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During the 1920s, Le Corbusier was developing his Five Points of New Architecture. The domestic building I am focusing on is Villa Savoye which exemplifies these five points. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/3/3c/VillaSavoye.jpg
He believed that these architectural ‘rules’ should be applied to the design of all domestic buildings. I will relate the architectural innovations of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye to the ideas of De Stijl & Bauhaus.
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Le Corbusier was a Swiss Architect and a member of the French Avante Garde movement who worked mainly in France. His work from the 1920’s and 30’s established a language of architecture that has been copied by architects ever since. In his work he explored new industrial materials such as concrete, steel and glass. He was influenced by Auguste Perret’s development as well as architectural use of reinforced concrete and worked for him between 1908 and 1909 that was where he learnt the principles of reinforced concrete construction. Other aspects of Le Corbusier’s work consisted of town planning and social housing.
His architecture reflected the clean cut aesthetic of the machine age which he lived in. As well as this, he was also concerned with the needs and potential of industrial society and with the harmonization of architecture with nature. His architecture in the 20’s and 30’s established a vocabulary of design which would be much imitated.
The Villa Savoye is a private weekend home built in the 1928 (completed in 1931) for the Savoye family located on the summit of a small hill surrounded by trees just outside Paris. It is a building of complex geometry and undecorated white surfaces, which exemplifies the international style as well as Le Corbusier’s ideas of purism. It is one of the most recognizable architectural presentations of the modernist movement, which began in the 1880s but came to flourish in the early 20th century. The exterior of the building is of a simple box shaped composition raised on stilts (pilotis). This is so that all of the main rooms are on the first floor allowing a roof terrace above these floors to provide views of the landscape.
It is conceived almost like a 1:1 model with no front or back. Beneath the Pilotis is a curved wall allowing cars to drive right up to the building which signifies the influences from the machine age, ‘On three sides the ground floor almost disappears, but on the entrance side, the arrival and departure of cars is celebrated in a T-shape which is an effective sign of welcome.’ (Benton, 1987:196). http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/france/poissy/savoye/0126.jpg
He saw the fore coming importance of the car and this led to design of the free façade: the structure is set back from the façade which becomes simply a light membrane of insulating wall or window freely disposed according to the demands of the interior. Inside there is a masterly handling of natural light through the use of ribbon windows.
Natural light played an important role in the development of the Villa, ‘Le Corbusier deployed the four sides of the house in response to the view and the orientation of the sun. The salle faced North West occupying the whole façade. The terrace faced the sun with a sheltered portion at the south east end.’ (Benton, 1987:195).
The free plan of the building frees both walls and windows which can admit daylight into continuous bands without structural obstructions. Interior space flows into exterior: the terrace is on two levels and on one side of the façade the ribbon windows are replaced by unglazed frames that look into the open terrace area.
In order to move around the building, a ramp ascending from the ground floor was placed in the structure, as Le Corbusier believed that while a staircase separates one level from another, a ramp links them together. The ramp and floor planes interact with the spiral staircases and curved wall at ground level.
Although the structure is rather boxy in appearance, energy and movement is suggested by the handrails and edgings which lead the visitor on. Le Corbusier called this ‘an architectural promenade’: this is a flow of space where one room leads through to another creating a sense of continuity, further facilitated through the use of the ramp.
Natural light is used to draw the occupant up the ramp and onto the roof garden. This is one of Le Corbusier’s five points which is created through the use of a flat reinforced concrete slab. The terrace featured a solarium; the wall of the solarium has a window cut in the middle of it which frames the outside view. Le Corbusier wanted to harmonize the building and its landscape. ‘The idea was to unite the building and its surrounding landscape and make greenery a vital part of the architecture language. Seen from the outside it looks more like the funnel of an ocean liner.’ (Chami, 2007).
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The influences for this building are grounded in the modernist movement with Adolf Loos’ beliefs as foundations for the movement. In his book ‘Ornament and Crime’ he explained his ideas on the use of ornamentation and the immorality that ties with it. He called for simple, pure, geometrical and unadorned design which stays true to the materials and finish of the structures built (notions of Brutalism).
Le Corbusier designed the fixtures such as door handles and built in furniture. Painted interior walls added colour, as did elements like the blue tiled chaise longue that separates the main bedroom from its bathroom.
Despite the formal beauty of the Villa Savoye, its flat roof construction was not well suited to the climate and leaked badly. The owners were displeased and soon abandoned it.
The French Avante Garde consisted of the three architects Le Corbusier, Auguste Perret and Tony Garnier all of which contributed to the development of modernist architecture. Perret was one of the main figures of the development and architectural use of reinforced or ferro concrete, a material which transformed the language of architecture in the works of Le Corbusier as seen in the Villa Savoye. Due to its tensile strength it enabled architects to build strong structures without the need for load bearing walls, it allowed for architectural flexibility which Le Corbusier took full advantage of as seen in the free flowing façade.
The De Stijl and Bauhaus movements in Holland and Germany were both important for the development of the modernist style, rejecting ornaments and historical references and were in favor of clean pure light filled rectilinear architecture which included interior spaces constructed with new industrial materials, all of these aspects are featured in Le Corbusiers designs and in particular the Villa Savoye. A key example of De Stijl architecture is the Schroder house by Gerrit Rietveld. Similar to the Villa Savoye, it featured a flat concrete slab roof, a dynamic rectilinear façade and a free flowing interior which was sectioned off with screens.
Much like in De Stijl style paintings, its architecture is reminiscent of ‘ painted abstract environment, in which pure colour, free of all figurative associations, was merged with modern architecture to form an encompassing, total work of art’. (Troy 1983:3).
The Bauhaus building was designed by Walter Gropius and was the base for the Bauhaus school of Art & Design. The building exemplified Gropius’ mastery in building with steel and glass to produce light filled functional structures: ‘The clarity of the design idea finds expression above all in the large area of glass frontage (â€¦) The clear, practical arrangement of the windows and balconies gives the building its own special appearance.’ (Fiedler& Feierbend, 2006:195).
Much like Le Corbusier, Gropius built with practicality and rationality in mind. His commitment to the machine age in which he was working was summed up in his belief that ‘new times demand their own expression.’ However there was much deliberation on the origins of the design concept for the Bauhaus building: ‘The accusation of formalism was also heard, and there were malicious references to a design concept virtually borrowed from Le Corbusier.’ (Fiedler& Feierbend, 2006:198). This can best be seen through aerial photographs of the Bauhaus building where the interlinking of various functional areas can be easily seen. This particular aspect is what Le Corbusier named the ‘Architectural Promenade’, a continuity of space.
The Villa Savoye is a key structure which exemplified the International Style. Its features were imitated by several architects in different styles. It is easy see the similarities in the buildings of the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements, features like a flat concrete slab roof, interlinking spaces and rectilinear façade appear in all styles but are most strongly represented in the Villa Savoye. The use of white on walls is another significant aspect of the modernist style also seen in a range of different examples from this period of time.
The Villa is full of rich ideas which have and will continue to be imitated in the future. It might now stand as an artifact or museum, but it will still inspire Architects worldwide and will continue to do so in the future.
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