WHC 2016 – Corbusier’s Villa Savoye
Together with Frank Lloyd Wright & Alvar Aalto, Le Corbusier is without a doubt one of the ‘missing’ modern architects from the WH List. However, the state parties involved have a hard time getting this transboundary serial nomination of Le Corbusier buildings together. After referral in 2009 and deferral in 2011, the revised proposal still is a complex one with 17 sites in 7 countries. The earlier dismissals were mainly about the number and choice of locations, and how they individually show Outstanding Universal Value. The 2016 nomination now also includes Chandigarh (India); they even had President Hollande come over and promote it last month.
After standing in front of closed doors in La Plata (Casa Curutchet), Antwerp (Maison Guiette) and Tokyo (National Museum of Western Art), I longed for a proper visit to one of Le Corbusier’s undeniable masterworks. The Villa Savoye et loge du jardinier in Poissy has been part of all 3 Corbusier-nominations and is also among the 3 French sites deemed worthy enough by ICOMOS in 2011 of inscription under their own steam. So that's where I headed!
|Relaxing in the hanging garden (including horizontal windows)|
I left my home at 6.40 in the morning, and drove straight to the site in about 4.5 hours. Poissy is a town some 30km northwest of Paris. Villa Savoye is signposted from the town center, though I failed to notice it on my first approach. It lies behind a wall on a main street, next to a school (with lots of children exiting on Saturday morning!). Somehow I had expected a more suburban setting. I parked my car across the street and entered the gate. There’s a sizeable garden around the Villa, in which you can walk freely. The entrance fee of 7.5 EUR only has to be paid when entering the Villa. After that you can go on a self-guided tour of the building. There were about 8 other visitors around when I visited, some French and some Asian. The Poissy municipality envisions opening a Le Corbusier museum
nearby in 2018.
The indoor route first leads you via the grey lino ramp in the hallway to the ‘hanging garden’ at the first floor. This is a large terrace surrounded by walls, where horizontal windows (some with glass and some without) frame the views of the surrounding landscape. One such window frames a view of the Seine – at least it would have done so in the 1930s. Nowadays the local area is very built-up, and there are no unobstructed views anymore.
The use of large, horizontal windows is a repeating pattern throughout this villa: one always feels close to the outdoors with views from the toilet, the kitchen, the study, the laundry room. Even the large tiled bathroom next to the parents’ room has exterior views, at least when you fold away the curtain that separates it from the bedroom. This bathroom is the most remarkable among the rooms, a sudden explosion of colour and exuberance.
I ended my tour at the Gardener’s House, next to the entrance. This is the only remaining pre-War example of the so-called ‘Minimum one-family house’. Designed by Le Corbusier in 1929, it was meant to be built quickly and house a family of 3. It is based on the same architectural principles as the main Villa, but additionally shows the architect’s ideas on how to provide housing for the lower social classes. The House has been fully restored over recent years, and has reopened last September
. Its interior can only be seen on infrequent tours, but one can admire its polychrome exterior from the garden.
I found my visit interesting and worthwhile, though I am not sure if I like the Villa that much. It is rather sterile. Maybe it's the overall whiteness, or the lack of furniture. There are many websites
and books available that elaborate on the how and why of its construction, and in a way it seems primarily a study object. The WH inscription of the Villa Savoye would give us a nice addition to our connection Buildable in Lego
. The Lego Villa even comes with very detailed building instructions
for those that are interested in construction technique.
Published 7 February 2016
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