Le Corbusier’s “A Single Trade” (1925)
Translated from the French by Charlotte Benton, Tim Benton, et al.
From Architecture and Design, 1890-1939: An International Anthology
of Original Articles. (Whitney Library of Design. New York, NY: 1975).
• • •
Before we had reinforced concrete, all the various trades had to be done on the spot to construct a house. After twenty years of using reinforced concrete, we may speculate: a single trade on the site: the builder?
The builder constructs the exterior and interior walls, the floor, stairs, and roofs (roof-terraces); he puts in the doors and windows. Then it only remains for the joiner to install the cupboards [casiers] for the house.
Up till now, the builder has prepared cavities for doors and windows for the joiner; the joiner comes along, takes the measurements, returns to his workshop and makes his doors and windows according to the various measurements; he returns to the site and puts them in place, adjusting them, planing them down and making them a true fit.
It would be possible for the builder to put mass-produced (machine made) doors and windows into place, just like bricks. This is an up-to-date solution that we have already partly introduced on several sites.
Up till now the house fitments have only been roughly designed; they do not occupy a designated place in the house.
However, the kitchen, pantry, dining-room, lounge and bedrooms are places where specific functions are carried out. Each of these rooms requires its own equipment, which must be ready to hand. Since a modern dwelling is planned with a view to saving space, the old expedients (cupboards, cabinets, chests) intended for storing such equipment, are no longer acceptable. ‘Each implement in its rightful place,’ so purpose-built furniture, like office furniture.
Bring office furniture into the apartment, but according to a different aesthetic plan. After all, a house is only fitments on the one hand, and chairs and tables on the other. The rest is clutter…
The container (cabinets) mass-produced, finished in one of the numerous varnishes available, or coated like a car (as we are starting to do in our buildings: coated walls and fitments). The contents (fixtures), from the simplest to the most lavish, from the most economical to the most sophisticated, produced by the carpenter, painter, finisher etc.
When mass-produced, these standard fitments, which could be put together in many different combinations, could be sold in a local store (au Bazar de l’Hôtel-de-Ville) or on the Champs Elysées: they stand against a wall up to any height, or even form a wall. So, a single trade: the joiner no longer has to set foot inside the building and no longer seriously holds up the work. His goods are only brought into the house when it is being furnished, inside dry walls.
The builder is master of the site. He will be entirely the master when the reform of the present method of dividing the land into lots (building plots) permits us to build on regular rather than irregular pieces of land and helps us to fix upon a more precise style of dwelling. Then the shell made by the builder will provide a casing which will house the heating system and sanitary installations. The introduction of standard fitments was heralded long ago by office furniture, by ‘Innovation’ style furniture and also by the ingenious, bold and elegant designs of Francis Jourdain.
As for us, we can draw up our plans from now on with a few fixed dimensions: doors, windows and standard fitments; it is a pleasure to gradually leave behind arbitrary methods and improvisation. Standard doors, windows, or fitments call for the cooperation of technical experts. We would do well to consider that it is not us, the architects, who design a radiator, a w.c., a light bulb, a porcelain wash-basin, etc. which form the equipment of a house. The tendency is towards improved equipment; we are lucky to be able to hand over to the technical experts. Our role is to arrange and proportion…