Le Corbusier’s “CIAM-2 (1929)” (1929)

The International Congress for Modern Architecture [CIAM]

2nd Congress at Frankfurt-am-Main — September, 1929



Report by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret

The dwelling place is a distinctly biological phenomenon.

Yet the vessels, the rooms, the spaces which it implies are confined in an envelope of solid materials belonging to a static system.

Biological event, static event; these are two distinct orders, two independent functions.  The mind which strives to solve one or the other of these riddles follows varied paths.

* * *

The poverty, the inadequacy of traditional techniques have brought in their wake a confusion of powers, an artificial mingling of functions only indifferently related to one another, an exaggerated solidarity which is a hindrance.  Methods of building have emerged from this, and been codified by the Schools and the Academies.  These hybrid procedures are very costly, they save neither matter nor effort; they can no longer respond to the severe economy of the present; the “Minimum House” cannot be achieved; [30] waste is the ransom of discordance between the tasks proposed and the traditional techniques.  This is true throughout the world.  The impasse had led to the crisis in housing.  We must find and apply new methods, clear methods, allowing us to work out useful plans for the home, lending themselves naturally to standardization, industrialization, Taylorization (mass production).

If our diagnosis of the sheer inadequacy of traditional methods were not more than enough in itself to impel us to look for new solutions, the history of architecture (our own past, or sometimes even the present in other climates) would show us that other methods of house construction exist or have existed which are infinitely more flexible, more deeply and richly architectural than those made popular by what is taught in the schools.  (The lake house, the Gothic wooden house, the Swiss chalet [blockhaus], the Russian isba, the Indochinese straw hut, the Japanese tea house, etc., etc.).

We must find and apply new methods, clear methods allowing us to work out useful plans for the home, lending themselves naturally to standardization, industrialization, Taylorization.

If we do not sort out two independent events: the arrangement and furnishing of the home, on the one hand, and the construction of the house, on the other; if we do not differentiate between two unrelated functions: an organized system of circulation, on the one hand, and a system of structure, on the other; if we persist in the present methods by which the two functions are mingled and interdependent, then we will remain petrified in the same immobility:

a) Industry will not be able to take over the “Minimum House” and contribute its prodigious resources to the general economy.

b) Architecture will not be able to make plans adapted to the modern economy, and society, although it is in the process of regeneration, will be deprived of the “Minimum House.”

By “the crisis in housing,” we mean not only a quantitative crisis but a qualitative one as well.  Man today is an animal deprived of its lair: he can only mope.

An exact circulation is the key to contemporary architecture

The running of a home consists of precise functions in a regular order.  The regular order of these functions constitutes a phenomenon of circulation.  An exact, economic rapid circulation is the key to contemporary architecture.  The precise functions of domestic life require various areas whose minimum content can be quite precisely determined.  For each function there must be a type of minimum “container,” standard, necessary, and sufficient (the human scale).  The order of these functions is established according to a logic which is biological, and not geometrical.  These functions can be diagrammed along a continuous line; whereupon the interplay of the necessary areas and their proximities can be clearly discerned.  It will be evident that the way these areas are connected has little in common with the more or less arbitrary shapes and areas of traditional houses.

The façades are providers of light

Standardization is the means by which industry may take over an object and produce it at a low cost, in great numbers and perfect quality.  The domestic functions have these unquestionable characteristics: they are carried out on horizontal planes which are floors; they require a flow of light which in the daytime can be admitted only (theoretically) by the façades: the façades are providers of light.  The partitions which mark off the series of “containers” necessary to the running of a home are in no way directly related to the walls; they are membranes related to the walls; they are membranes, insulating or not.  By its very definition, the façade-provider of light cannot carry the floors of the house.  The floors will be carried independently of the façade, by posts.


The floors will be carried independently of the façade

From then on, with a classification: “floors” and “light-giving façade,” the problem appears in all its clarity: to place at the disposition of the architect surfaces of free flooring covered by surfaces of free ceiling; on this available area, the architect will install, upon request, rooms (or vessels) connected to one another by a rational circulation.  Sunlight will be provided by the façades, especially arranged for this purpose; openings can be made anywhere, vertically or horizontally, in these façades; and the depth of the house will be dictated by the height of the areas to be lighted between two floors.  The flooring will be formed by a system of slabs or girders or flat vaults carried by posts which will either have foundations in the ground or be suspended from systems of bridges and hanging tongues; thanks to these, the number of posts may be decreased and the way opened for static methods which are not yet commonly used in building.  The disposition of these posts or tongues will be dictated by an accurate computation of the distances to be spanned: what we consider the indispensable principle of the “free ceiling” (in order to achieve the “free” or “open plan”) requires the elimination of visible crossbeams.

In order to permit industrialization, the spacing between posts and the spans of the girders will be standardized.  The presence of posts inside the house (a presence which represents about .5% or .25% — the three-hundredths part of the surface built upon) can in no way bother the architect when he proceeds to make the plan of the house (size, shape of the rooms, circulation, arrangement of the furniture).

Modern materials, steel and reinforced concrete, allow the supporting, or static, function of the house to be realized with precision: that is, the framework.

