Pavillon de L'Esprit Nouveau – An avant-garde vision of the future

Originally designed for the Paris Art Deco Exhibition in 1925, the prototype of the ‹Pavilion de L'Esprit Nouveau› was rebuilt in 1977 in Bologna. Since the restoration at the end of 2017, Le Corbusier's pavilion has returned to its original colours after 40 years. The pavilion is a prime example of standardised housing units and – typical of Le Corbusier – emphasises the function and thus revolutionised the modern interior – an avant-garde vision of the future in times of increasing urbanisation. 


The process of physical urbanisation has been observable for centuries. While only three percent of people lived in the city 200 years ago, for the first time in ten years, more people live in the city than in the country, according to the UN. Their forecasts point to a further increase of up to 70% by 2025. Le Corbusier, an avant-garde mastermind, has developed the highly controversial architectural design for Paris - the 'Plan Voisin' - in order to solve the architectural and demographic problem that was already known at that time. His vision for the city was to maximize and allocate usable space in the city, such as skyscrapers and parks, a ‹plan for a modern city of 3,000,000 inhabitants›. This is the plan he presented in 1925 at the Paris World Exhibition 'Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes' in addition to the prototype of a housing unit of the ‹Immeubles Villas› , which were intended for the Plan Voisin. The pavilion was designed to demonstrate the potential for standardising homes with industrially manufactured materials, but was rejected by the organizers and hidden under a screen. Only the Minister of Fine Arts was able to persuade the organizers to let it go before the opening.

«The pavilion was [...] finished, but its exterior was shocking, and of course everyone noticed the exterior without bothering to see the interior. »


- Le Corbusier -


In the first volume of his œuvre complète, Le Corbusier explains the connection between urbanisation and his prototype: «I wanted to [...] demonstrate that these comfortable and elegant living units, these practical machines for living, can be agglomerated in long, high blocks of flats. Accordingly, the ‹Pavilion de l'Esprit Nouveau› was conceived as a typical cell in such an apartment block. It consisted of a minimum apartment with its own roof terrace. [...] In 1929, it was noted in retrospect that the ‹Pavilion de l'Esprit Nouveau› represented a turning point in the design of modern interiors and a milestone in the development of architecture. »


The architect gave the pavilion the name of the Parisian newspaper L'Esprit Nouveau, which he published with Amédée Ozenfant between 1920 and 1925. This avant-garde newspaper dealt with art and literature, architecture and science. He presented a whole series of new types of architecture that were «the fruit of a mind that dealt with the problems of the future,» says Le Corbusier. This includes the skyscraper made up of modular housing units - an early Corbusian housing machine. Le Corbusier revolutionised modern interiors by emphasising their respective function. He used fixed furniture such as cupboards, shelves and drawers to take advantage of the maximum of a small room. But his ideas, too visionary for his time, were initially not pursued.


In order to cope with the uneven growth of the suburbs of Bologna, the city administration was given a new regulatory plan in 1955, in which Le Corbusier should also have been involved. In 1963, he took on the task of planning a religious center for the city, which was never realised. In 1977, at the international exhibition in the construction sector – SAIE, the problem of architecture and urbanity in their relationship to the industrialisation process of that time was discussed. The central theme of the conference was the dualism between architectural product and large-scale automation and production, two of the particular aspects of the Pavilion de L'Esprit Nouveau. On the occasion of the SAIE, the architects Giuliano and Glauco Gresleri and José Oubrerie proposed a reconstruction of the prototypical house. The three architects created a faithful replica of the Parisian pavilion with the help of a team of architects and technicians from the Fondation Le Corbusier and the construction company Grandi Lavori. Thus, the circular section of the roof was taken over by a tree growing. At the time of the presentation in 1925, Le Corbusier had to prove his flexibility and adapted his architecture to the circumstances of the area, because the tree that stood on the assigned plot could not be knocked off.



A tour of Le Corbusier's architectural colour design



The Bologna Pavilion is completely identical to the Paris Pavilion, both in architecture and indoors: a residential unit and a round unit for project exhibitions, the ‹Diorama›. On the east side, right next to the entrance, the oversized graphic letters EN (for ‹Esprit Nouveau›) decorate the building. The pavilion is shaped to Le Corbusier's ideal: a flexible space, strongly characterised by the intrusion of light and air – two basic elements – a logical arrangement of the furniture and subdivision by colour.


