The Modulor is a universal, anthropometric scale of proportions, created by the Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier, devised to measure and reconcile maths, the human form, architecture and beauty into a single system.
What is the Modulor
Right after the end of the Second World War, Le Corbusier thought of a way to unite two virtually incompatible systems: the Anglo-Saxon foot and inch and the French metric system. During this time, he devised the first bases of the “Modulor,” a scale of harmonic measures that set architectural elements in proportion to human stature.
Initially, the Modulor man’s height was based on a French man’s average height of 1.75 meters, but it changed to 1.83 m in 1946. The dimensions were subsequently refined to give round numbers. Then, in 1950, the theory was perfected, and the human model was set at 2.262 m.
Developing the Modulor, Le Corbusier looked at the long tradition of Vitruvius, the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Leon Battista Alberti and other attempts to pinpoint mathematical rhythms in the human bodies. Further, he was fascinated by ancient civilizations, who used similar, body-based measuring systems. However, at the same time, he was quite troubled by the meter as dependent from a scale as the Earth’s meridians.
Why the Modular?
Le Corbusier’s intended to develop a scale to improve both the appearance and function of architecture, solely by using human proportions, the double unit, the Fibonacci numbers and the golden ratio. In addition, he aimed to design a visual bridge between two incompatible scales, the imperial system and the metric one, which could reconcile mankind, architecture and nature.
How Does it Work?
The Modulor system is based on the height of a man with his arms raised, reaching a height of 2.262 m. It was first used by Le Corbusier in a number of buildings, before getting codified into two books,”Le Modulor” and “Modulor 2.”
The architect suggests that the system could be used to provide measurements for all aspects of design. Often called the Picasso of architecture, he used the Modulor to design many elements in his body of work, including:
- Notre-Dame du Haut in Ronchamp, France
- Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, France
- Church of Sainte Marie de La Tourette located on a hillside near Lyon, France
- Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts in the United States of America
Although the Modulor was very successful at the time, several criticisms against it rose up.
Firstly, the height of the human figure appeared to be far too arbitrary and more likely chosen to be mathematically convenient. In fact, it didn’t take into account the height diversity of men. Thus, it constrains the average user to rely on the scale in more complex and artificial ways.
Secondly, Robin Evans noted that the female body “was only belatedly considered and rejected as a source of proportional harmony.” This was during the works leading to the creation of the Modulor, therefore alienating a large population of potential users.