For Part I
Following on from Graham’s first post on this architectural ‘masterpiece’, and which mainly talked about how bad the planning of the house was, today I’m going to talk about some other things that weren’t so great about this villa.
As soon as it was completed, it was apparent that the house was not comfortable. Between 1929 and 1934 the roof leaked continuously, the heating was not sufficient and, finally, the owners stopped using it.
In June 1930, Madame Savoye wrote a letter to her architect, Le Corbusier, saying:
It is still raining on our garage. (Sbriglio 147)
Earlier in March she’d sent him another one complaining about the skylight saying that it
makes terrible noise […] which prevents us from sleeping during bad weather. (Sbriglio 142)
The contractor, who claimed to have warned Le Corbusier that such a design would cause such problems, refused to take responsibility. All these problems resulted in the house feeling “cold and damp” and subject to “substantial heat loss due to large glazing” as Sbriglio noted.
In 1935, Madame Savoye wrote again to Le Corbusier stating:
It is raining in the hall, it’s raining on the ramp and the wall of the garage is absolutely soaked [….] it’s still raining in my bathroom, which floods in bad weather, as the water comes in through the skylight. The gardener’s walls are also wet through.(Sbriglio 146-7)
Two years later, she sent him another letter full of frustration:
After innumerable demands you have finally accepted that this house which you built in 1929 in uninhabitable…. Please render it inhabitable immediately. I sincerely hope that I will not have to take recourse to legal action. (Sbriglio 147)
Le Corbusier was marketing himself as the one who believed that architecture had a potential to increase health and well-being – something nice and noble for architecture to be. Though, at least one writer states that Roger’s (Madame Savoye’s son) health problems were directly linked to the villa (de Botton 65) mainly because of excessive daylight due to large glazing.
In 1935, an article published in Time states:
Though the great expanses of glass that he favors may occasionally turn his rooms into hothouses, his flat roofs may leak and his plans may be wasteful of space, it was Architect Le Corbusier who in 1923 put the entire philosophy of modern architecture into a single sentence: “A house is a machine to live in.”
During the WWII, the Germans looted it, and the cost of rehabilitation was estimated at $80,000. Madame Savoye decided not to spend the money, and never went back. Later on, the machine for living was turned into a hay barn.
Now, despite all the previously mentioned problems the house had, someone, for some reason, decided that the building should be famous. In 1964 it was listed as a public building. Since then, it has undergone 3 series of restoration, the most recent one being in 1997. Villa Savoye is now a preferred destination for architecture students from all over the world for inspiration for their new projects for the semester.
So then, the 20th century architecture masterpiece, that is supposed to be one of 20th century architecture’s best contribution to humanity and the essence of architectural invention:
had a roof that leaked everywhere;
had a skylight that made a terrible noise, preventing the occupants from sleeping;
felt cold and damp;
suffered from substantial heat-loss due to large glazing (that Le Corbusier loved, and included it in his ‘Five Points for Architecture’);
either caused the owner’s son to be ill, or did nothing to cure him;
and of course, did not make its occupants happy to live in it.
Also, if we looked at the orientation of the building, we can notice that it’s almost (not quite) the worst possible. Knowing that Le Corbusier (originally) had such a big piece of land to play with, it’s a bit mysterious why he put it in such an orientation.
I’m sure that, if we cared to look, we would find that other supposed architectural masterpieces would have a similar amount of shitty things, if not more. Nevertheless, the history of architecture is the history of what became famous. However, if this is the best that architecture can do for humanity, I’m not impressed. Actually, I think it’s a disgrace.