Discovering Le Corbusier's Esprit Nouveau in Bologna

Esprit Nouveau Le Corbusier Bologna

The master of architecture Le Corbusier visited Italy 16 times.
He made 3 projects for Italian clients that never saw the light.

But if you want to feel his spirit, you can go to Bologna.

From his first trip in the city when he was 20 to the Esprit Nouveau Pavilion in the Bologna Fiera district, here's the story of Le Corbusier in Bologna.

Esprit Nouveau Le Corbusier Bologna 1

The Esprit Nouveau pavilion in Bologna

Le Corbusier in Bologna

Le Corbusier arrived in Bologna on October 18th 1907.
He stayed in a hotel in the centre (perhaps the Hotel Roma) with his friend and sculptor Leon Perrin.

He had his grand tour through the cities of Tuscany and Bologna had to be just a passing stop before diving into Venice.

It was not so.

He studied the ark in San Domenico and was struck by San Petronio.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Santo Stefano Basilica impressed him.
He admired the Etruscan artefacts in the Archaeological Museum and he hated the Carracci.
He bought postcards that were jealously kept in his collection in Paris.

His notebook got lost, but one of his drawings of Bologna exists.

You can find it represented inside the Museo della Storia di Bologna.
A few lines, with Asinelli's tower, San Petronio and the keep of San Francesco standing out.

He also sketched the map of the city divided in two by Via Indipendenza, with a handwritten note saying:

Bologna / it's just a children's game / on the sand of the sea / an intuition
Esprit Nouveau Le Corbusier Bologna inside

Lights and colours inside the Esprit Nouveau pavilion

The project of the church in Bologna

Many years later, 1963.

Cardinal Lercaro has a plan to build new churches in Bologna.
He tries to reach the best architects of that time, like Alvar Aalto for Riola Church, and he even asked Picasso to make a painting.

Le Corbusier is an old man, but Lercaro gets an answer:

"Oh, now I don't have a single moment, like everyone else I'm busy 24 hours a day, but if you really want something don't despair"

Le Corbusier writes on the back of a letter a sketch of an eglise pour Bologne.

It's inspired by a previous project for Saint Pierre's church in Firminy.
But his days in Bologna come again in the map, similar to Santo Stefano's, and in the use of natural light like San Petronio's sundial.

The architect died in 1965 and despite many attempts, the church has never been built.

But the spirit of Le Corbusier found a new way to come back to Bologna.

Esprit Nouveau Le Corbusier Bologna tree

The treen in the terrace of the Esprit Nouveau

The Esprit Nouveau

The Esprit Nouveau Pavilion, taking its name from the magazine founded by Le Corbusier, was built for the Exposition International des Arts Décoratifs inside Paris's Grand Palais in 1925.

The Pavilion is made up of two parts: a housing unit, which constituted the construction model of the city of the future, and a round unit for the exhibition of projects, called "Diorama".

Le Corbusier considered the Esprit Nouveau a model, the "ideal cell corresponding to the modern type housing".

At the end of the Exhibition, the Parisian Pavilion was destroyed.

But in 1977 architects Giuliano and Glauco Gresleri and Josè Oubriere decided to create a replica of it in Bologna, near Kenzo Tange's towers.

The Bolognese Pavilion is identical to the Parisian Pavilion.
The same architecture, the same interior furnishings (created by Cassina for the occasion), and even the tree incorporated in the structure.

After more than a century from his first visit, the spirit of Le Corbusier still spreads free in Bologna.

Esprit Nouveau Le Corbusier Bologna toilet

The toilet on the first floor of Esprit Nouveau in Bologna


Esprit Nouveau
Piazza della Costituzione, 11, 40128 Bologna
Open only during exhibitions


- Attualità, cultura, economia, costume e vita amministrativa N.6/7 Giugno/Luglio 1988. Giuliano Gresleri

- L'Esprit Nouveau. Parigi-Bologna. Costruzione e ricostruzione di un prototipo dell’architettura moderna. Giuliano Gresleri. Electa Editrice, 1979

- Le Corbusier, Bologne, Carnet Nivola II, 1952 - 1959 Fondation Le Corbusier

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