dancing with architecture: Le Corbusier's Villa La Roche, Paris, France
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Besides being an architect, Le Corbusier was also a painter. He and Amédée Ozenfant created an art style they referred to as Purism. Corbu first met Raoul La Roche, a middle-class banker, in 1928, when La Rouche began collecting their work. Corbu and Ozenfant advised La Roche on acquiring other paintings, such as those by Picasso, Braque, Leger, and Gris. Once La Roche had formed a collection, Corbu wrote him and said "La Roche, someone who has a fine collection like yours needs to build a house worthy of it." La Roche agreed and hired Corbu and Pierre Jeanneret to design and build a home and gallery for him. Corbu’s brother, Albert Jeanneret, joined the project as a client for the other half of the planned duplex.
Hidden at the end of a long cul-de-sac named Square du Docteur Blanche are Villas La Roche and Jeanneret, both designed and built between 1923 and 1925. Given La Roche's appreciation of Purism and desire to live in a house that reflected that appreciation, Corbu fused the colors of his Purist art with his architecture, something he would continue to do after this project.
The villas occupy an unusual lot and location. The property is in the middle of a city block, accessed by a two-car-wide drive, and surrounded by the backyards of the buildings around it. I wish I knew more about the story of the lot: it appears that the property owner sold off the community park in the center of the block. The lot came with some unusual requirements such as disallowing windows overlooking the surrounding backyards (suggesting, perhaps, it was originally community property).
When La Roche passed away in 1965, he donated his paintings to various museums and his house to the Corbusier Foundation, which now occupies Villa Jeanneret. La Roche’s part of the house is open to tours and, after a careful restoration of the house and the grounds over the past 10 years, is in great shape and close to its original form.
Besides the outside minimal aesthetics, the house is famous for its entry and curving gallery creating an architectural promenade influenced by the Parthenon. The entry is an atrium with a large three-story volume that shows a "stratigraphic" cross-section of the house (the site guide uses the word "stratigraphic" which, being part geologist, I love). On the right, after entering the house, is the private part of the home, and on left is the more public part with the gallery.
After ascending a flight of stairs that include the Modernist's Romeo et Julietesque balcony (echoing another one on the outside), you enter a two-story gallery lit by opposite banks of clerestory windows. After a malfunctioning heating system damaged the studio in 1928, Charlotte Perriand and Alfred Roth of Corbu's studio amplified the Modernism with the addition of a large indirect electrical light fixture, a marble table, and a reconfiguration (and modernisation) of the space beneath the stairs. Thankfully (since I adore Perriand), the restoration left these details intact.
The studio curves outward toward the street with the ramp hugging its trajectory. The ramp leads to a semi-private area for a library. Although predominantly white and linear, the use of curves and colors softens the rationality of the building and heightens the drama of the space.
The rest of the villa's interior is ho-hum compared to the public spaces for entertainment and art. Villa Jeanneret hosts the Foundation's offices and is not open to the tour but is, presumably, similar to the private living spaces of Villa La Roche.
If you go, visit this website for hours and ticket information. Villa La Roche offers an Engish tour once a week (sadly, the guide called in sick the day we were there). However, the on-site brochure, available in English, is quite good. I took (and show below) a lot of photos, but as with all architectural sites, this villa is best explored in person. Architecture is experiential.
All photos were taken by mwah unless otherwise indicated.