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2 ‐ Two films for a new architectural journal's birth</br>Frame from the film Architecture d'aujourd'hui, 1930

Batir - 1930

Three films by Chenal to show Modern architecture
and promote a new Architectural magazine

Leonardo Ciacci

In 1930 the director Pierre Chenal gave up three films to the modern architecture of Perret Brothers, Robert Mallet Stevens, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. The three films are Batir, Architecture d'aujourd'hui and Trois chantiers. The short films analyse the modern building advantages in the technical point of view, showing the builder's yard work, where new revolutionary materials are used; in the functional point of view, showing the space and light distribution inside the building; in the aesthetic point of view, showing the rational project beauty and in the economic point of view, showing the current production buildings where the costs are much low.



Batir (1930)

Directed by Pierre Chenal 
Script by Pierre Chenal and Le Corbusier 
Sub-titles by Le Corbusier 
Music by Albert Jeanneret 
Produced by the review Architecture d'aujourd'hui 
Techinical information 35 mm, b&w, time 11 min.
Archives: Filmmuseum (Amsterdam), Centre National de la Cinematographie (Paris)  © Foundation Le Corbusier
Detail sheet by Alessandra Redivo
Watch the film online | Complete version:


The films proposal is not only to analyse the single house but also the popular neighbourhood till the city planning idea for Paris, formulated by Le Corbusier. The films were produced by the architectural review Architecture d'aujourd'hui, which was founded in 1930, by Auguste Perret and Robert Mallet Stevens. In the first issue the editor explains the review aim: "Architecture d'aujourd'hui" was created to let the new French architecture be known. The purpose of producing these three films was to propagandise for new and modern architecture idea but at the same time to advertise the review. In this viewpoint the editorial staff choose cinema as mass media to spread the architectural science not only in France but also abroad. The films were shown for the first time at the Parisian audience in May 1931 at the cinema Rialto.

The short film Batir was shot in Paris. A soundtrack was added to the film in 1931 by original music composed by Albert Jeanneret, Le Corbusier' brother. Unfortunately it is gone lost. There are two copies of the film, one is kept in the Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, and the other one is kept in the Centre National De la Cinematographie in Paris. The first one has Dutch sub-titles, the second has French. Batir is subdivisible in three parts. In the first part the film illustrates how to build with the new materials: steel and concrete. First there is the description of reinforced concrete working, and then there is the explanation how the steel beams are used. Finally images show the floor making. The second part is characterised by examples of ancient architecture compared to modern architecture, represented by the Garage Citroën (1925) and Offices Building in rue Balard (1924), in Paris, by Mallet Stevens; the Cité de Refuge dell'Armeè du Salut (1929-33) in Paris by Le Corbusier. This part is quite ironic, Le Corbusier seems to be polemic with traditional architects: "Then the architect arrives; for reinforcing the whole building, applies a bricks' mask to the structure". In the third part the topic is the city plan for Paris called Plan Voisin (1925) by Le Corbusier, based on the cross-skyscrapers repetition. The message we perceive through images is that from an industrial use of materlial it is possible to plan a city repeating urban standard elements as cross-skyscrapers can be.


The short film Architecture d'aujourd'hui was shot in 1930 in France. Also to this film the soundtrack was added in 1931, but there are no tracks left. There are four copies of Architecture d'aujourd'hui. One is kept in the Filmmuseum in Amsterdam.The Filmliga [1] bought the film in 1931. The copy has Ducht sub-titles. Another copy is kept in the Centre National de la Cinematographie in Paris and it is exactly the same as the Ducht one, the only difference is that it has French sub-titles. The third copy is kept in the Museum of Modern Art of New York. This copy is much short, it comprehend only the shots with Le Corbusier' architecture. Sub-titles are in French and its duration is 14 minutes. There is also another copy, nowadays in the Cinematheque Suisse in Losanne, without sub-titles. The copy is exactly the same as the MoMA one except for the total absence of sub-titles.


At the same way Architecture d'aujourd'hui is subdivisible in four parts. The first describes how different architects use reinforced concrete in different ways and for different types of buildings. The film shows two churches by Perret Brothers, Notre-Dame de la Consolation in Raincy (1923) and Sainte-Thérèse de l'Enfant-Jesus (1925); the rue Mallet Stevens by Mallet Stevens, built in 1927 in Paris and at last shows the Frugès quarter, in Pessac near Bordeaux, (1924-1926) by Le Corbuiser. In the second part we get to the heart of the matter: sequences illustrate Le Corbusier' theories about architecture and the way of living concept: " the car is a machine for driving, the aeroplane is a machine for flying and the house is a machine for living". Then we get into three projects for single houses by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret: Villa Stein-De Monzie in Garches (1925-26), where "the simple beauty of the house is comparable to the beauty of the machine"; Villa Church in Ville d'Avray (1927); Villa Savoye in Poissy (1928-1930).


The way of filming the houses is the same for each one: first the camera portrays the Villa from the outside, then keeps on the inside, underlining the amount of light and space, for example a sub-title says: "A shot made without artificial light" finally there is the movement sequence which purpose is to emphasise the ease of crossing the space from a place to another and to emphasise the new function of the roof which is also a terrace: "The house is not a prison, the appearance changes at every step. The flight of stairs leads to the solarium". In the movement sequences people act, doing gymn, climbing up stairs or simply chattering seat on the roof. In the chapter that shows Villa Stein the movement sequence is played by Le Corbusier himself. He climbs the winding staircase to the roof.


The last part is dedicated to the Plan Voisin as in Batir. The way of solving the city problems (Paris in this case) is to propose a revolutionary plan, cross-skyscrapers have to replace ancient buildings in the centre of the town. This is the way to guarantee an efficient road's net, a good distribution of light and air for inhabitants and a lot of public green space: "All the free space will be assigned to pedestrians and Paris will be again the most important city in the world". Chenal, in the final part, filmed all the models made by Le Corbusier, comparing them to Paris' centre views, characterised by dark and narrow streets.
For what is concerned to the third film Trois chantiers, unfortunately there are no copies left. We have only little information: it was a documentary about the building of three reinforced concrete bridges in France.


[1] The Filmliga (1927-1933) was a Dutch cultural association, which promoted cinema in the Netherlands.