What is it?
Villa Savoye is a modernist villa in Poissy, in the outskirts of Paris, France. It was designed by Swiss architects Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, and built between 1928 and 1931 using reinforced concrete. A manifesto of Le Corbusier’s “five points” of new architecture, the villa is representative of the bases of modern architecture, and is one of the most easily recognizable and renowned examples of the International style. The house was originally built as a country retreat on behest of the Savoye family. During WWII the Jewish Savoye family was sent to concentration camps by the Nazis who took over the house and used it for storage. After being purchased by the neighbouring school it passed on to be property of the French state in 1958, and after surviving several plans of demolition, it was designated as an official French historical monument in 1965 (a rare occurrence, as Le Corbusier was still living at the time). It was thoroughly renovated from 1985 to 1997, and under the care of the Centre des monuments nationaux, the refurbished house is now open to visitors year-round.
Where is it?
Poissy is a French commune of 38.168 inhabitants located in the Yvelines department in the Île-de-France. It is located on the edge of the forest of Saint-Germain on the left bank of the Seine. The city is known for its plant PSA Peugeot-Citroën, former Simca factory. The name of this city will be used to name an iconic brand engine Simca-Talbot, the “engine Poissy.”
The Villa Savoye is probably Le Corbusier’s best known building from the 1950s, it had enormous influence on international modernism. It was designed addressing his emblematic “Five Points”, the basic tenets in his new architectural aesthetic:
- Support of ground-level pilotis, elevating the building from the earth and allowed an extended continuity of the garden beneath;
- Functional roof, serving as a garden and terrace, reclaiming for nature the land occupied by the building;
- Free floor plan, relieved of load-bearing walls, allowing walls to be placed freely and only where aesthetically needed;
- Long horizontal windows, providing illumination and ventilation;
- Freely-designed facades, serving only as a skin of the wall and windows and unconstrained by load-bearing considerations.
Unlike his earlier town villas Corbusier was able to carefully design all four sides of the Villa Savoye in response to the view and the orientation of the sun. On the ground floor he placed the main entrance hall, ramp and stairs, garage, chauffeur and maids rooms.
At first floor the master bedroom, the son’s bedroom, guest bedroom, kitchen, salon and external terraces. The salon was orientated to the south east whilst the terrace faced the east. The son’s bedroom faced the north west and the kitchen and service terrace were on the south west.
At second floor level were a series of sculpted spaces that formed a solarium. The plan was set out using the principle ratios of the Golden section: in this case a square divided into sixteen equal parts, extended on two sides to incorporate the projecting façades and then further divided to give the position of the ramp and the entrance. In his book Vers une Architecture Corbusier exclaimed “the motor car is an object with a simple function (to travel) and complicated aims (comfort, resistance, appearance)…”.
The house, designed as a second residence and sited as it was outside Paris was designed with the car in mind. The sense of mobility that the car gave translated into a feeling of movement that is integral to the understanding of the building.The approach to the house was by car, past the caretaker’s lodge and eventually under the building itself. Even the curved arc of the industrial glazing to the ground floor entrance was determined by the turning circle of a car.
Dropped off by the chauffeur, the car proceeded around the curve to park in the garage. Meanwhile the occupants entered the house on axis into the main hall through a portico of flanking columns. The four columns in the entrance hall seemingly direct the visitor up the ramp. This ramp, that can be seen from almost everywhere in the house continues up to the first floor living area and salon before continuing externally from the first floor roof terrace up to the second floor solarium.
Throughout his career Corbusier was interested in bringing a feeling of sacredness into the act of dwelling and acts such as washing and eating were given significance by their positioning. At the Villa Savoye the act of cleansing is represented both by the sink in the entrance hall and the celebration of the health-giving properties of the sun in the solarium on the roof which is given significance by being the culmination of ascending the ramp. Corbusier’s pilotis perform a number of functions around the house, both inside and out. On the two longer elevations they are flush with the face of the façade and imply heaviness and support, but on the shorter sides they are set back giving a floating effect that emphasises the horizontal feeling of the house.
The wide strip window to the first floor terrace has two baby piloti to support and stiffen the wall above. Although these piloti are in a similar plane to the larger columns below a false perspective when viewed from outside the house gives the impression that they are further into the house than they actually are. The Villa Savoye uses the horizontal ribbon windows found in his earlier villas. Unlike his contemporaries, Corbusier often chose to use timber windows rather than metal ones. It has been suggested that this is because he was interested in glass for its planar properties and that the set-back position of the glass in the timber frame allowed the façade to be seen as a series of parallel planes.