Published in 1935, Aircraft celebrates flight and casts the aeroplane as the pinnacle of modern technological achievement. The Wright Brothers had made their first flight only 32 years earlier. Combining photographs with short, dramatic captions, Aircraft was compiled and written by the seminal French modernist architect, Le Corbusier.
Aircraft was produced by The Studio as part of their New Vision series, which introduced the reader to modern, pioneering technologies and ideas. Although The Studio commissioned Le Corbusier to focus on the industrial design of aircraft, the architect chose to widen his subject to aviation as a cultural and social phenomenon.
The result is a book that captures the enthusiasm and ideas surrounding the aerial age. Le Corbusier opens the book by emphasising the ‘ecstatic feeling’ that flight produces in him. It is ‘symbol of the New Age’, promising adventure, progress and wild possibility. He idealises the aesthetics of the machines, too, which possess ‘Clearness of function’ (a core principle that underpinned Le Corbusier’s utopian architectural schemes).
Ultimately, Le Corbusier’s interests as an architect and urban planner are at the centre of this work. He explores how flight offers us a new perspective – the ‘bird’s eye view’ – on the environments that we inhabit. Specifically, he is interested in the implications for urban environments: ‘the airplane eye … now looks with alarm at the places where we live, the cities where it is our lot to be. And the spectacle is frightening, overwhelming. The airplane eye reveals a spectacle of collapse.’
Le Corbusier’s captions are typically bold and uncompromising. The text that accompanies image 9, for example, reads: ‘THE BIRD’S EYE VIEW … MAN WILL MAKE USE OF IT TO CONCEIVE NEW AIMS. CITIES WILL ARISE OUT OF THEIR ASHES.’ Although motivated by utopian ideals surrounding social injustice and urban planning, Le Corbusier’s vision calls for an authoritarian level of destruction that has been seen by some critics to resonate with fascist thinking.