On the Dislocation of the Body in Architecture: Le Corbusier's Modulor

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In 1948, French architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier, released one of his most famous publications titled Modular, followed by Modular 2 (1953). In these texts, Le Corbusier expressed his support of the research that Vitrubio, DaVinci, and Leon Battista Alberti started centuries before: to find the mathematical relationship between human dimensions and nature.

The research of the previously mentioned authors also represents the search to explain the Parthenon, the temples, and cathedrals built according to exact measurements that reference a code of essentiality. Knowing what instruments were used in finding the essence of these buildings was the starting point, instruments that at first glance seemed to bypass time and space. It wouldn't be farfetched to say that the measurements came from essence: parts of the body such as the elbow, the finger, thumb, foot, arm, palm, etc. In fact, there are instruments and measurements that carry names alluding to parts of the human body, an indication of architecture's proximity to it. 

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It talks about a conceptual architecture that was produced using objects and local measurements that one didn't need to search far for and didn't adhere to any particular standard. Of course, this changed as the world became more connected and a singular world vision started to unite continents. The French Revolution opened doors to a future that made room for scientific advancements that tested the limits of man and gave way to standardization that saw to the adoption of the meter as the go-to unit of measurement. 

Diversos cambios detonaron que se adoptara una nueva medida en un impulso progresista que desplazó el cuerpo humano a la diezmillonésima parte del cuadrante meridiano terrestre que representa el metro. Diversos cambios detonaron que se adoptara una nueva medida en un impulso progresista que desplazó el cuerpo humano a la diezmillonésima parte del cuadrante meridiano terrestre que representa el metro.

This new measurement represented the ten millionth part squared of the earth's meridian, a measurement way beyond that of the human body that couldn't be divided precisely when attempting to measure or represent the human body, producing a significant discrepancy in architectural language. This left many things unattended--as is the case with most radical changes of history--and mankind was suddenly faced with a disassociation between the body and its habitat in a global move for progress towards a new world where order dominated all. 

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It should be mentioned that the Anglo-Saxon system also underwent a standardization that had to be studied in depth. The necessity to find common ground and the ability to depict it is one of mankind's strongest desires. The Modulor arises from Le Corbusier's obsession with establishing harmony between spaces and the human body and symbolizes a step towards binding the body and the architectural world, a feat that has sparked architects to come forward in support or dissent of Le Corbusier's theories. 

El modulor de Le Corbusier representa un esfuerzo por devolverle la armonía a los espacios con respecto al cuerpo humano.. Image via ARQHYS El modulor de Le Corbusier representa un esfuerzo por devolverle la armonía a los espacios con respecto al cuerpo humano.. Image via ARQHYS

It isn't necessary to be an architecture or anatomy expert to deduce that the Modular's measurements allude to that of a 6'0 (1.83-meter) Caucasian man like the ones found in Hollywood movies, magazines, and across television screens – a hint at how architecture was consumed with its relationship with show business. Although this body represented a very small percentage of the world population, Le Corbusier's intentions were to restore order between the human body. It is also another way of re-drawing the Neufert with the same means of production that branded architecture as an object for mass consumption.

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The Modulor marks an important advancement in the history of architecture because it makes us take notice of the bodily disconnect caused by industry and its constant attempts at standardization, efforts that speak to our desire to find common ground and to bring everyone to it. 

Le Corbusier brings an important lesson to the table: it's necessary to keep revising the lessons of our forebearers to discover what can be adapted to our modern context and to fix the kinks while continuing to find out what overtakes us when something new arises. Guides and manifestos are some of the most important documents of human history because they speak to us about how we relate to specific moments and can never cease to be revised or rewritten by the new generations.