17 Le Corbusier works join UNESCO World Heritage List

Story highlights

  • The influential Swiss-French architect pioneered modernist architecture
  • The UNESCO application process took over a decade

(CNN)Much of the UNESCO World Heritage List is comprised of archaeological sites, ancient ruins and places of natural beauty. But this year, 17 buildings made of concrete, have also made the list.

Designed by architect Charles Edouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier, the buildings are spread across seven countries. The renowned Swiss-French architect pioneered modern architecture -- popularizing the use of reinforced concrete columns and freeing up roof space for gardens.
    They were added by the United Nations' cultural body during its annual meeting in Istanbul, Turkey last month.
    Below, Director of the Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris, Michel Richard, discusses the newly-designated sites.
    What role did the foundation play in having Le Corbusier's works inscribed?
    There were seven (member) states involved in the nomination. The foundation was in charge of the coordination of the dossier and prepared the files required by UNESCO for the nomination. It was a long-term process (12 years) but a wonderful adventure!
    Cabanon de Le Corbusier, France, 1951
    Why were these 17 buildings nominated? What made them special?
    From the very beginning we had decided to get a serial nomination which could make comprehensive the work and art of Le Corbusier. We did not wish to have an icon such as Villa Savoye inscribed, as we wished we could also associate iconic buildings with more modest ones.
    These ones could demonstrate other aspects of Le Corbusier's creations and show how he would develop the same energy, time and passion for buildings which had diverse usages: housing for works, a factory, a convent, private houses, apartment buildings, administration, a court, and a tiny seaside resort (his little cabin at Cap Martin).
    All the selected work contributed to the universal value of the series in different ways: innovation, industrialization, standardization, Purism, polychromy, minimum housing, Modulor, concrete application, five points for modern architecture, and so on.
    How does Le Corbusier's work define the Modern movement?
    Freedom! A radical change compared to tradition. A revolution in the way of living. This regards not only architecture but also furniture and all the equipment of the home. Innovation must be everywhere. But he was not a functionalist, he was a rationalist and art was always at the center of his architecture.
    How do you manage and preserve the architectural sites around the world? Are there any difficulties?
    Of course there are difficulties but things are changing and the inscription will be a very strong support for the maintenance of Le Corbusier's buildings all around the world.
    We try to look over every building through an organization mixing an architect at the Foundation in charge of restoration works and frequent contacts with the owners of the buildings (private and public).
    Every two years we invite all of them for a meeting, and a network of experts and amateurs can inform the Foundation of any problems regarding a building anywhere in the world.
    The preparation for the nomination was an excellent means to talk to the people in charge of heritage in the seven countries involved and we could exchange about legislation, procedures and concepts of restoration.
    Can you give us one or two of your favorite buildings from the 17 selected, and what important characteristics they include in their design?
    The Millowners Association Building in Ahmedabad is one of my favorites: it's a pure work of concrete art.
    The Maison La Roche in Paris, the first purist building, with the ramp, the large framed windows and the polychromy: simplicity, elegance, subtle light, humble and luxurious altogether.
    Finally, of course, the Cabanon in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, the smallest of the 17, but such an intelligent minimum home, all in wood with mural paintings by Le Corbusier.
    What sort of benefits come with UNESCO recognition -- does it guarantee the building will be preserved, does it mean more visitors will go to the site?
    For the Fondation, the recognition is the guarantee that the States and UNESCO will look after the inscribed properties and this is the most important benefit.
    We expect from the inscription a long tem preservation of the buildings. The cities are also involved in the process because they are in charge of planning and urbanism and they will look after the buildings just as well.
    It certainly means more visitors to the sites but all sites are not open to visitors. It will encourage people to visit sites which were not as famous as the Chapel at Ronchamp, the Cité radieuse in Marseille and the Villa Savoye in Poissy and this is a good thing.
    Are any other of Le Corbusier's works already on the list of World Heritage sites?
    No, this is the first time that Le Corbusier's buildings are on the World Heritage List. There were already buildings by architects of the Modern Movement (Mies van der Rohe, Niemeyer, Barragan, Bauhaus, Rietvelt, and Utzon).
    Is there a renewed interest in Modernist architecture lately? Why so?
    There is certainly a renewed interest in Modernist architecture but I (couldn't) really explain why. There is a strong interest in architecture anyway with starchitecture.
    Regarding housing, some people have been disappointed by very cheap propositions all along the past 30 years and they look for a more creative environment. You have the same interest for furniture by Modernist architects: Charlotte Perriand, Eames, Aalto, Breuer and Prouvé.