Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Villa Savoye

Iconic Swiss Architect Le
Courbusier's most recognized w
ork the Villa Savoye stands in the small village of Poissy an enduring testament to the remarkable prescience of a man before his time.

The Villa Savoye marked the beginning of the modern age in architecture. Echoes of it's lasting influence are seen in many recent works.

Constructed between 1929 and 1931 the Villa Savoye took the design of the villa in the direction of the International school of design, a school of thought that established the tenets of Modernism without assuming the name.

The 21st century has seen Globalization shrink the world as peopl
e from all over the world occupy a more intimate space.

The design of the Villa Savoy heralded the modern global age in its form and function and desired aim.

  Jormakka has argued that by negating society's expectations of architecture, the Villa Savoye is an example of transgression. (Jormakka 2000)
He likens it to a partner in the surrealist movement which aimed to shock. This may have been the case as the clients who commissioned the work from Le Corbusier had,

"no design preconceptions, stylistic or otherwise, but owned a splendid, wood-girt site at Poissy, to the northwest of Paris. (Rykwert, and Schezen 166)
From modest beginnings he implemented his ideas - laid out in his journal, L'Esprit Nouveau and his book 'Vers Une Architecuture,' - of the five essential factors in Architecture.

The first of these principles,  a raised ground floor supported by columns called Pilotis  removed the need for supportive walls. Le Courbusier  expounded on this requirement at some length:

Stilts, "the key to the problem of circulation posed by great cities" (to quote Professor Maurin of the Faculty of Science in Paris, 1933), have been regarded, since 1937, as an essential element, of the new official edifices of Rio de Janeiro, bringing with them wherever they are used a beginning of the liberation of the ground. One fine day, the city fathers will comprehend, and stilts will be recognized as the indispensable foundation of town-planning. The rule will appear in all its simple clarity: high blocks of dwellings, palaces, schools, houses; etc., will be orientated according to the sun and the best view; the ground level or undulating, will be furrowed by communications entirely independent of the buildings; neither pedestrians nor vehicles will encounter buildings as obstacles to movement; they will pass beneath buildings, through (Le Corbusier 1948)

The Pilotis, or Stilts  eliminated the need for supportive walls which allowed an open floor plan, the second of his rules. The third principle, a flat roof terrace  gave the semblance of an exterior to the building without infringing on the ground floor.

The fourth requirement in Le Courbuiser's aesthetic, horizontal windows balanced lighting and allowed air to circulate. This feature underlined an idea:

Le Corbusier conceives of glass work as a strictly visual "organ": the functions of ventilation and temperature regulation must be assured by air conditioning, the procurer of 'exact air.' (Choay 1960)

In the final category Le Courbusier insisted on an unrestrained facade because when supported by the Pilotis, it would show the aesthetic of a thin exterior in both the windows and the walls.
The use of reinforced concrete was not mentioned in his rules.  Concrete was a democratic element. It was cheap, durable and had tensile strength.

Le Courbusier's theory does not do justice the organic whole of the building. With the walls removed the Villa Savoye introduced a single livi
ng space with barriers created as needed. The high ceilings gave it even more of an open space. It was as if Le Courbusier was trying open the barrier between exterior and interior. The continuity with the outside was complicit with the continuity of the space inside as all the living spaces, kitchen, bedroom became continuous as Choay says,
the ingeniousness of the museum of continuous growth, conceived in 1931 on the plan of a square spiral (Choay 1960)

Modern critics that have the benefit of historical hindsight add a sense of wonder to the creation.

The Modernist style that Le Corbusier helped found was expressed in the Villa Savoye. Alan Colquoun a much respected authority on modern Architecture has a useful perspective on the condition:

The Modern Movement in architecture" Colquhoun claims, "was an attempt to modify the representational systems which had been inherited technology from the pre-industrial past and which no longer seemed meaningful within the context of a rapidly changing society . (Lynn 1999).

 The Villa Savoye requires historical context because it was history that drove the Architecture more than other artistic endeavors. Michael J.Lewis argued the inner conflict that characterized other art forms was surprisingly absent in Architecture's adoption of the Modern As he says,
This is seldom true in art, where theory and practice normally race wildly after one another. But modern architecture reconciled the opposites of book and building to an astonishing degree and achieved a surpassing programmatic unity (Lewis 2003).

Architecture is a form that reflects
the shifts  in society. Modernism in Architecture grew out of the discoveries that took place in Science and Technology.

In America this Modern movement was as Lewis says achieved almost without awareness. For example, height limitations were placed on buildings to prevent a blocking of the light on the ground level and this has led, in effect, to the characteristic skyline seen in American cities.( Lewis 2003).

The phenomenon of America was not restricted to geography. Le Corbusier laid the ground work for the Modernist movement and although it suffered a setback as did the world at large at the time of the Depression, this setback was offset by the migration of talent from Nazi persecuted areas, of talents such as Baulhaus and Walter Gropius.

