In the 1920s Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, 1887–1965) developed his influential Five Points Toward a New Architecture through Posts in the journal L’Esprit Nouveau and a series of residential commissions. These culminated in 1931 with the conclusion of the Villa Savoye outside Paris, which is thought to be one of the most important buildings — residential or otherwise — of the modern movement.
The home encapsulates all his Five Points — “the supports, the roof gardens, the free design of the ground plan, the flat window, and the free design of the facade,” in Le Corbusier’s words. And in its manipulation of abstract kind that breaks from historic precedents, it influenced many generations of architects. Here’s a tour of the must-know modern home.
Villa Savoye at a Glance
Year built: 1931
Architects: Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret
Location: Poissy, France
Visiting info: Individual and group tours available
Size: 1,340 square feet
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This country villa for Pierre and Emilie Savoye is located about 20 miles west of Paris, in what was a rural area in the time of its structure. Le Corbusier (who worked for 2 years along with his cousin Pierre with this and other endeavors) took the simple commission and turned it into a definite understanding of his Five Points manifesto. At the villa he shows how much expressive possible can be obtained using his or her theory.
The design can also be seen as the articulation of structure’s three primary components: flat slabs (flooring), vertical piers (structural columns) and walls (particularly facades). Lance LaVine, in his book Mechanics and Meaning in Architecture, parallels Le Corbusier’s search for meaning in these components with physicists’ turn-of-the-century discoveries of character’s constituent components: electrons, protons and neutrons.
Technology, as used in science and engineering, was a big influence on Le Corbusier, and the Villa Savoye further embodies his idea of the home as a “machine for living” — an expression he coined. Nevertheless that is always balanced by his view of the home as a machine to move you emotionally; it could be argued that this hall accomplishes.
Development encircled the villa at the decades since it had been finished, however, the building’s designation as a French national monument in the 1960s has allowed a lot of its first character to be maintained (and of course that it saved the building from ruin following the household left handed it circa World War II, and it was subsequently used for, among other things, a hay barn). The trees to the south east of the square building are pretty much exactly the exact same now as when the building was complete, though the open vista to the north and west was closed in by trees which help block the college and other buildings on those sides.
The trees on the south guaranteed that the loved ones and visitors (coming by automobile, no doubt) would experience the home in an opening after passing through the trees. As we will see, this promenade architecturale (a path strictly defined by the structure) continues into the home itself. Le Corbusier had written concerning the strategy to the Parthenon in Athens; Villa Savoye is a modern update to the therapy of strategy.
Le Corbusier had written that “the home must not have a front … it has to open out to the four horizons” Nonetheless, the south facade has become the most rear-like, stemming from the way in which the ground floor is not shining in the middle, and since the roof enclosure is only barely visible. The strategy shown here — the main approach — only hints at what the villa provides.
Among the most distinctive areas of the ground floor is that the porte cochere that wraps three sides of the building. Le Corbusier’s embrace of the automobile hauled (no pun intended) the plan, so the distance between the pilotis (slender columns) and outside wall is wide enough for a vehicle to pass through.
On north side of the building, the ground-floor walls become semicircular, based on the turning radius of an auto. Among those Savoye family’s three cars (one for each member of the wealthy household) could then stop in the entry in the middle of the semicircle, before the chauffeur would continue on around the west to park it at the three-car garage.
This north altitude is certainly more sculptural than the south side, and it also clearly occupies all the Five Points: The piano nobile (second floor) is lifted above the ground on an grid of pilotis; the walls of the floor are free from those columns; upstairs, a lengthy ribbon window extends from corner to corner; the window sits in the front of the columns, demonstrating the free facade; the curved walls in the roof specify 1 side of the roof garden.
Among the subtly intriguing characteristics of the design (covered at length in LaVine’s book) is how the structure appears regular but in fact changes in the grid when required. This view of the entrance from just beyond the pilotis shows why: The centre column is aligned with the doorway behind it, meaning that when the structure were at a regular grid, a column could land just behind the doorway, blocking entrance to the home.
So Corbusier doubled up the columns in 1 direction (left to right in the photograph) and altered them in the other direction; the paired columns and linking column are visible behind the glass round the entry door. This structural flexibility comes from utilizing concrete for those columns, beams and slabs. The material readily allows such manipulations.
