Le Corbusier inscribed those words in the second (1928) edition of his Toward an Architecture. The first sentence is one of the axioms of modernism. A century later, you are running your fingers over it on page 151 of John Goodman’s translation (Getty Research Institute, 2007), where it is shelved under the subtitle “Liners.”
Liners such as, en route shortly after the launch of Toward an Architecture:
This one was shaped by the modernist aesthetic of Art Deco. Its three sleeked funnels were unequal in height from bow to stern: first tall, then medium, then short (and the short one was a decorative dummy). Viewed from the side, the pattern communicated a knowingly accepted illusion of streamlined speed. Viewed from the bow, the tall funnel allotted the ship’s proportions the way a hat allots a head’s proportions.
Allotting, the hat inscribed below guides the eye to see a face as a petitesse. Petitesse is a curve and the hat is its generatrix.
Also the hat’s crown rakes back in the illusion of speed while the passive woman within the hat remains still. Also the hat’s ribbon, wrapped halfway up around the domed cylinder of the crown, teaches the senses to imagine ribbon and crown as body parts harmonizing at knowingly accepted cross purposes . . .
An eye made use of an apparatus to create this image of a woman designed and curated. She’s more than a century old now but as good as new. You accept the illusion knowingly. You are a member of its comic audience. Defined by the aesthetic of Euclid, a woman is a machine for wearing a hat.
Aslant on a tilted surface, a ship’s steel curves align themselves into a complex array of near-verticals and are changed from a simple prow into a Richard Serra multiform. Emitting excited puffs of steam as they prepare to nuzzle the new shape, the ship’s companion tugs bustle into line as merrily as if they were executing poses for the jovial approval of Raoul Dufy. As in the sunny vacationland France of a Chelsea gallery, all here in New York harbor is innocence, luxe, and the thoughtfully capitalized beauty of gaits trained by dance. The big ship and her brood of little boats seem to have prepped for their appearance before the camera in a boutique full of Lartigues.
There, after the primpers undercoated the sky with pink and the water with blue, they finished off the big ship’s funnels with a dramatic application of buff.
A hundred years ago, that tint at the source of cloud was a form that hope had chosen for an emblem. Buff cylinders multiplied over water were the insigne of the Hamburg-America Line, the most important transport link between Europe and the United States for the desperate Jews of Russia during the last years of the czars. Imagine you can hope now in the way they hoped then. In the mind’s eye, see a yellow glow travel from right to left across the ocean. See it take on readable form as water and sky unscroll before it.
When the ship with bright funnels comes into its haven, its passengers will disembark into the boutique’s chosen range of the spectrum and commence a different way of being seen.
The immigration image is at Wikimedia Commons, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jewish_immigration_Russia_United_States_1901.jpg. The information there transcribes the copyright date in the lower right corner as 1901, but I read it as 1909 or possibly 1902. A fashion historian might be able to date the clothing. The Hebrew text carried by the American eagle is found in several Jewish prayers. Adapted from Psalm 17.8, it reads, “And hide us in the shadow of thy wings.”
All three images have been Photoshopped for contrast and tone.