matched by those who followed him.

    Marie-Lucie, you’re right, but only in French and formally in English. In English, architects, who refer to him a lot, usually just say ‘Corbusier’ or ‘Corb’ or ‘Corbu’. The latter is in ref. to le corbeau, or crow, which he resembled and acknowledged as something he liked about the name, which he invented himself (his real name was Charles Edouard Jeanneret) as a reworking of his maternal grandmother’s name, Lecorbésier.

  4. Crown, A.J.P. Says:

    Oh, I love that Canadian grain elevator being moved!

  5. Crown, A.J.P. Says:

    Interior of grain elevator as museum.

    It’s not a grain elevator, though. It’s the Tate Modern in London that was formerly a power station. Still, it’s a great picture.

  6. Nijma Says:

    It does seem awkward in English to put “le” in front of someone’s name unless they are a fictional arch-villain (The Penguin, The Joker). A few photos I came across posted by architecture students refer to him as “Corb” but I’m not a architecture student, and you can only edit so much without getting paid to do it, so at the risk of appearing to be a prescriptionist, I’ll leave it as it is.

  7. Nijma Says:

    Thanks for identifying the Tate Modern building. I had no idea even what city it was in, but of course when I was in London I heard about “The Tate”. Now there is apparently a whole family of Tates–this one has opened since my last visit across the water.

  8. marie-lucie Says:

    More on the name Le Corbusier:

    In English, surnames do not take an article (“The Joker”, etc are not surnames but nicknames), but they frequently do in French: many people are called Lenoir, Leblanc, Lafontaine, Laforêt, Lévêque, Leboucher, and many others, so it is not as if Le Corbusier (where Corbusier does not exist by itself) was an unusual pattern in French. It is quite likely that French architects refer familiarly to him as Corbu, but they would never omit the Le when referring to him in a more formal context. What I find grating is if people use Le Corbusier and plain Corbusier indiscriminately. I have no problem with English Corb as a diminutive, but if using the full name, don’t amputate it.

  9. Nijma Says:

    Lenoir and Leblanc sound like Black and White, which would be ordinary names in English without the definite article. Using the article sounds kind of medieval: Catherine the Great, Hrolf the Walker, Eric the Red.

    And how is le Corbusier pronounced? I want to say “lee-core-boo-see-yer”, but it’s probably something like “lee-cor-boo-see-yay”.

  10. d Says:

    Le Corbusier was a pseudonym. His given name was Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris. So thinking of his name as something similar to “the Joker” is actually very close to the mark.

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