In the 1920s a major disagreement ensued between the French architects Le Corbusier and Auguste Perret. Both architects were involved in finding an aesthetic for building in reinforced concrete in the early 20th century. Perret was the head of a family construction company who made major strides in exploring the refinements of the material. Their experiments sought to develop upon François Hennebique’s solutions of reinforced concrete monolithic joint and monolithic frame and spiral stair of the period between 1890 and 1908. Perret wanted a modern expression of the new material; but at the same time he felt that there should be a continuum with traditional architecture. This meant that there should be a retention of the elements of solid and void–of wall and openings. While he felt that there should be a paring down of the framework of a building, he did not like broad horizontal membering that tended to eliminate wall membranes and to allow glass to take over the vital wall element. As Brian Brace Taylor said, Corbusier wanted the window to stretch not only from column to column, but also from floor to ceiling.
The recessions of layering in concrete was an interpretation of the wooden formwork used for pouring the material. Then the columnar shapes would be tapered at the floor and reflect the modern version of the entasis of classical order. Perret’s traditional preference was for vertical windows which reflected the sweep of the eye up and down and was against the panoramic view that Le Corbusier gave vent to. And Le Corbusier did succumb to the temptation to do away with the solid wall in favor of the glass curtain wall in several of his major works like the Russian Constructivist Centrosoyuz (Центросоюз) Building (1929/30) (Solla, 2012).
Le Corbusier, 13 years Perret’s junior was more interested in breaking with Perret’s traditional direction, one which Perret prided on French classical architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries. Le Corbusier thought of a columnar precedent for reinforced concrete too, but his interpretation was caught up with a grid of layered planes and columnar sticks and a stairway connecting the horizontal layers. This was all structural, so the encasement of it was non-structural and the windows in the non-bearing walls could take a long, ribbon-like shape that gave a panorama view. In about 1929 Le Corbusier said that the window was all about light coming into the house and he diminished the role of ventilation.
This dualism resulted into cliches: the horizontal vs. the vertical, as though these had intrinsic meanings of beauty. It of course depends on the context, the specific example. Perret’s vertical window was in the tradition of the French window while the horizontal strip was echoed in the portals of a steamship.
Beatriz Colomina the architectural theorist interested in media, felt that the horizontal window was intrinsically linked to the shape of a film strip; that was the model for Le Corbusier’s strip window.
While stereotypes make for boring analyses in depth, both Perret’s and Le Corbusier’s creation of windows are beautifully carried out in execution; think of the Rue Franklin Apartments and the Villa Savoye, both turning out to be beautiful, interpretive solutions of the stereotypes.