In the post-war era as economies expanded the belief in technology grew and with it the expansion of the Modernist movement. This movement expanded along with avenues of trade and commerce.

  The changes of the world were immediately reflected in Architecture because as Lewis describes Architecture was unique among the arts:
The ultimate meaning of every building is that conveyed by the society that produces it. Of all the arts, architecture is most fully a social act. The making of a novel, a symphony, or a painting occurs in private, but a building is the product of a complex collaboration between designer, builder and client, involving the expenditure of capital, and insertion of permanent objects in the social space of the community. And whether it represents Communism or Christianity, Roman civitas or the Greek polis, every building in the end is the concrete manifestation of a belief system. For an architecture without a belief system is but a mechanical art, differing only from plumbing in its complexity and in being subject to certain cyclical oscillations in fashion. (Lewis 2003)

The modern age is marked by a interconnected world. The Internet makes commerce and communication instantaneous. Today cultural influences from the world travel on electronic highways. Modern architecture expresses the rapid exchange of ideas.

Japan has been a strong influence on the Modern movement as Delanty suggests with the cross pollination of Europe and Japan:

After all, much of the impetus of European modernism came from Japan, for instance the famous Katsura Imperial Villa at Kyoto which inspired the Bauhaus and modernist architecture. With its concern for form and harmony of function, this is high modernism, not post modernism. (Delanty 2003)

The cool lines and the open structured house that characterize the traditional Japanese home is seen in the open spaces of the Villa Savoye. 

Le Corbusier's  home on stilts economized  space  quickly consumed if ground dwelling  grew later
ally. For a dense population  columns allow the movement on a ground level like walking through a forest canopy. The structure would blend in a dense populated city anywhere in the world.

The Villa Savoye's ideas are not restricted by geography. 

In The Walls Around Us, Boyd makes an comparison between the Villa Savoye and the traditional Queensland house--a regional variation of the colonial homestead ( Lynn 1999).

The universality of the Villa Savoye accounts for this unique aspect of its Chameleon style. And it is this style that Boyd calls for the future as documented by Musgrave and Neale:

Boyd argued that it was to this direct and honest vernacular tradition--a rational solution to the problem of building in the sub-tropics--that architecture needed to return in order to uncover possibilities for translation and transformation of modern themes. (Musgrave, and Neale 2003)

The  Villa Savoye expresses other cultural themes, it adapts to climates and geographies and accounts for the population pressure. It is a prophecy of things to come. But it is more than a message it is also a medium, existing in the way that characterizes Architectural art, in the world and timeless. The work is remarkable to see, but to see it without understanding its context and its implications is to not  appreciate the scale of its importance. It foreshadows the international world. It is a legacy of the most influential Architect of our time; and it is an structure of beauty and function that continues to spawn new ideas in the post- modern era.


Choay, F. (1960). Le Corbusier. New York: G. Braziller. Retrieved April 19, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=11825948
A. Colquhoun, "Typology and Design Method," in Essays in Architectural Criticism (Cambridge, Mass./London, 1984), 45. Le Corbusier. (2004). In The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. Retrieved April 19, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=101254821
Delanty, G. (2003). Chapter 6 Consumption, Modernity and Japanese Cultural Identity: the Limits of Americanization?. In Global America? The Cultural Consequences of Globalization, Beck, U., Sznaider, N., & Winter, R. (Eds.) (pp. 114-131). Liverpool, England: Liverpool University Press. Retrieved April 19, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=101730935
Goldhagen, S. W. (2002, June 17). Kool Houses, Kold Cities: As an Architect, Rem Koolhaas Is Inspired. as an Urban Planner, He's Irresponsible. The American Prospect, 13, 29+. Retrieved April 19, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5000772829
Jormakka, K. (2004). Chapter 20 The Most Architectural Thing. In Surrealism and Architecture, Mical, T. (Ed.) (pp. 290-317). New York: Routledge. Retrieved April 19, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=108850270
Le Corbusier. (1948). Concerning Town Planning (Entwistle, C., Trans.). New Haven: Yale Univ. Press. Retrieved April 19, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=54831191
Lewis, M. J. (2003, December). "All Sail, No Anchor": Architecture after Modernism. New Criterion, 22, 4+. Retrieved April 19, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5002056597
Folds, Bodies & Blobs: Collected Essays. Greg Lynn. “New Variations on the Rowe Complex�, pages 199-221. Musgrave, E., & Neale, D. (2004). Architectural Image and Idiom: Making Local. Mosaic (Winnipeg), 37(4), 255+. Retrieved April 19, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5008600512
Rykwert, J., & Schezen, R. (2000). From Ancient to Modern From Ancient to Modern. New York: Abrams Books. Retrieved April 19, 2006, from Questia database: http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=98129369

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