Friday, May 2, 2008
Villa Savoye (1928-29) by Le Corbusier. The biggest discovery whilst in Paris was Le Corbusier. It was a special moment walking down the driveway of the Ville Savoye and then turning the corner to see the beautifully symmetrical building surrounded by grass and trees which I has seen in architecture books for many years. In both the Ville Savoye and Maison la Roche the spaces were so clean and filled with light, so much light, yet somehow homely and far from cold and industrial, in comparison to todays mass produced building materials. All the materials and surfaces were selected for obvious reasons, the coloured walls defined the spaces wonderfully and gave the spaces a sense of character which was far from banal or imposing and the amount of storage, shelving and built in furniture gave you the impression that the inhabitant was of the utmost importance. The windows, views and flow and interaction of the public spaces and outside was so purposefully done you could easily imagine the house filled with life, and a vibrant life at that. This is so different from what I had expected and so far removed from the work of so many contemporary architects today. Despite some of Le Corbusier's grander ambitions I got the sense in his domestic work that whilst obviously radical for their time there was a desire for the architecture to improve and facilitate the life that exists within the building. That whilst it may have been promoted as a machine for living in that the role of the machine was to be at the inhabitants aid and become useful to supporting the life that existed rather than imposing itself on the inhabitant or dictating its use to the inhabitant. In comparison to the dark spaces and heavily ornamented older buildings the spaces of which I love a great deal and often prefer to contemporary architecture, Le Corbusier's work made so much sense and seemed to have more in common with the more utilitarian buildings that exist in the French countryside and have for centuries, the work of Loos and even John Pawson. I could imagine myself living in these buildings with ease and the neutrality of the architecture and its simple and functional design where one could appreciate the reasons for part of the building being a certain way seemed far from radical. This seems at odds with many of the more radical architecture movements of the last half of the twentieth century and today where so much of the 'architecture' is not essential neither simple and neutral and certainly not designed to improve how a person inhabits the space. Perhaps if I was alive in the 1920's I would have been quite shocked by Le Corbusier's building but after going to Paris I never understood how simply his buildings achieved the qualities of fresh air, light, function and circulation and how in a strange way modest were the aspirations of these houses in terms of creating a place to live. And how strong the relationship to more basic types of architecture was in the work of the Modernists. I thought at the time that perhaps the most radical aspect of the work was that he had the audacity to call it Architecture.