Legendary Status: 17 Le Corbusier Sites Added to UNESCO World Heritage List

Orli Hakanoglu Orli Hakanoglu

This week, the World Heritage Committee added 17 buildings by the Swiss-born French Modernist architect Le Corbusier to the UNESCO World Heritage list, forming a “transnational serial site” encompassing many of his most iconic works. Reflecting the international legacy and influence of the architect, this form of architectural “site” is not restricted to one location: It spans an extraordinary seven countries and five decades of Le Corbusier’s practice.

The incredible scope of the selections speaks to the broad impact of Le Corbusier’s work on the Modernist movement: The architect’s ideas, forms and materials are still heavily borrowed in contemporary projects around the world. The Committee lauded the projects, writing: “These masterpieces of creative genius also attest to the internationalization of architectural practice across the planet.”

Complexe du Capitole, Chandigarh, India

Among the selections across the globe are Complexe du Capitole in Chandigarh, India, the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Japan, the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, France, and the Notre-Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France. The World Heritage Committee called the selections “a testimonial to the invention of a new architectural language that made a break with the past.”

Unité d’Habitation, Marseille, France; via Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

In order to achieve World Heritage status, a site must meet a set of criteria in addition to proving “outstanding universal value.” Some of these criteria stipulate that sites must “represent a masterpiece of human creative genius,” “contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance” or “be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history.”

Villa Savoye near Paris, France

Traditionally focusing on ancient sites and famous landmarks, it was not until the late 20th century that UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee first granted UNESCO heritage status to any Modernist buildings. Since then, a few modern examples include Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House, the White City of Tel Aviv and the Bauhaus School in Germany. The addition of Le Corbusier’s buildings is particularly triumphant given that an application to add 19 of the architect’s projects was deferred by UNESCO five years ago.

The National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Japan

The significance of the World Heritage status lies partly in its power to promote tourism, which in turn can boost local economies and generate funds for preservation and protection. The new status comes at an opportune time, following an act of vandalism at the Notre-Dame du Haut in Ronchamp in 2014, a moment that highlighted the acute need for improved security and better protection of modern architectural landmarks.

Notre-Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France

Additionally, it signifies further expansion of efforts in the preservation of the Modernist movement, which still constitutes relatively recent architectural history. Preservation initiatives of Modernist masterpieces are already widespread, with organizations such as Docomomo and The Getty’s Conserving Modern Architecture Initiative and its Keeping It Modern conservation grant program.

Dominican Monastery of La Tourette near Lyon, France

The 41st session of the World Heritage Committee will take place next July in Kraków, Poland. If the Committee continues its momentum in preserving the Modernist movement, perhaps we can look forward to further works by the likes of Paul Rudolph, Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe earning a spot on the World Heritage list.

All images via Wikimedia unless otherwise stated

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