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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Le Corbusier, negotiating modernity: representing Algiers, 1930-42 McKay, Frances Sherry


The dissertation investigates the six plans devised by Le Corbusier for Algiers between 1930 and 1942, situating them within the representations given to the French presence in Algiers and their volatile political and cultural milieu. The problem was to identify these canonized, avant-garde plans as particular forms given to a specific view of colonialism. In relating them to colonialism and its cognates race, gender and nationalism, it was also necessary to distinguish their perceived difference from those more readily associated with French colonial policy and thus account for Le Corbusier’s failure to ultimately wrest the commision from the competing beaux arts designers. The task was to calculate the conditions and constraints under which the meanings given to these plans could emerge, take effect and have consequences. The plans and their amplifcation in exhibitions, journalism, paintings, sketches, literature and film are analysed as representations given to the various discourses through which both modernism and colonialism circulated. The intersection of these discourses with others on orientalism, folklore and most importantly gender and nationalism are plotted so as to position these plans wthtin the discursive map by which Algiers was known in the Metropole and in Algeria. Post-colonial histories are used to offset the archival gaps in both the personal archive of the architect and in national insititutions. The clissertatation concludes that Le Corbusier’s canonical avant-garde plans did participate in colonialism. However, that participation can be distinguished from that of the competing plans not only according to aesthetic considerations of formal vocabulary and spatial arrangement but also according to the representation which they each presented of the nation--the interrelationship of aesthetic vision and political vision being essential. Significantly, Le Corbusier’s repeated reference to the women of Algiers through postcard collections and sketches, his feminization of the Algiers landscape or fascination with the interiors and terraces of Moslem family dwellings and growing interest in providing them with contemporary homes can be related to the problematic position of Moslem women in the defmition given to the nation, be it a faltering French nation or a nascent Moslem Algerian one.

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