30 August 2018

Giving Credit Where It's Due -- To Corbu

Villa Savoye

 If you’re reading this blog, you’re obviously interested in modern houses. Perhaps you live in one -- or aspire to.

Why? What do you love about modern houses? Is it the walls of glass that provide panoramic views and welcome natural light? The open floor plans and crisp, clean lines? What about outdoor spaces that are as much a part of the house as the indoor spaces?

As a modern house enthusiast, you love all of the above. But do you know why those attributes are available for us to enjoy in the first place? (If you do, kudos!)

In the spirit of giving credit where it’s due, there is one name every fan of modern houses should know. In fact, we should celebrate his birthday every year!

Le Corbusier
He was born October 6, 1887, in Le Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. Eventually, he would become a French citizen. His real name was Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Griss, but he preferred the pseudonym he adopted when he moved to Paris in 1917: Le Corbusier. Simply “Corbu” to the initiated.

Le Corbusier believed that science and the technologies that brought about industrialization could, and should, be utilized to produce “modern age architecture” of internationally accepted principles. In 1923, he published Vers une Architecture (Toward a New Architecture), in which he declared, quite radically, that “a house is a machine for living in.” 

In keeping with that concept, he believed every aspect of architecture should serve a purpose or function. Non-functional decorations (or ornamentation, in architect-speak) had no place in or on modern age architecture. As Corbu said, The plan is pure, exactly made for the needs of the house.”

Among other inspired structures he produced to turn architecture on its head, Corbu designed the stunning and now-iconic Villa Savoye (pictured above) on the outskirts of Paris -- an elegant white box made of reinforced concrete that’s poised atop a grid of slender pylons in the midst of a large green lawn surrounded by trees.

A Mecca for architects and architectural students, Villa Savoye exemplifies every one of Corbu’s “five points of new architecture” that he declared in writing in 1927. Immediately, Corbu’s “five points” became the foundational principles of the Modern architectural vocabulary. They still are, as you’ll recognize below:

1.     Pilotis – A grid of reinforced concrete columns that bears the structural load, replacing the typical supporting walls and creating a new aesthetic. Among other results, Pilotis allows a house or building to be raised up on reinforced concrete pylons, which creates free circulation on the ground level for a variety of uses.
2.     “The free design of the ground plan,” aka the open floor plan - Structurally, heavy-duty beams and structural columns carry the weight of the floor or roof above, not walls. Aesthetically, open plans provide a sense of spaciousness and reflect a more casual living style, eschewing the need for “formal” spaces.
3.     Independent façade- This means that the exterior walls of a house or building are not structural, load-bearing walls. Columns in the interior support the house or building so the façade can be much lighter and more open, or made entirely of glass. And the glazing, or glass, isn’t encumbered by lintels or other structure around it.
4.     Horizontal “ribbon” windows – Another revolutionary concept at the time, horizontal windows eliminated vertical sash windows in favor of providing natural light inside evenly across a space.
5.     Roof gardens – Because Corbu replaced traditional sloping roofs with flat ones, he used this space to compensate for the portion of the land the house consumes. Note that Corbu’s idea predates sustainable design and green roofs by decades.

So just to remind you:  Corbu’s birthday is October 6th…


In a future post, we’ll connect Le Corbusier and the Modern Movement in Europe with the visionary architect on this side of the ocean who turned the movement into “an American opportunity.”

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