Harvard University's Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts to celebrate 50th anniversary in May 2013

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Harvard University's Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts to celebrate 50th anniversary in May 2013
In this Jan. 18, 1949 file photo Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier sits in his office in Paris. AP Photo.

CAMBRIDGE, MA.- The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University is Le Corbusier's only building in North America, and one of the last to be completed during his lifetime. Made possible by a gift from Alfred St. Vrain Carpenter, it was completed in 1963, with the intent to house the art-making programs of Harvard College under one roof and to symbolize the University’s visible recognition of the importance of contemporary art. The undergraduate visual arts program, the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies (VES), was created five years later, accepting its first honors concentrators in 1968.

Le Corbusier designed the Carpenter Center at his Paris studio with the collaboration of Chilean architect Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente; the on-site preparation of the construction plans was handled by the office of Josep Lluís Sert, then dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Its wonderful collection of concrete forms bring together many of the design principles and devices from Le Corbusier's earlier works: the ondulatoires from La Tourette; the brise soleils from Marseille’s unité d'habitation; and the original Five Points from the 1920s, here re-imagined as if the Villa Savoye had been exploded inside out, with ramp and curved partitions extending into the environment.

Le Corbusier’s landmark building was designed to be a laboratory for creative and critical thinking. With its prominent architectural promenade, its enormous ondulatoires or curving windows, its open and intersecting floor plan that encourages perpetual exchange between the exterior and interior of the building, Le Corbusier envisioned the Carpenter Center as an extraordinarily welcoming building that promotes the constant flow of movement, light, energy, and ideas. Its conception of art is inherently democratic—all students have the capacity to create, and the capacity for creation should engage all other aspects of the University and its activities. By design, the building embodies a vision of community where the arts, sciences, and humanities do not speak separate languages, or inhabit separate cultures, but rather must constantly challenge and engage one another in a common space where experimentation, whether in the scientific or artistic sense, brings students, critics, and practitioners together in thought and discussion.

In May 2013, the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts will celebrate its 50th anniversary as an architectural and artistic landmark. Programming throughout Fall 2012 and Spring 2013 will showcase the Carpenter Center's vibrant history in diverse and creative ways that highlight the uniqueness of the building and its contributions to the artistic life of Harvard University while celebrating Le Corbusier's synthesis of art and architecture.

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