Is Le Corbusier’s “box in the air” all hot air?

20 Jan

Villa Savoye Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger“All of the bathrooms would have to be replaced.”

“Yeah,” my husband agreed. “We’d also have to do something with the kitchen.”

We sat on two chairs left behind in the large living room of the house we went to see a few Sundays ago.  My husband and I have renovated 5 flats in the last 10 years and we are always looking for new projects and ideas. 

“I am not sure about this colour,” my husband gestured to the salmon-pink wall. He then turned and nodded a greeting to another couple who entered the living room, also looking at the house. The place was crawling with couples under 40. These types of homes always were.

I took another look around.  The giant glass wall that invisibly separated inside and out could be slid back to unite the huge living/dining area with a beautiful landscaped roof garden. It was a dream space; a template for modern living.

“There are the issues with the leaks,” I said, trying to be practical.

“It’s too much work,” my husband said. 

The divine Mr W at the Savoye's Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger“Yeah, you’re right,” I looked admired him reclining comfortably on a Le Corbusier chaise lounge and then looked at our brochure to see where the tour took us next.

“To the solarium?” I asked.

“To the solarium.”

The house, built between 1928 and 1931 in the village of Poissy just outside of Paris, was commissioned by the Savoye family to be their weekend home.  Their architect, Swiss-born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret and also known as Le Corbusier, designed it to be the model of his philosophy of Modernist architecture.

The conflicting aims of the parties meant that the house was dogged with problems from the start.

A letter from Madam Savoye to Le Corbusier in Sept 1937:

“It’s raining in the hall, it’s raining in the ramp, the wall of the garage is absolutely soaked. What’s more, it’s still raining in my bathroom, which floods every time it rains.”

Le Corbusier largely ignored this and other pleas to fix the many mechanical and structural problems with the house while aggressively promoting the house internationally as a manifesto of his ideas.

The family never really moved in and eventually had to leave it altogether. Legal proceedings between the Savoye family and Le Corbusier were stopped by the onset of WWII. Abandoned, the house went into steep decline and was forced to suffer indignities such as abuse by the German’s after their occupation, being shot at by Allied troops, and finally, its use as a barn.

The village of Poissy bought the house from the Savoye family in 1958 with theDown the drive at Villa Savoye Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger intention of demolishing. It  gifted the property to the French state after an international campaign to save the house. It was declared a National Monument and underwent extensive restoration between 1963 and 1997.

Despite its problems and the fact that the French Government would not let me, it is a house I would love live in.

The Savoye family named the house les Heures Claires or “the box in the air”. It does float in the centre of the large wooded plot on Le Corbusier trademark stilts.  The views from the windows that cover every wall of the living areas on the 1st European/ 2nd American floor make you feel like you are hovering over the beautiful Seine valley countryside.  The seamless boundaries between the open plan living areas and the huge roof garden inspire daydreams of lazy sunny Sunday afternoon entertaining. 

We won’t live in this house but my husband and I sent a postcard from Villa Savoye to our architect telling him that we were getting ideas for our next project.

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One Response to “Is Le Corbusier’s “box in the air” all hot air?”

  1. tollcrossKim Traynor January 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

    All Le Corbusier’s houses were/are plagued by leaks. He ignored a two thousand years old tradition, known as ‘the sloped roof’. Caveat emptor!

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