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Geneva's uncelebrated, prizewinning forerunner of prefabricated housing

By Peter Hulm

La Clarté, Le Corbusier's only Geneva housing project, in 2016, more than 80 years after it was built.

La Maison Clarté, Le Corbusier's only housing project for Geneva, has been described as "the prototype of prefabricated selected modern housing". It was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2016 along with 16 other of the architect's buildings.

Galinksy's online guide to modern architecture by Simon Glynn points out that despite its World Heritage status, "the building is not open to the public and no information is displayed about its history (or even identity)."

William J.R. Curtis, in Le Corbusier – Ideas and Forms (1986) writes of the buildling credited to Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret and built for a Geneva industrialist promoter:

"The Clarté rises out of the complex street pattern like a stranded ocean liner." In fact, inside it looks like the inside of a Lake Geneva steamship with its metal lined corridors.

The liner view of La Clarté's corridors

"The apartments are double-height and have terraces made from cantilevered extensions of the slabs... The slabs in turn protect the facade from the elements and support colored awnings against the rays of the sun. There was a tentative beginning here of the idea of a sun-shade facade."

a room inside La Clarté another view inside the apartments

He adds: "The lower level shops and entryways introduce a satisfactory street scale. The impact of the block is blunted by a curved podium with a facade of plate glass set into glass bricks."

La Clarté from outside La Clarté from outside
These photos: galinsky.com. Others, from i.pinimg.com

It's a very discreet apartment block and suggests Le Corbusier was not always about in-your-face brutalism. The >galinsky online guide to notable modern buildings even remarks: "Viewed on a gray rainy day, the Maison Clarté seems to have stood the test of time rather less well than other Le Corbusier buildings of the period — hence the departure from galinsky's normal practice to include a sunny contemporary photograph to complement the current ones."

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