Poem of the Right Angle
The Poem of the Right Angle (Le Poeme de l'Angle Droit) is a series of 19 paintings and corresponding writings composed by the influential Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Aside from his seminal manifesto Toward an Architecture, The Poem of the Right Angle is considered to be his most lucid synthesis of personal maxims.
The Poem of the Right Angle was composed over a period of seven years, from 1947-1953. The paintings are arranged symmetrically in seven rows, or "zones" and read across, in order, 5, 3, 5, 1, 3, 1, 1 such that the entire composition appears top-heavy and cross-like. Corbusier referred to this organization as an iconostase, or iconostasis. Each zone, lettered A-G, is assigned a title and corresponding color. Le Corbusier was very interested in classic themes of alchemy, and each piece, as well as the significance of its placement in the color-coded sets, draws from and illuminates the dialectic of opposites inherent in alchemical processes.
A. Milieu (Environment-Green)
Green is the alchemical symbol of the primal matter of the universe. Le Corbusier uses this zone as a taxonomy of natural cycles.
A.1. Representative of the cyclical nature of the sun
- ...the two rhythms
- which regulate our destiny:
- A sun rises
- A sun sets
- A sun rises again
A.2. Representative of the water cycle, an important part of alchemy and "a matrix for a dualistic universal confrontation."
The level establishes where stops the descent of the wates to the sea the sea daughter of droplets and mother of vapors. And the horizontal defines the liquid content.
A.3. Introduces earth symbol, cardinal symbols, and man as procreator. It also is the first passage that directly references the right angle, here as a symbol of life, living and "uprightness".
Upright on the terrestrial plateau of things perceptible to you contract with nature a pact of solidarity: it is the right angle Upright in front of the sea vertical there you are on your legs.
A.4. Uses figure-ground and heavy contrast to remark on the role of chaos in the divide between the conscious and unconscious
The law of the meander is active in the thoughts and enterprises of men forming their ever renewing avatars But the trajectory gushes out from the mind and is projected by the clairvoyants beyond confusion
A.5. Very similar to the actual cover of the work, it is split down the middle and the clasped hands signal contradiction and reconciliation of opposites, which Corbusier stated were the only ways to ensure human survival. In a similar painting, the clasped hands symbolize the architect and the engineer working together.
I have thoughts that two hands and their interlocking fingers express this right and this left unrelentingly unified and so necessary to reconciliation. The only possibility of survival offered to life
B. Esprit (Spirit-Blue)
This zone represents the links between nature, architecture and the cosmos.
B.2. "Le Modulor" - Corbusier's Modular Man, an iconic illustration of proportion, is juxtaposed with a shell, which Corbusier regarded as an archetypal female form. The shell form also embodies the same proportional values as the Modulor, based on the Golden section.
Its value is in this: the human body chosen as admissible support of numbers... .....Here is proportion!
B.3. This is an overty architectural frame. Floorplates and a foundation are clearly depicted, and an owl, a classic symbol of wisdom, is clearly visible in the foundation.
Cleared of obstacles better that before the house of men mistress of his form takes up her abode in nature Complete in herself making her case on all grounds open to the four horizons
B.4. Another architectural frame which illuminates the concept of the brise soleil through the sun above and the "secret world" below.
The clock and the solar calendar brought to architecture the "brise-soleil" installed in front of the windows of modern buildings
C. Chair (Flesh-Violet)
Corbusier's tribute to the flesh consists of more complicated figures representing the animal world and all of its creative capacities.
Some oxen of burden pass every day in front of my window. Because of being designed and redesigned the ox - of pebble and of root becomes bull.
They are innumerable who sleep but others know to open the eye. Because the profound refuge is in the great cavern of sleep that other side of life in the night.
C.3. This is the centerpiece of the iconostase, which Corbusier dedicated to his wife.
Tenderness! Shell the Sea has not ceased to throw us the wreckage of smiling harmony on the shores. Hand kneads hand caresses hand glides. The hand and the sea love one another.
C.4. The center line is quite overt, which may indicate that the image can also be undestood when turned 90°, a practice Le Corbusier was fond of.
They are but half, giving to life only one half And the second part comes to them and fuses And good or bad comes to them the two who met!
C.5. The image of a woman's body with a unicorn's head is a motif that is also seen in the mural of Le Corbusier's Swiss Pavilion at the Paris University Campus (C.I.U.P.), as are 3 other plates from the Poeme.
The galley sails The voices singing on board As all becomes strange and is transposed is transported high and is reflected on the plan of happiness
D. Fusion (Red)
Do not overwhelm then he who wants to take his part of the risks of life - Let the metals fuse tolerate the alchemists who besides leave you outside the cause
E. Caractère (Character-Clear)
The ascription of the "clear" color frames this zone, which represents light and will reborn in man.
E.2. The complex image of many women and a horse is achieved through phenomenal transparency and separation of color from line.
The amazons are ready to leave to go to come back and to leave again and to fight combat always soldier. The amazons are young they do not grow old.
E.3. This is the most reproduced image from the series. The motif of the clasped hands seen in A.5. is repeated, along with a crescent face, indicative of the moon.
Categorical right angle of the character of the spirit of the heart. I mirrored myself in this character and found myself found at home found Horizontal vision in front.
E.4. This image recalls some of Le Corbusier's paintings from the 1930s. It is orthogonal, architectural and labyrinthine.
Will appear I sense it the splendor of brut concrete and the grandeur which it will have had to think the marriage of lines to weight the forms To weight...
F. Offre (Offering-Yellow)
F.3. The symbol of the open hand appears as an "offering", and the interior lines and contours reveal traits and hidden characteristics.
It is open since all is present available seizable Open to receive Open also in order that each comes there to take
G. Outil (Tool-Purple)
E.3. The presentation of a "tool" is an analogy to the Philosopher's stone, both the solution and the question, thus establishing the cyclical nature of the work.
one has with a piece of coal traced the right angle the sign It is the response and the guide the fact a response a choice
- Le Poeme de l'Angle Droit. Le Corbusier. Tokyo: GA Gallery, c1984.
- Moore, Richard A. Alchemical and Mythical Themes in the Poem of the Right Angle. Oppositions (Winter 1980): 110-141. Cambridge : MIT Press for The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, 1980.
- Moore 117