Le Corbusier at MoMA

© 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris/FLC

For the modern architect, natural landscape acted as muse.

It’s easy to think of rooms and buildings as vessels—the self-contained cells in which we work, eat and sleep. But for Le Corbusier (1887–1965), interior space was built with an eye toward the outside.

The philosophy takes center stage in “Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes,” MoMA New York’s latest look at the famed modernist architect, who, guest curator Jean-Louis Cohen argues, was just as fascinated with natural crags and topographies as he was with the structures built on and around them.

The interest, Cohen says, started on paper. Traveling to Italy, Turkey and Greece in his twenties, the Swiss-born Le Corbusier filled sketchbooks with renderings of mountaintops fading into the horizon and messy swaths of red, gray and ochre that evoked the rising sun, as encouraged by his instructors at the School of Decorative Arts in La Chaux-de-Fonds. “He derives some of his most architectural ideas from the landscape,” Cohen says, “which becomes a guiding metaphor for the interior”—that one should discover it in a way that’s akin to exploring a city, a garden or a mountainous terrain.

Because Le Corbusier also saw buildings as mechanisms to observe landscapes, MoMA is presenting full-scale reconstructions of Le Corbusier–designed interiors crafted with extreme sensitivity to surrounding natural beauty—including the one-room cabin he built for his wife in 1952, whose small but expertly placed windows perfectly frame the French Riviera. “Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes” runs June 15 to September 23; 11 W. 53rd St.; moma.org.