Five Points of Architecture

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Five Points of Architecture

Le Corbusier is one of the most significant architects from the 20th century. He is known as one of the pioneers of modern architecture due to many of his ideas and ‘recipes’ within architecture. One of his most famous was ‘The Five Point of a New Architecture’ that he had explained in‘L'Esprit Nouveau’and the book‘Vers une architecture’, which he had been developing throughout the 1920s. Le Corbusier’ development of this idea altered the architectural promenade in a new way, which was presented in 1926.[1] The five points are as follows: pilotis, the roof garden, free plan, free façade, and the horizontal window. Le Corbusier used these points as a structural basis for most of his architecture up until the 1950’s, which are evident in many of his designs.

The essay ‘Les Cinq points d'une architecture nouvelle’ by Le Corbusier focuses on questions that are raised within architectural design, suggesting a foundation and arrangement in it. Similar texts for example the progress of ‘cellule’ and figures of the Maison Standardisee, do not have relation to the design process of the five points. The Modulor, which is the study of proportions of the human body scale that is used as a system to plan a number of Le Corbusier’s buildings, is another theoretical attempt, which did not achieve a proper relation to the design process and also the architectural search for form that personifies the five points. On the other hand, these ideas can be portrayed more freely as ‘merely theoretical ideas’.[2] One exception is the concept of the tracis regulateurs (regulating lines), which uses proportions of geometry in buildings. It predicted certain ideas behind the five points in a number of aspects.

The first point is the piloti, which are columns or piers that elevate a structure off the ground. The fact that the structure is lifted provides many functional advantages. As the pilotis raise the building off the ground, it allows circulation beneath the house, which frees the building site, and allows a driveway, parking space, or a garden to be placed beneath the house. The pilotis provides many advantages, and also new constructional possibilities. The artistic moments as well as the extended usefulness are the results of those ‘recherches assidues’ and those ‘acquis de laboratoire’[3]. The same area is also gained on the flat roof. This area is known as the next point, which is the roof garden. This is to balance the green area that was already used by the building and substituted it onto the roof, which is then used for domestic purposes. Free plan is the next point, which means the floor space can be arranged freely without the concern for supporting walls into rooms. Replacing interior load-bearing columns from walls dividing the space, and moving the structure of the building to the exterior is a way to achieve this. Le Corbusier designed an open floor structure called the Dom-ino house in which the model removed load-bearing wall and the supporting beams for the ceiling. This invention was most unexpected at time; it was a ‘forecast of the potentialities of reinforced concrete, of mass-production, of human scale, of the modern factory.[4] The frame did not depend on the floor plans of the house, giving the architect freedom when designing the interior. Free façade is another point. It is the ability of designing the façade freely as the walls are non-supporting, which is the result of the free plan. The next point is the horizontal window. This allows the façade to be cut along its entire length. By doing so it allows maximum illumination, better ventilation and also gives views of the surrounding yard, which is evident in the Villa Savoye.

The five points were demonstrated in many of Le Corbusier's architecture throughout his career. One of first designs that Le Corbusier attempted to include the points in was the Maisons Citrohan. The house was developed through different versions. Numerous elements of the houses design turned out to be essential factors, which make up Le Corbusiers style. Certain characteristics of the Maison Citrohan can be detected in most of the villas in the 1920’s.[5] Maison Citrohan introduced the ‘five points of new architecture’. The house was elevated by pilotis allowing free circulation on the ground, and also consisted of a reinforced-concrete frame structure, which was achieved from the Dom-ino’s constructional system. The open space created by the pilotis and the flat roof increases the small area that already exists. It also had a roof garden/terrace. Le Corbusier voiced himself on the subject of the Maison Citrohan in the first volume of the ‘Oevre compldte’: “Stuttgart, c'est I'occasion enfin!". Le Corbusier did not talk of individual objects or designs; he talked about the constant development of an idea stretched over many cases.[6]

Le Corbusier studied the essential philosophies of Egyptian, Hindu, Byzantine, and Greek architecture in ‘Vers une architecture’, which is a collection of essays that supports study of the concept of modern architecture.[7] Egyptian and Greek architecture were particularly important for Le Corbusier's application of the five points. From Egyptian architecture, Le Corbusier acquired the idea of symmetry and repetition. In addition, Le Corbusier obtained the notion of movement and contraries from Greek architecture. The lesson of regular repetition from Egyptian architecture, as mentioned above, provided the idea of using repetition in vertical supports that Le Corbusier would later apply to his architecture as "a constant scale, a rhythm, a restful cadence".

