My mother, Heidi, was one of the earliest emancipated women in Switzerland
... in a country that gave women their full civil rights only in 1971! By then she had already completed most of her great achievements.
Her work with Le Corbusier
When I try to describe my mother, Heidi Weber, in the context of her work with Le Corbusier, one image, a metaphor, comes to mind clearly. It is a huge suspension bridge, with two foundation pillars and hundreds of steel cables which support the real bridge linking one bank to the other. One pillar is Le Corbusier, the other is Heidi Weber. The hundreds of steel cables represent their intertwined thoughts. Together, they make up a bridge. This bridge allows their visions to materialise, it enables Le Corbusier’s genius to become a reality and it makes it accessible to all of us. This is how my mother contributed to the expression of Le Corbusier’s genius. She brought it to light, not only through words but also through deeds. These deeds culminated in the implementation of his fi nal project, which the artist referred to in its entirety as the “Maison d’Homme,” but which is now justifi ably called the “Heidi Weber Museum – Centre Le Corbusier”. I say ‘justifi ably’ because Heidi Weber committed all of her earnings and her personal savings to ensuring that this centre could be built. To this very day, the museum is arguably the only true “Gesamtkunstwerk,” or wholly synthesised work of art, in the world in which every aspect – the architecture, the furnishings and lighting, the sculptures, the paintings, the sketches and other pictures and the books in the library – was created by the same artist.
There is one personal detail about my mother that I will reveal here. Unfortunately, I am not the biological son of Le Corbusier (hope-fully, however, one of his intellectual heirs). My mother would have had every right to proudly tell me so if this had been the case. This means that I must refute the occasional fantasies that have at times circulated about my mother that, for example, she was only able to achieve such results because she was Le Corbusier’s mistress. Indeed, my mother never gave me the impression that Le Cor-busier was a sort of superhuman. She presented him rather as a modest and many-faceted man who worked hard and who strove to bring his visions to life with exceptional perseverance and persistence. She helped him implement his vision, understanding not only how to convey her personal passion for his work to others, but also serving as a tireless partner in bringing his thoughts to life in the physical world. One example of many is the production of his furniture, or, as he called them, his ‘sitting machines’ (“machine pour s’assoire”). This concept had its roots in the lightweight constructions for aircrafts and race cars of the 1920s, for which his friend, the car and aircraft maker Gabriel Voisin, developed tubular-steel-frames. In 1958, my mother adapted the furniture prototypes that were shown at the 1928 World Fair in Paris. In this way, she ensured that they did not remain the only copies and that they did not become museum relics; these pieces can, in fact, still be bought and enjoyed to this very day.
My mother first presented Le Corbusier’s painted works in her own gallery, then through her fine art publishing house and at hundreds of exhibitions worldwide. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, she created incisive, progressive exhibitions which revolved around the artist’s thoughts on socially conscious urban planning, based on the “Modulor” – human dimensions and proportions in relation to his immediate surroundings – or as I like to see it, Le Corbusier’s humanism.
Throughout, she never neglected her role as a mother to me, her only son. Single mother? This was not an issue for her, even though this was at a time when women in Switzerland did not even have basic civil rights. She made sure that I attended the best schools, even though she was sometimes faced with mounting and overdue debts because of the construction of the museum. She would have never questioned the necessity of, or indeed have compromised, this.
Le Corbusier’s consideration for me during my childhood went so far that, when he knew that I would be at a business lunch with my mother (and, of course, that I would quickly get bored), he would begin drawing on the white paper tablecloth which was so common in France at that time well before our lunch was due to start. When we arrived, he would switch seats and I would be happily occupied, colouring in the sketches and ‘finishing’ them off.
As a child, I also remember being delighted by, and proud of, the elegance and style that distinguished both my mother and Le Corbusier. With his bow tie “papillon” and his trademark glasses, Le Corbusier was always impeccably dressed. She was always extremely elegant, understated and refined, without any jewellery but driving a chic Fiat or Alfa Romeo — which I, of course, was particularly fond of. Both my mother’s life and, with that, my own since my childhood, have been greatly shaped and enriched by the strong symbol that Le Corbusier created for peace: the open hand. Open to receive and open to give, so that everyone can take what makes sense for them and what gives them meaning.