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L'affaire Suisse.


By Ivan Zaknic. Basel: Birkhauser. 2004. [euro]65

Clients who won't pay your bills? Inadequate construction budgets? Client bodies with unclear lines of authority? If you can relate to any (or all) of the above, this book places you in good company. The story of the commission, design, construction and refurbishment of Le Corbusier's Pavillon Suisse--the Swiss house of the Cite Internationale Universitaire de Paris (CIUP)--alarmingly illustrates how little has changed in the procurement of buildings over the last 75 years.

We are taken on a journey through time, starting with the foundation of CIUP in the early 1920s as an innovative solution to housing Paris' increasing number of students in hygienic and affordable accommodation. The book explores the urban integration of CIUP, relating it to Oxbridge college courts and Garden City models; the Pavillon Suisse is later described in the context of Le Corbusier's Radiant City proposals.

Zaknic presents the commission of the Pavillon Suisse in the aftermath of Le Corbusier's disqualification from the League of Nations competition, clearly outlining the importance of enlightened clients and lobbyists, among them Sigfried Giedion. Much of the book is then given over to the development of the design by Le Corbusier's office (paying due homage to Pierre Jeanneret), and the complex methods of its construction. Throughout, we are presented with interesting never-before-published letters by the likes of Le Corbusier, Giedion, and his clients. These offer insights into the unwavering belief of the architect in the face of client requests and changes, and shed light on the genius and working methods of this visionary architect.

Subsequent chapters cover the appropriation of the building during the Second World War as a German anti-aircraft unit's base, financial difficulties faced during its construction (including the fact that Corb's fee was only settled four years after completion), the commission of site-specific artwork, and the building's recent refurbishment.

Drawings and photographs offer glimpses of the construction, completion and refurbishment stages of the work, including structural drawings illustrating the astonishing below ground piles supporting the famous concrete pilotis. Zaknic has researched the project fastidiously, and the result is a fascinating description of the arduous process underlying even the greatest architecture.
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Author:Open, Bobby
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 2005
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