“N’as-tu pas observé, en te promenant dans cette ville, que d’entre les édifices dont elle est peuplée, les uns sont muets ; les autres parlent ; et d’autres enfin, qui sont les plus rares, chantent ? …”
(“Haven’t you observed in your walkings in this town, that between the all buildings of which it is formed, some of them are mute; others talk; and others finally, which are the rarest ones, sing ? …”)
Eupalinos ou l’Architecte, Paul Valery (1932)
Villa Savoye, designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret in 1928-1931 for the wealthy and notorious Pierre and Eugénie Savoye, is probably one of the most iconic buildings of the Modern Movement.
At that time Le Corbusier wasn’t really famous, but he was acquiring more and more notoriety thanks to the many projects of bourgeoisie villas in the countryside.
In this private commission, Le Corbusier had carte blanche on the wide field bought by Savoye family, in Poissy, in the outskirts of Paris. The request was a Villa for the weekends and summers, with the possibility to have a few rooms for the servitude and the private chauffeur.
In this project Le Corbusier was able to propose in reality the theory he expressed in the book “5 points towards a New Architecture” (1926), giving birth to a monument for Modern Architecture.
The 5 points towards a new architecture were the following:
1- The main structure on pilotis, to build a “box in the air”;
2- The roof garden: the flat roof transformed into a useable terrace where flowers can be planted;
3- The plan livre, or the total freedom in the plan;
4- The free façade, thanks to the structure on pilotis;
5- The horizontal window for light and airy interiors.
What we see today is the concrete expression of the machine for living with innovative points of view on modern life and comfort, but at the same time a too premature building for the period in which it was built.
The house had problems from the beginning of its life: infiltrations of water from the roof, because of the too flat slope and the bad temperature comfort inside caused by the horizontal windows on almost every side, are just two of the several technical problems.
The Savoye family abandoned the Villa in 1940 evidently for the uncomfortable environment and for the beginning of the World War II.
It was occupied twice during the war: first by the Germans, who used it as a hay store, and then by the Americans, who damaged it consistently.
The original owners came back after the war but abandoned the villa shortly after. The town of Poissy in 1958 expropriated Villa Savoye to convert it into a youth centre and later proposed to demolish the villa in order to build a new school. Protests from architects, such as Oscar Niemeyer and Le Corbusier himself, saved the Villa from the catastrophe.
It was restored multiple times, in 1963 by the architect Jean Debuisson against the approval of Le Corbusier, and after in 1985 by the architect Louis Véret.
Today Villa Savoye doesn’t have any furniture inside, also because Madame Eugénie Savoye refused the furniture designed and selected by Le Corbusier, preferring a cheaper one from the catalogs of the period.
The house we visit today remains with any doubt a promenade architecturale inside the vision of a man who wanted to bring the architectural experience to another level, and who still has a lot to teach, for what concerns spatial experimentation and innovation of the way of living.
All images © 2018 Marco Morra