However, this frees up and changing of those columns (what LaVine calls conditional structure, versus the exterior’s rationalstructure) doesn’t merely serve front doorway; it allows for a fundamental ramp which extends out of the ground floor all the way to the roof. This view of the entrance hall shows what the loved ones and visitors were faced with: the ramp onto one side, the spiral stair onto the other, and a washbasin placed on a column in between. (Beyond would be the maids’ rooms and the laundry room.)
Ramp or stair, each means of vertical circulation makes turns since it rises to provide people glimpses of different parts of the home and the environment. Both wind up on the next floor in a hallway near the large living room and the equally generous terrace to its south. A glass wall adjacent to the ramp opens to the patio and shows the outside ramp that heads up to the roof garden.
Before heading to the living space, let’s take a brief detour to the bedrooms. Here’s the bedroom at the southeast corner of the home. (Floor plans are found at the end of the ideabook.) While it shows how well the ribbon windows frame the surrounding landscape, this view is also interesting as it illustrates how Corbusier used color across the inside (and even the outside, given that the ground floor walls have been painted green, and the renowned International Style display and book of 1932 explain the roof enclosure as “blue and rose,” though since its recovery those walls are white). What’s more, the wall using a round corner on the side is in fact created by the bathtub in the adjoining bathroom bumping into the bedroom.
Access to the master bedroom happens through a corridor along with the master bath. This view in the bedroom shows how the two spaces are connected by an undulating bench in tile which echoes Corbusier’s famous chaise longue (observable in the entrance hall photograph and the following photograph, of the living room).
This famed view of a famed bathroom illustrates the open plan which Corbusier encouraged as one of his Five Points, even though it does it in a subtle way. Like any place at the villa, the columns don’t relate to surrounding walls; remember the columns sitting just outside the semicircular glass walls on the floor. The columns are freestanding, removed from the walls, even if by only about a foot.
The room is a large space that is generous by the standards of today. It can really be seen as a progenitor of today’s large “living areas.” Here we’re looking from before the kitchen. The foreground space could be utilized as the dining area; the fireplace suggests a split between the living room.
The expansion of the flat window in the living room to the patio gives cohesion to the outside (first picture), but in addition, it provides a constant framing of the surrounding landscape, no matter whether one is inside or outside.
The living room is connected to the patio through a huge sliding glass wall which faces south. This exposure means lots of sunlight enters the living room and the patio, in which a concrete table provides for outdoor dining.
A good deal of the design begins to fall into place once we step outside onto the patio. Here the skies — gone since we entered the porte cochere– reenters the image. The home can be seen as a tripartite layering of knowledge and meaning: The ground floor is a sheltered connection to ground which also helps boost the living spaces above it ; the next floor is your enclosed national realm that is protected from the elements nevertheless frames the trees and other environment throughout the ribbon windows; the roof connects one to the skies and a larger context visible beyond the trees.
That opinion beyond the trees is the main reason for a north-facing window which Corbusier cut into an enclosure which provides some privacy and a feeling of containment on the roof. This frame (which would not have appeared at a building in 1931) sends one’s gaze far in the space. It’s the culmination of the promenade architecturale that goes out of the automobile to the ramp (or stair) which zigzags together with the interior and exterior spaces. It’s an experience well worth getting, and thankfully this house’s national monument designation allows that.
Boyer, M. Christine. Le Corbusier, Homme de Lettres. Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. Centre des Monuments Nationaux
Conrads, Ulrich, ed. Programs and Manifestoes on 20th-Century Architecture. MIT Press, 1994 (first published in 1964).Frampton, Kenneth. Le Corbusier: Architect of the Twentieth Century. Abrams, 2002. Hitchcok, Henry-Russell and Johnson, Philip. The International Style. W. W. Norton, 1995. (Originally published in 1932.)
Le Corbusier. Towards a New Architecture. Dover, 1986. (Originally printed as Vers une Architecture at 1923.)
LaVine, Lance. Mechanics and Meaning in Architecture. University of Minnesota Press, 2001. Park, Steven. Le Corbusier Redrawn: The Houses. Princeton Architectural Press, 2012.
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