When Le Corbusier made architecture, he never created empty spaces. He believed his job extended to every detail of the interior too. What’s more, he applied the same rigour and philosophy to his furniture as to his buildings. Nowhere is this better expressed than in his LC range of tables, chairs and recliners, especially the LC2, a boxy armchair with a tubular-steel frame from 1928.
The earliest pieces in the LC collection were first exhibited in Le Corbusier’s Pavilion de l’Esprit Nouveau, built for the Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925. He had developed the idea, along with designers from the Bauhaus like Mies van der Rohe, that design could be industrial – that furniture, and indeed buildings, could be produced not by artisans working by hand, but by machines on a mass scale. And just as he thought of his buildings as “machines for living”, so he thought of his furniture as “domestic equipment” whose form was derived from an analysis of practical needs and the possibilities of industrial materials. This was the “new spirit”, and it was found in the structure of the pavilion itself – a simple, partly prefabricated building – and in the furniture inside.
This included the Casiers Standard, a collection of modular storage boxes in deep red, pale blue and grass green which could be configured in different arrangements. In this they were much like the building itself, which Le Corbusier conceived of as a single unit that “could be agglomerated in long, lofty blocks of villa-flats”. The furniture was like miniature architecture. Following the same principle the pavilion contained furniture made with tubular steel. Le Corbusier thought the upright, heavy furniture of previous eras was an expression of outdated behaviour, and that contemporary designs ought to reflect the flexibility of modern manners. In steel he found the material he needed. “The new shapes of chair which a tubular-steel or strip-metal framework make possible ought to provide for all of them,” he wrote. The steel frame became a repeated structural idea, a common skeleton for cantilevered lounge chairs, sofas, tables and armchairs.
For me the LC2, now manufactured by Cassina, is the most beautiful piece in the series. I love it for its perfect proportions and also because of the way it reflects Le Corbusier’s buildings. The metalwork on this chair always reminds me of the way an architect might use beams and pillars. It is structural and decorative at the same time, and beautifully simple. He refined a big idea into a pure form, and to do this – to cut and cut and cut – you have to be very brave. When I’m working on my own pieces, whether it’s a building or a chair, I’m never completely happy. I’m constantly trying to change things, and in the end my colleagues have to come to me and say, “Piero, enough.” In this, Le Corbusier is a great inspiration. He had a capacity to take incredible risks, and to refine his designs again and again. I’m always trying to imitate him.