Flooded with light, the large living room presents itself with double height and an entire glass side in the south. A staircase gives access to the first floor and gallery above the living room. The white floor tiles enlarge the room optically, which is enhanced by the ceiling colour in the front area, directly under the gallery: a bright 4320N bleu céruléen 59 makes the ceiling look distant and airy. In the room, there are more shades from Le Corbusier's Architectural Polychromy: the 32001 blanc dominates the living room, but on the side of the loggia, the 32120 terre sienne brûlée 31 stabilises the wall, which is interrupted by a window. To extend the window downwards, Le Corbusier chose the same bright blue for the radiator and the wall behind as on the ceiling. This colour continues on the ceiling above the stairs. Further sidewalls can be found in 32052 vert clair or 32111 l'ocre rouge moyen. The eye-catcher of the central terrace is the large tree, which stands out through the eye in the roof and illustrates the dialectic exchange between inside and outside. The dominant colour of the walls is blanc, as in the living room, but only on one side. The walls facing the living room and the fixed concrete bench use the tone 32120 terre sienne brûlée 31 from the first room and have a fixing effect here as well. Sunlight makes the colour look warm and draws contrasting shadows. The screen protection on the balustrade is alternately coloured in 4320N bleu céruléen 59 and 32060 ocre. If you walk across the loggia to the other end, you get to the two-storey diorama. Here you will find the blanc, ocre, dark umber and bright red ocher, which are fixing and dividing the columns, the stairs and other elements in the room. The horizontal windows just below the ceiling are, due to the curvature of the walls, an architectural eye-catcher and a light source of the diorama. The second floor of the pavilion leads to the rooms and the gallery above the living room. Here, the internal distribution is characterised by the use of different architectural colours. Thus, areas are subdivided without using room dividers or doors, as Le Corbusier placed one of his focal points on the open area, which was to be used to the maximum. So, you can find walls and radiators as well as doors and another built-in curved concrete bench in colours like coelin blue, blanc and light red ocher. It is interesting that, throughout the building, different types of floor coverings are designed, which plain colours complement the architectural colour design of the pavilion.


Le Corbusier's pavilion fulfills 4 of the ‹Five points of a new architecture›. Thus, the free floor plan allows a flexible use of the rooms, the free façade brings more space and airiness and although this implies no characteristic use of the horizontal windows, some rooms are provided with long windows to have an optimal use of light. Originally, Le Corbusier had planned a roof terrace, which is not open to the public in Bologna. If Le Corbusier's idea of superimposed modular apartments had come true, then of course only the upper units would have been able to use a roof terrace. The Pavilion de L'Esprit Nouveau is not a classic, but a unique living machine that could be replicated serially and modularly.

Forty years after its inauguration, the pavilion was restored with funds from the Emilia-Romagna region and the city of Bologna. The work involved replacing the original glass with safety glass, restoring the metal frames and restoring the original colours of the building. The original colours from Le Corbusier's Architectural Polychromy were used for this. As one of only two licensed manufacturers in the world, KEIMFARBEN distributes the Les Couleurs® Le Corbusier colours under the poLyChro® collection. Here you will find the dealer directory of KEIM.



Photography Copyright
©Les Couleurs Suisse AG

Le Corbusier's ‹Pavilion de L'Esprit Nouveau›

The Pavilion de L'Esprit Nouveau hosts several exhibitions each year, dealing with a great variety of topics, which always work as a complement to the extraordinary architecture. Admission is free. For the tours, which take place on Saturdays and Sundays, prior reservation is required (Tel. +39 051 6496611).

Pavilion de L'Esprit Nouveau
Piazza della Costituzione, 11
Fiera District
40128 Bologna



Dear lovers of Le Corbusier. Thank you for this very nice article and we must also thank our Italian friends for having reconstituted with great precision what it was certainly the the most important pavilion presented in 1925 at the Paris World Exhibition International Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts'. We must also have a thought for Henry Frugès who, through his enlightened action in favor of architecture and the arts, financed the construction of this pavilion of the "Esprit Nouveau" and permit to Le Corbusier with the construction of the "Quartier Modern Frugès-Le Corbusier" to see the realization of this concept of "La machine à habiter" still today in the actuality.

Jean-François Clocheau

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