“Villa Savoye” – A House Which Revolutionised Architecture, by Le Corbusier
Villa Savoye is the main architectural project which triggered a new way of looking at architecture in the 20th Century. Thought up and implemented by the legendary Le Corbusier (Charles Edouard Jeanneret), it brought a new meaning to the definition of architecture and its relationship with man.
Villa Savoye is located in the commune of Poissy, less than an hour’s journey from the cosmopolitan city of Paris. Poissy is a town of long streets lined with single-family houses and gardens, and Villa Savoye is located on a plot of land in closer proximity to nature than to the urban area, with views of the Seine Valley. Finished in 1929, its owners lived there for only a short period of time. The classic conception of housing, and the new and very different ways of living which came together in this building, made its occupants profoundly uncomfortable. This, as well as the German occupation of France in 1940, has meant that the house has been uninhabited almost since its completion. It is currently a “house museum”, dedicated to the life and work of Le Corbusier, and maintained by the French government body Centre des Monuments Nationaux. It is a site of “pilgrimage” for architects and students, with thousands of visits every year.
Le Corbusier imagined Villa Savoye as a typological prototype for future mass-production of housing, and it was designed as a paradigm of the house as a “machine for living” (machine à habiter). Le Corbusier, in the context of the industrial revolution which had been altering the world since the beginning of the 20th Century, wished to transform homes, seeing them as machines which had to fulfil their objective: in this case, being lived in. The other machines which also began to emerge around this time, planes and vehicles, fascinated the architect to the point that he even included the use of the car within his concept of the house.
Conceptually, Villa Savoye is a cubic composition which floats above the ground. This image is accentuated through the use of the small pilotis and the green-coloured ground-floor walls.
Inside, the appearance of the construction was new and original. Where former compartmentalisation separated spaces in a property, in Villa Savoye, space flows freely along the different floors, through the connection between them, and even between the interior and exterior. Le Corbusier presents us with a continuous, functional space over the different levels of the house.
There is a journey on which it is possible to discover the house little by little. First of all, access to the property from the car, in which we discover the house and turn in the porticoed space, which was designed to accommodate the turning radius of cars in the year 1929, towards the parking area.
The house is accessed through the curved glass wall at the front, from where we enter a hall in which the property’s two main elements of circulation now appear: a “ramp”, which takes a leisurely, unhurried route through the different spaces which make up Villa Savoye, and the spiral staircase which offers a quick way to connect these spaces to each other. At the end of the ground floor we find the bedrooms of the domestic staff.
Proceeding with this route along the ramp through Villa Savoye, we reach the first floor, whose L-shaped distribution separates the public part of the house from the private bedrooms. Throughout this entire route through the house, visitors are able to enjoy views of the surrounding area thanks to the large perimeter windows.
This “architectural promenade” which Le Corbusier presents to us in Villa Savoye culminates in the roof garden. Now outside the property, in contact with nature, the last two sections of the ramp end at a screen which offers a spectacular framed view of the scenery.
To conclude, a definition of “The 5 Points of Architecture” which Le Corbusier expressed with this icon which transformed modern architecture.
- The small pillars along the perimeter of the ground floor which raise the majority of the building’s surface off the ground, leaving open space around the ground floor walls and granting the autonomy of the countryside and the building.
- The structure of pillars and concrete porticoes enables a freedom in the use of space, by eliminating load-bearing walls.
- The façade is freed from rotundity and structural weight, composed instead according to the architect’s aesthetic criteria.
- The windows become horizontal, more suited to the perspective of the human eye.
- The roof garden is a “flat” element, instead of the traditional pitched roofs.
All of these 5 elements, now so familiar to us, were a real revolution at the close of the 1920s.
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