Independent framework, open plan, free façade

We feel that the house should be erected on an independent framework, providing an open plan and free façades.

The masonry wall no longer has a right to exist.

In 1926, during a cycle of lectures at the Labor Exchange in Paris, Auguste Perret, speaking of reinforced concrete, stated: “It is madness to think of using reinforced concrete to build small houses: it is much too expensive.  Only large buildings can be economically made of reinforced cement.”  Coming from an illustrious builder, this statement shows how widely opinions can differ.

We adopt another viewpoint; not of the present but of a near future: having demonstrated above that the ideal solution includes a framework and consequently an open plan and free façades, we say: iron and reinforced concrete lend themselves to these needs.  Concrete and iron for big projects, and iron for scattered houses, prefabricated and assembled.  Industry with all of the equipment and all of the methods for preparing iron and reinforced concrete already exists.  Qualified and specialized labor is abundant; workshops, factories, mills are available.  The open plan and free façade are conducive to equipping the house in a rational way.  Rational equipment (response to the biological function) brings an enormous saving on the area occupied by the dwelling, thus, a saving on the real volume and thus, on installation costs.  The house that is rationally “equipped,” by elements mass produced by big industry, means a considerable saving in operation and construction costs.  But rational equipment, which replaces a good deal of furniture and makes things easier than ever before, can be arrived at only in terms of the free framework and open plan.  So, the open plan and the free façade must be adopted and independent frameworks be created.

If that decision were paradoxically to be followed by greater expenditures, this would merely be the result of industry’s temporary lack of organization.  We would have to put [32] up with this period of deficit, go through it and in a short time, thanks to industrial organization on the one hand and to perfection of domestic equipment on the other, we would attain an entirely new position in the history of architecture and simultaneously solve the problem of the minimum house.

Yet already, at this precarious stage of the question, we have achieved significant results: at the request of M. Loucheur, Minister of Labor, we drew up plans for totally industrialized houses, made with the most costly materials and executed in the most meticulous way.  We extrapolated the house, so to speak, from clay and quarry and mortar; we transported it to the industrialist’s factory, the Taylorization belt.  And on the basis of one hundred houses, with contract price, we housed 6 people (father, mother, and 4 children) in conditions completely different from the usual ones — and much better — for 38,000 French francs per house.

We maintain that this price, of 38,000 francs for 100 houses, could be reduced in the same ratio as that of mass-produced cars compared to cars individually made to order.  For we actually produced the prefabricated house, and we did what the builders of cars and railway carriages do.

Walter Gropius has given us the American figures, revealing the present lack of synchronization between building and industry (the figures represent, from top to bottom, houses, general living index, the automobile industry, and Ford).

* * *

Modern architecture could get onto the wrong track, if it tried to build mass-produced standard houses (one, two, four, even ten standard models) and spread them over the country.  The raison d’être of a whole mass of architects would be eliminated.  But last year, at the La Sarraz Congress, our comrade Hoste cried: “If standardization and industrialization were to wipe out the architect’s calling, I would accept this and say that we would not have the right to react against an ineluctable event.”  Rest assured, my dear Hoste: the architect’s trade will not disappear; instead, it will be geared down, dispersed, divided into a considerable number of branches.  In reality, the field of architecture has been prodigiously extended.

This is what we believe: As far as the “minimum house” (social tool that is indispensable to the present era) is concerned, architecture can center its attention on equipping the inside of the house.  Depending on the problem (capacity), the size of the family, the sort of occupant (his way of life), the exposure to sun and winds, the topographical location (city planning), the architect of equipment can invent biological groupings within a static standard framework.  Thus the industrial methods required here, as a result of the absolute transformation of existing elements, can be employed in any climate since they can be made to fit any and all local conditions.

Normalization of standard measurements of equipment

The framework will be standardized; the elements of the house and the objects making up its equipment will be standardized around a series of varied models, worked out on an accurate human scale (stairs, doors, windows or glass walls, interior sectionals, etc.).  The home appliance industry, until now confined to sanitation, heating, and kitchen appliances, will expand indefinitely.  And the task of a Congress such as ours will be to try, through the individual efforts of each one of us, to establish an international convention normalizing the various standard measurements of domestic equipment.  This attempt at normalization (similar to that which has occurred in the field of photography) is closely linked with those questionnaires I and II which we sent you and which criticize the present regulations, concerning the dimensions of rooms, light surfaces, exits, etc.

Revision of the dwelling’s functions

To tell the truth, the industry toward which we are going to take a decisive step [33] expects our studies to result in a revision of the dwelling’s functions, with this short, concise (and so very revolutionary) phrase as a slogan: “breathe, hear, see” or again: “air, sound, light” or again: “ventilation and isothermics (even temperature), acoustics, radiation of light,” etc.

Everywhere, in everything, in our daily research, we lack scientific certainty.  Physics and chemistry are the territories which we must prospect in the search for sufficient truths.

With such a program, as you can see, we are leaving behind the customs made sacred by tradition.  We will learn more from the savages, from men close to nature whom the Academies have not touched; but above all, we will have to seal new pacts in the scientific world and in that of large-scale contemporary production.

