Color Harmonies: Le Corbusier Pavilion in Zurich ― 

Whenever we think of Le Corbusier, what first comes to our mind is pristine geometric volumes, carried out in bare, reinforced concrete. In that sense, it is notable how his last built project, a distinctive pavilion designed in Zurich for the local art collector and the architect’s close friend, Heidi Weber, is a steel structure, almost in its entirety, and it is clad in vibrant color panels.

The initial plan, delivered to Heidi Weber in 1961, prescribed a «typical» Le Corbusier building, in reinforced concrete; 1962, however, saw the choice of a new materiality, introducing combinations of standardized metal panels, coated in enamel; Those were dimensioned after Le Corbusier’s harmonic system of measurements, the ModulOr, that was developed after WWII, and followed the basic module: 2,26 by 1,13m. The design and production of the panels was greatly assisted by Jean Prouvé, who benchmarked from car manufacturing technologies. Construction begun in 1964 and was complete by 1967, two years after the architect’s death. Recently, the building was restored by Schmed and Rüegg, and was delivered to the Municipality of Zurich for public use, as Pavillion le Corbusier.

The four-storey building is sheltered under a free-form floating metallic roof, and is clad from floor to ceiling in panels coated in black, white and the basic colors. The main staircase and the ramp leading from the ground to the roof garden, are the only building components realized in reinforced concrete. Reviving the original colors on the panels has been one of the main issues restoration work has to confront. Consulting Le Corbusier ‘s patented color palette has proven invaluable. There, one may find all the tonalities used in Le Corbusier’s work, documented and catalogued.

From 1931 to 1956, Le Corbusier organized the 63 color tonalities from his entire artistic output into catalogues, connected to the creation of specific moods. Those were named «color keyboards» and, up to this day, keep producing unexpected color harmonies, as if color tones were musical ones.

It is important to notice that the exact same harmonic result Le Corbusier tried to achieve through geometry and its rhythmical modulations, was also sought after through color. In the Zurich Pavilion, as well as in other works by Le Corbusier, both approaches overlap and complement each other. The recent restoration work, opened to the public a very telling showcase by this great architect, where careful documentation brought back to life one of its most powerful compositional elements: Color.

Photo Credits: ZHdK