After seven years of research, Le Corbusier published Le Modulor in 1949. It revealed a new system of linear measurements, aimed at ‘harmonising the work of men, divided [...] by the existence of two incompatible systems: the Anglo-Saxon system [inches and feet] and the decimal metric system’. The goal was to combine the anthropocentric foundations of the Anglo-Saxon system and the universalistic pretensions of the decimal metric system.

The Modulor (a contraction of module and nombre d’or) was based on the proportional anthropometry of a man-with-his-arm-raised: specific points spread out by intervals that correspond to the Fibonacci sequence, derived from the golden section. The humanoid used as a reference for the Modulor measured 182.88 cm, as suggested by Marcel Py, a young draughtsman from Le Corbusier’s firm: ‘Have you not noticed how, in American detective stories, handsome men –a policeman, for example– are always six foot tall?’

Two series of values were established: the red series, the centre of which crosses the Modulor humanoid’s navel or solar plexus at 113 cm from the ground, and the blue series, governed by the figure’s total height with arm raised at 226 cm, equal to twice the navel height. The measurements in both series refer to the basic outline of the Modulor humanoid: 70 cm corresponds to the segment between the navel ant the head, 86 cm to the distance between the palm of the right hand and the ground, 43 cm to the space between the knee joints and the ground, etc. Unlike the ancient figures, which were subjected to isometric, orthographic scrutiny, thus bringing what was intangible and archaic into confrontation with all that was objectifiable and modern, the Modulor created an anthropomorphic fetish with an immanent measurement system, thus turning description into prescription.

The mathematical, mystical doctrine of the Modulor quickly spread among architects of a modernity left helpless after the technology-assisted massacre of the Second World War. Enlightened by the ‘miracle of numbers’, Le Corbusier would go on to apply the blue and red series consistently in his projects. He even inscribed the béton brut of his buildings with low reliefs of the Modulor-fetish: the touchstone and custodian of the golden ratio.
Mark