On the other hand, we are reassured as to the destiny of modern architecture, even though certain leftist circles are intoxicated or dizzied by certain words they consider fashionable [Le Corbusier means phrases like Neue Sachlichkeit]: those who are devoted to solving the problem of the minimum house will always (even in spite of themselves) be able “to act like gods” with pieces of wood, iron, cement, or various assembled products.

Architecture will not be ruined by the “minimum house.”

* * *

One last word about these embryos of new systems which have caused a contemporary architecture to dawn (very palely so far!).

When we leave one function behind in order to take up another; when, for instance, we stop swimming in order to walk, when we stop walking in order to fly, we break up the established muscular harmonies and we fall — unless, by reacting with wisdom and perseverance, we create a new harmony wherein all the relationships are new but wherein coherence and unity of principle bring ease and proper functioning — real efficiency.

Unity: all evolution tends toward it.  Everything can be in motion, everything can change overnight, but unity alone brings efficiency through harmony.

We have told you here of our belief in the need for a free framework, making the open plan and free façade possible.  We note that this technical concept allows us to consider all the problems of architecture, from the minimum house to the apartment building, the office building, the skyscraper, and the palace (if that word doesn’t offend your ears).  The idea is simple: in order to act, man needs horizontal surfaces protected from the rain, from temperature, from curiosity.  That’s all!

If we need horizontal surfaces, we will not build any more sloping roofs, which cannot be put to use: on the contrary, the possibility of placing gardens on the roof (to counter the effects of expansion) will mean profound changes in the general layout of the house.


Since we no longer have to lay foundations in the ground for the carrying walls; since on the contrary all we need is posts covering only .5% of the surface built upon and furthermore, since it is our duty to make the house more healthful by raising its bottom-most floor above the ground, we will take advantage of this situation by adopting the principle of “pilotis” or stilts.

What is the point of using pilotis? To make houses more healthful and at the same [34]time allow the use of insulating materials which are often fragile or liable to decay and so should be placed far from the ground and possible shocks.

But most of all: behold, they are available to work a thorough transformation in the system of traffic on the ground.  This is as true of the skyscraper as of the office building, of the minimum houses as of the streets.  One will no longer be “in front of” a house or “in back of” it, but “underneath” it.

We have to reckon with cars, which we will strive to channel into a sort of river with regular banks; we need to park these cars without, at the same time, blocking up the river bed.  When we leave our cars we must not paralyze traffic all along the river and when we come out of our buildings, we must not obstruct the areas reserved for movement.

The President of the Work Soviet in Moscow, during the discussions prior to the adoption of our plans for the Tsentrosoiuz, concluded in these terms: “We will build the Tsentrosoiuz on pilotis because one day we would like to urbanize greater Moscow and solve the traffic problems.”

The most indispensable functions of modern life require the installation of countless utility mains.  If we agree that these mains should be able to climb freely from the bottom to the top of the house and come back down again (skyscrapers, offices, apartment buildings, villas, etc.) and that they should, as the most elementary common sense demands, be able to connect with their point of origin inside or outside of the city, and yet remain within sight for checking and within reach for repairs, then we will realize that the that the traditional wall and foundations are so many obstacles, and that burying pipelines under the ground is the most incredible nonsense of modern times.  The framework with open plan means total freedom in placing mains.  Pilotis make the “elevated street” feasible and thereby, the classification of traffic: pedestrians, cars, and parking.  And the city’s utility mains will be installed like the working parts of a machine in a factory: accessible for inspection and repairs.

As a result, the entire surface of the city will be available for traffic.  Moreover, new ground will be created: the roof gardens.  What fortunate circumstances, if we know how to take advantage of them!

From this new building statute arise new architectural attitudes.  Should we give it all up? Of course not! In the harmonization of the whole, let us create, let us tend toward unity! We feel that modern architecture is just beginning and that a new cycle has just become apparent.

As for the solution to be found for the problem of the “minimum house,” we demand not mere methods of expediency, of temporary adaptation to existing but false situations, but rather methods which are harmonized with those of work as it should be done today.  All we need is to get over the hurdle! But first we must make up our minds to get over!

— Reproduced in The Radiant City (1933)


~ by Ross Wolfe on September 14, 2011.

3 Responses to “Le Corbusier’s “CIAM-2 (1929)” (1929)”

  1. […] Le Corbusier and Jeanneret, Pierre.  “Analysis of the Fundamental Elements of the Problem of ‘The Minimum House.’”  Reproduced in The Radiant City: Elements of a Doctrine of Urbanism to be Used as the Basis of our […]

  2. […] Le Corbusier and Jeanneret, Pierre.  “Analysis of the Fundamental Elements of the Problem of ‘The Minimum House.’”  Reproduced in The Radiant City: Elements of a Doctrine of Urbanism to be Used as the Basis of our […]

  3. […] Moderne with its various conferences that started 1928 and dealt with issues such as the Minimum Dwelling (CIAM II). Corbusier’s living machines and Wright’s Usonian House stand in this […]

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