Severe models — Le Corbusier and Addis Ababa, 1936



At Failed Architecture, Rixt Woudstra writes about Le Corbusier’s sketch proposal for Addis Ababa. The drawing was sent to Mussolini in 1936, a manifesto for the modernist city:

“Le Corbusier’s sketch shows Addis Ababa literally as a tabula rasa: the rigorously superimposed plan cleared the land of all signs of humanity and centuries of urban culture. In his letter, Le Corbusier described his drawing perfectly by writing that he was attracted by “…models so severe, that one might think the colony was a space without time, and therefore, without history, and without any particular geographical meaning.” Further in his letter he added: “…the city is direct dominion; the city becomes the city of government, in which the Palace of the Governor must stand overall…””

The drawing is a perfect example of what I’m writing about currently as the ‘unified city model’, in which the city is treated as a single integrated entity, in keeping with an emerging “techno-cosmopolitanism… an understanding that society must be constructed, planned, and organised through art and science… the operationalisation of history, society, and culture” (Rabinow, 1996: 59). The allegiance between fascist ideas of governance and organic or unified models of the city is more than superficial. Once the city is imagined as a single entity, it’s not a big step to understand its purpose and ends solely in terms of the will of its rulers.

Rabinow, P. (1996). Essays on the anthropology of reason. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.



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