Tom Sutcliffe: Even architects need their sheds

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The practice of letting exhibition visitors leave a commentary about the show they've just seen may be admirably democratic and accessible but it doesn't very often throw up anything terribly interesting. It's even rarer that an anonymous visitor will add something that injects a genuinely challenging twist to an exhibit – but I encountered an instance last week when visiting the reconstruction of Le Corbusier's Cabanon in the café at the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba).

The Cabanon was Corb's holiday shack, designed – according to his own account – in just 45 minutes and built as a kind of lean-to next to his favourite restaurant in the south of France. It's the smallest structure he ever built – with a single bed, a desk, a small washbasin and a loo tucked into a square floorplan which has roughly the floor area of a small caravan.

The interior of the Riba Cabanon, built by the Italian company Cassina (which markets some of Corbusier's furniture designs) is, apparently, a completely faithful reproduction of the original – from the swivelling wall-lights to the butcher's-block table. But the outside, rather than replicating Corbusier's rough log-cabin exterior, has been sheathed with a kind of blackboard on which you're invited to register views.

There's quite a bit of whimsy and some standard graffiti of the "I woz 'ere" school but there's also one tart comment in French, notionally a quote from Corbusier himself, which translates roughly as follows: "Ah, marvellous... I've designed a tranquil space in which I can reflect on my fundamental achievement – the sink estate".

Very tart, really, and it would be interesting to know whether it was an architect who left it – or a civilian victim of the kind of large-scale urban planning for which Le Corbusier was undoubtedly responsible. An enthusiastic proponent of the tower-block and the prairie plaza, of buried roads and walkways in the sky, Le Corbusier had an impact on countless people who had probably never even heard his name – through buildings he didn't design (but can perhaps be blamed for) and which were a million miles from the charming little hideaway which you find behind the sliding door of the Cabanon.

It helps, of course, that with the Cabanon Corbusier had the perfect client – a man whose day to day attitudes to interior decoration and fenestration and spatial organisation exactly aligned with Corbusier's abstracted theories about proportion and simplicity of living. Small as it is, the Cabanon was never going to get over-crowded during on-site visits, because Corb was the only person there, tailoring his shelter precisely to his own dimensions – or rather to the dimensions of the Modulor – a kind of humanoid measuring stick on which he based his designs. The Modulor is meant to be a kind of Everyman – but the truth is that it's Corb and the pretence that it isn't is where most of the problems of his influence arise.

Indeed, having spent some time inside the Cabanon – a genuinely delightful and ingenious space – one's tempted to say that domestic architecture only genuinely works when designer and client are indivisible. This can sometimes happen when two people are involved, sometimes because the client surrenders their identity to that of their architect. But generally some kind of compromise is involved. And when great architecture is in play – as it was with Corbusier – there's likely to be an even greater gap between a building's ideal, Platonic inhabitant and the awkward discontented actualities that eventually get the door-keys.

The Cabanon, little more than a box with grand aspirations, underlines the fact that there will always be one more person in the room, taking up space, than you can actually see. Even when it's empty Corbs is in there, and you won't be able to move for bumping into him.

It's all downhill from here

Who's watching the Watchmen? Well, me last week – and strongly of the opinion that film-goers need some more sensitive consumer symbol than the star ratings that most newspapers now employ. My problem is that I would have given the opening 15 minutes of Watchmen (right) the full five-star rating – partly because it is so astoundingly faithful to the comic-book original (to the point where you find yourself wondering whether even the broken glass matches) and partly because of the shameless deployment of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A'Changin", over its opening montage of historical vignettes. I got very excited. After that, though, the stars began to fade. One went out after I'd grasped just how inert and humourless the film was going to be in its dedication to the original. Another disappeared after I'd first clocked Ozymandias, surely the most effete superhero ever seen on film. By the end – a lifetime later it seemed – the last remaining star was flickering like a loose bulb. And given that quite a lot of Hollywood blockbusters replicate this downward slope, I reckon a graphic terrain map might be useful as well, giving some warning of just how steep the gradient is going to be. If you haven't been already, bear in mind that Watchmen is a black run.

I haven't seen the extensive evidence for Professor Stanley Wells' claim to have discovered an authentic life portrait of William Shakespeare (right) but I know Bardolatrous projection when I see it – and there's a choice example in the brochure for the Shakespeare Found exhibition which will make the case in full. "His face is open and alive, with a rosy, rather sweet expression, perhaps suggestive of modesty", it reads (according to a report in The New York Times). "There is nothing superior or haughty in the subject, which one might well expect to find in a face set off by such rich clothing. It is the face of a good listener, as well as of someone who exercised a natural restraint." Why stop there? Why not detect evidence of the sitter's instinctive sympathy for injured kittens, his brilliant sense of humour and the fact that he would never hang back when it was his turn to get a round in at the pub? It could be Bill to a T for all I know – but I doubt very much that a portrait is going to tell us anything that the plays and the poems don't. I think I'll stick with "there's no art to read the mind's construction in the face".

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

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