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Le Corbusiers design theories were put in practice to a certain level within a number of his designs such as the Maison Cook, the Villa Stein, and also at the Villa Savoye. In these buildings ‘the regular grid of columns served as a foil to the organic shapes of the curved walls and stairs, which together combined to organize a pleasant architectural promenade with asymmetrically balanced views’ according to the lessons of Greek architecture. [8] Similar to the Citrohan House, the Villa Stein had a roof, which became a terrace garden; regularly spaced structural piers, which allowed freely curved interior partitions, and also horizontal windows that extended across facades. The Maison Cook was a terrace house. The upper floors of the house were supported by concrete piloti, and the ground floor consisted of a open plan which had a parking space, entry, and a terrace. The roof was also used as a garden terrace. Le Corbusier wanted to show that the partitions of the rooms on each floor were independent of structural supports, thus the partitions were curved.[9]

The Villa Savoye follows the five points best strictly, and can be considered as a built plan of Le Corbusier’s five points. The exterior maintains the idea of symmetry as all four elevations are really similar, which consist of horizontal windows and openings running the width of the façade at the second floor level, supported by regularly spaced pilotis.[10] Within the points, the free plan is the most important in the design, where the large wall curves freely between the pilotis on the ground floor, which reflects the idea of the ‘free plan’ the strongest.

As much as the five points have contributed to the development of modern architecture greatly, some points such as the horizontal windows are not necessary in terms of the designing of good architecture. Also the idea of the roof garden has been criticised over the years for leaking, it also would be considered very strange in domestic houses in countries such as the UK, as they use the more traditional pitched roof as it seems more homely. Furthermore, Le Corbusier abandoned the idea of the piloti shortly after some point; his later work does not strictly follow the points. Le Corbusier’s ‘Five Points in Architecture’ manifesto, as explained above, has had great influence on modern architecture. This is evident in The Villa Savoye, which summed up the five points, which turned out to be a masterpiece of the 20th century design and one of the greatest works by Le Corbusier. The five points have allowed a wide variety of ideas and possibilities within designing architecture even to this day such as the use of free façade in Zaha Hadid’s Performing Arts Center in Hague (2010).

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[1] Le Corbusier, Choisy, and French Hellenism: The Search for a New Architecture by Richard A. Etlin. The Art Bulletin, Vol. 69, No. 2 (Jun., 1987), p.275

[2] Les Cinq Points d'une Architecture Nouvelle by Werner Oechslin trans. Wilfried Wang. Assemblage, No. 4 (Oct., 1987), p.84

[3] Les Cinq Points d'une Architecture Nouvelle by Werner Oechslin trans. Wilfried Wang. Assemblage, No. 4 (Oct., 1987), p.93

[4] Five Points of Architecture; the Promenade Architecturale, mimesis (copying), p.43

[5] Key Houses of the Twentieth Century:Plans, Sections and Elevations, Laurence King Publishing, 2006 , p.56

[6] Les Cinq Points d'une Architecture Nouvelle by Werner Oechslin trans. Wilfried Wang. Assemblage, No. 4 (Oct., 1987), p.84

[7] Le Corbusier, Choisy, and French Hellenism: The Search for a New Architecture by Richard A.Etlin. The Art Bulletin, Vol. 69, No. 2 (Jun., 1987), p.275

[8] Le Corbusier, Choisy, and French Hellenism: The Search for a New Architecture by Richard A. Etlin. The Art Bulletin, Vol. 69, No. 2 (Jun., 1987), p.276

[9] A World History of Architecture by Marian Moffett, Michael W. Fazio, Lawrence Wodehouse, 2003 edition, p.509

[10] Design and Analysis by Bernard Leupen, 1997, p.51

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