Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts
Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts
The Carpenter Center
|Governing body||Harvard University|
|NRHP Reference #||78000435|
|Added to NRHP||April 20, 1978|
The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts is the only building actually built by Le Corbusier in the United States, and one of only two in the Americas (the other is the Curutchet House in La Plata, Argentina). Le Corbusier designed it with the collaboration of Chilean architect Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente at his 35 rue de Sèvres studio; the on-site preparation of the construction plans was handled by the office of Josep Lluís Sert, then dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. He had formerly worked in Le Corbusier's atelier and had been instrumental in winning him the commission. The building was completed in 1962.
History of the Commission
During the mid-1950s, the idea of creating a place for the visual arts at Harvard began to take shape. A new department dedicated to the visual arts was created, and the need for a building to house the new department arose. A budget was set for $1.3 million, and the proposal was included in a Harvard fundraising program. The project immediately elicited a response from St. Vrain Carpenter, an alumnus who supplied $1.5 million for the proposed design center. The donation propelled the project forward, and the Committee for the Practice of Visual Arts began to look for an architect to undertake the project. Originally, the committee had recommended that the building be designed by "a first rate American architect" who would be in the company of Charles Bulfinch and Walter Gropius, among others. However, José Luis Sert, who was at the time Dean of the Graduate School of Design and chairman of the committee suggested that his friend and previous collaborator, Le Corbusier, be asked to design the building. Delayed due to scheduling and payment conflicts, Le Corbusier eventually accepted and made his first of two visits to Cambridge in 1959.
Design and Construction
After much debate, a site was chosen between Quincy and Prescott Streets, abiding by the original proposal for the building. The allotted space was quite small, so the completed building presents itself as a compact, roughly cylindrical mass bisected by an S-shaped ramp on the third floor. Le Corbusier's earliest design showed a much more pronounced ramp that further separated the two parts of the central mass. However, the early design created the problem of too much disruption of the central mass. This problem was reconciled by using a pinwheel effect so that in the finally executed design, the two halves meet at a vertical core that houses an elevator. The concrete ramp is cantilevered from this central spine and stands atop a few pilotis. The landing at the top of the ramp is located in the core of the building and leads to various studios and exhibition spaces seen through glass windows and doors, providing views into the building's instructional and displaying functions without interrupting the activities in progress.
The exterior of the Carpenter Center presents itself very differently from different angles. From Prescott Street looking toward the curved studio space, one can see the brise-soleil that are placed perpendicular to the direction of the central portion of the ramp, making only their narrow ends visible from the street. The Quincy Street view, however, reveals ondulatoires on this studio's exterior curve, which interfere with the building's curve less than the brise-soleil do on the opposite side. On the ramp from Quincy street just before entering the building, one sees grids of square and rectangles of the windows, brise-soleils, and studio spaces, rather than the curves of the two halves of the building.
Le Corbusier's Five Points
During his career, Le Corbusier developed a set of architectural principles that dictated his technique, called "the Five Points of a New Architecture" which were most evident in his Villa Savoye. These were:
- Pilotis – The replacement of supporting walls by a grid of reinforced concrete columns that bears the load of the structure is the basis of the new aesthetic.
- Roof gardens – The flat roof can be utilized for a domestic purpose while also providing essential protection to the concrete roof.
- The free designing of the ground plan – The absence of supporting walls means that the house is unrestrained in its internal usage.
- The free design of façade – By separating the exterior of the building from its structural function the façade becomes free.
- The horizontal window – The façade can be cut along its entire length to allow rooms to be lit equally.
Because the Carpenter Center was to be his only building in America, he felt it should be a synthesis of his architectural principals and therefore incorporated his Five Points into the design of the building.
The building now houses the department of Visual and Environmental Studies of the University, and is the venue for screenings by the Harvard Film Archive.
Le Corbusier never actually saw the building. He was invited to the opening ceremony, but he declined the invitation on account of his poor health.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- Sekler, Eduard F. (1978). Le Corbusier at Work: The Genesis of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 40.
- Sekler (1978). Le Corbusier at Work. p. 49.
- Sekler (1978). Le Corbusier at Work. p. 58.
- Arnheim, Rudolph (1983). "The Symbolism of Centric and Linear Composition". Perspecta 20: 144.
- Sekler (1978). Le Corbusier at Work. pp. 16–19.
- Le Corbusier (1986). Towards a New Architecture. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.
- Sekler (1978). Le Corbusier at Work. p. 2.
- Pierre Huyghe at ubuweb Retrieved 5 January 2012
- Harvard Film Archive
- Department of Visual and Environmental Studies
- Research on the Carpenter Center
- Photographs of the Carpenter Center