Bogotá: the ‘Corbusier’ city

French architect Le Corbusier during many visits to Bogotá worked closely on a master plan.
French architect Le Corbusier during many visits to Bogotá worked closely on a master plan.

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]ogotá recalls an age when architect Le Corbusier had a master plan for the capital. A metropolis which embraced modernity and a growing, cultured middle class.

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, known professionally as Le Corbusier, was a French architect and pioneer of modern urban planning.  He was an internationally recognized architect having done the majority of his important work in Marseilles, France in conjunction with France’s minister of reconstruction.

He came to Bogotá in 1947, invited by the Colombian architects Paul Lester Wiener and Josep Luis Sert as a “Plan Director” for the city of Bogotá. Le Corbusier envisioned cities beyond drawing boards and design plans.

His cities had to be livable places where the needs of its inhabitants had to be met on all fronts: from healthy working environments to enriching cultural activities and public spaces that allowed the spirit and body to thrive.  The moment he stepped foot into the capital, he had big plans for Bogotá.

Back then, Bogotá was a small city with 600,000 inhabitants, characterized by wide boulevards and plenty of parks and streams.

For Le Corbusier, Bogotá had a choice setting in the Andes. It was a city with the promise of steady growth over the course of the half-century.  He projected Bogotá’s population would reach 1.5 million and if organized well could have the infrastructure of any European metropolis.

The Colombian capital in 1947 had an airport that supported both domestic and international carriers. Modern buildings were sprouting up near the historic center of La Candelaria and a public tram system moved people from the Plaza Bolívar along the Carrera Séptima to the quiet suburbs of Chico and Lago with their Republican-style homes.

During the years Le Corbusier worked on Bogotá he showed how a master plan could create a social order. He filled sketchbooks with drawings of daily life and worked to create maps and charts of Bogotá’s neighborhoods, which were spiraling away from the central core.

Photographs taken in 1950 show Le Corbusier enjoying Bogotá’s refined cultural havens, its museums, libraries and parks. He would entertain and be the guest of fellow architects from a cultural elite, for garden lunches in the villas of Soldedad and Teusaquillo.

This Swiss-born and French national befriended during his many visits to Colombia architects Rogelio Salmona, German Samper and Reinaldo Valencia. In order to break away form the metropolis, Le Corbesier devised plans for urban development schemes in some of Colombia’s smaller urbs, such as Medellín and Tumaco.

Le Corbusier, during his lifetime and until his death in 1965, designed hundreds of city plans for urban housing projects around the world, including: Moscow, Geneva, Algiers, Sao Paulo and above all Paris: a city which encapsulated his vision of a metropolis where culture, history and technology came together for the benefit of its inhabitants.

Le Corbusier’s watercolors of Bogotá show an influence of Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky. As much as he was taken by modernism and avant-guard ideas, Le Corbusier, was a social anthropologist keen on documenting the undercurrents of the cities he set out to rethink.

“Cities could only prosper if a balance was struck between the urban and the natural. People had to operate as a collective, in harmony with the environment,” wrote the architect.

Le Corbusier’s metropolis could only as good as the state of its masses; a proletarian vision which was shared by many socialist thinkers of the time.

Although much of Corbusier’s master plan for Bogotá never made it past the drawing boards, many buildings in the city center were constructed in the functional Le Corbusier style and Bogotá began an organized transformation into a large-scale metropolis during the sixties.

Expanding well beyond the predictions of the French architect, into 8 million today, Bogotá manages to preserve modernity and its architectural history. Hence, the capital could be considered a “Le Corbusier City” as it strives to maintain this delicate equilibrium of time.


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