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Villa Savoye - Architecture by Le Corbusier

Under the encouragement of my college tutors prior to university applications to study architecture, I spent a summer work shadowing in a Singaporean architecture practice’s office in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. On my last day, my mentor gifted a book to me, it was Towards a New Architecture by Le Corbusier. First published in French in 1923, it was later published in English in 1927 sharing over 200 illustrations and photographs of Le Corbusier’s work. In the book which I keenly read and tried to understand the drawings that summer, Le Corbusier discusses the five points of new architecture; Villa Savoye is a representation of all of the five points of new architecture. They can be summarised as pilotis, free plan, free facade, ribbon windows and roof garden. Until today, the five points at Villa Savoye are still an exemplary representation of the International Style of modernism. Villa Savoye is now a state property of Poissy, France where it is located, it also received a declaration as a French historical monument in 1965, and also registered under the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2016. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to make this modernist’s pilgrimage and decided to capture it in half frame film.

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Villa Savoye in Poissy, France.

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Pilotis. In reinforced concrete, the five pilotis at Villa Savoye transfers the structural weight of the building, allowing the ground floor circulation to be free. The first floor firmly sits above the pilotis and in turn became the roof over this gravelled path, which is not only the pedestrian path but also the vehicular path to Villa Savoye’s main entrance. Image by Von Chua.

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Free plan and facade. Aside from the opening up of the ground floor circulation plan, the piloti allows true flexibility of the ground floor facade. The absence of load bearing partition walls frees up how the residence opens out to the garden in both a physical and visual way. This is a key turning point and influence that can be seen in numerous contemporary architecture today, not limited to domestic buildings. Through Villa Savoye, Le Corbusier set the foundation and inspiration to the next generation of architects. Image by Von Chua.

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Ribbon windows. The kitchen on the first floor is located along the corner of the house. The ribboned windows or horizontal and elongated windows are pretty much unrestricted as they present along the facade’s lengths. This unobstructed approach increases a sense of connection with the surroundings. Natural light also shines through each room via the ribbon windows, truly allowing one to have a sense of the time of day including receiving sunlight at different times of the day. Image by Von Chua.

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Pure geometry in its radical simplification of form with no ornaments and an honest expression of the structure. These are all the common qualities of what makes the International Style which can unambiguously be seen in Villa Savoye. Coined by Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson who were the Museum of Modern Art’s curators back then, they identified three key principles of the International Style: the expression of volume rather than mass, the emphasis on balance rather than preconceived symmetry, and the expulsion of applied ornament. Image by Von Chua.

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Walking around the internal spaces in Villa Savoye, one will notice that it is not adorned with many elements at all but when they do appear, such as this light sconce, it serves a clear purpose - to provide sufficient light for its user standing in front of the bathroom mirror. Image by Von Chua.

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A surprising element at the Villa Savoye is the deliberate placement of doors. The main entrance (not the door shown here) is in timber but surrounded by a long stretch of curved glass facade and is not visible when approaching the property. What you see here is a side door on the approaching side of the building, which are reserved as the maid and chauffeur’s quarters. Image by Von Chua.

Le Corbusier wrote in Towards a New Architecture that “une maison est une machine-à-habiter” which translates to “a house is a machine for living in”. The architect was able to use Villa Savoye as a platform to deliver his core ideas, his functionalist vision, and his vision for domestic design. In addition to Le Corbusier’s clarity in his writing, he was able to put his abstract vision into a tangible building, the translation from theory into a built project is admirable. Have you visited an inspirational building that encompasses its creator’s vision or the qualities of its style and era? Which building is that?

Details for Villa Savoye

Address82 Rue de Villiers, 78300 Poissy, France
URLhttps://www.villa-savoye.fr/en

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