Tag Archives: Eileen Gray

Architecture Misfits #7: Lacaton & Vassal

When misfits finally gets around to writing the definitive history of sustainable architecture, it will bypass all the media-hogging and resource-wasting architecture of the twentieth century and instead feature many of the architects mentioned in this blog.

Irving Gill deserves a place for this following statement he made around 1915.

If the cost of unimportant ornamentation were put into construction, then we would have a more lasting and dignified house.


Dodge House, West Hollywood, CA, 1914-16 (demolished) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hannes Meyer will feature for doing his best to make that happen by choosing materials according to the suitability of their non-visual properties.


facultad (Photo credit: vladimix)

This site offers some insights (in German) into window sizing and illumination levels of his Peterschule project. I don’t know of anyone else who was concerned about this in 1926.


Eileen Gray will have a place for her unpretentious approach to siting, climate and layout way back in 1924.


19-b (Photo credit: its_daniel)

George Fred Keck for, in 1934, thinking of

  1. the house as the servicer to its inhabitant, not vice versa
  2. the importance to one’s health of passive heating and the modulation of natural light
  3. the need to design within the boundaries of mass production
  4. an exterior prefabricated steel truss frame that allowed for a completely open interior plan
  5. panels and mullions of standardised sizes
  6. not designed to be different or tricky but to seriously attempt to find better ideas and designs for living


The Futurists will have earned their place for showing the world it was okay to reject past ideas of beauty and to create new types more relevant to the modern world.  

Study for a 1927 Biennale pavilionby Fortunato Depero

Study for a 1927 Biennale pavilion
by Fortunato Depero

Superstudio will have a place for Natalini’s 1971 statement about architectural priorities.

All these people contributed in some way to the theoretical, philosophical and moral basis for the type of buildings misfits is about. In a nutshell, misfits believes in making the most of what we have or have left. Everybody agrees this is a good thing, but there’s still no consensus about what it is that needs to be made the most of. The flow of architectural history suggests that “making beauty for less” is a constant. Even if, like Corbusier, the work of Sanaa is evolutionary in redefining beauty downwards, the focus is still on beauty no matter how economical it may be to achieve (relative to and in decreasing order, The Pyramids, Chartres Cathedral, the Sydney Opera House …. etc). In the not-so-distant future, affordable will be the new luxury.

The introduction to this yet-unwritten book on the history of sustainability will need to have a brief note explaining that the word sustainable is used in the sense of cost-effective performance without regard for visual appearance for, in English, we seem to have lost the plot a bit. In French, the word for sustainable is “durable”. This sense of something remaining useful for longer has the obvious advantage of it not needing to be  replaced as often. Although renovating, refurbishing and reusing buildings is unquestionably virtuous and is rewarded as such by the various sustainability rating systems, the main focus of architecture is still on sexy new build projects.
Lacaton & Vassal are natural misfits in that their focus is on doing more with less. Their Latapie House features on the misfitsarchitecture home page header. This post however, will feature their retrofit of the La Tour Bois-le-Prêtre tower (in collaboration with Frédéric Druot). The plan and two photos below tell the story. There’s more description here and a slideshow here.

after copy plan after

“It depends how you ask the question,” Ms. Lacaton responded when asked whether the building ended up as she had hoped. Architects couldn’t fix the neighborhood or provide 24-hour security guards, she said. But they could make something pleasing whose appearance derived from the narrow range of material options available, within a tight budget.The aesthetics arose purely from the decisions about the quality of space,” Ms. Lacaton insisted. “We could have done something playful and fashionable on the outside, to look better, if we had put just a few balconies here and there. But our priority was improving the living conditions for everyone.” [New York Times]

Total cost: $15 million compared to $26 million to demolish and rebuild. No tenant relocation was necessary.

interior view

Lacaton & Vassal – misfits salutes you!



Misfits’ All-Time Top 10 Hits

Misfit friends! It’s been more than a year now so here’s an “all-time” progress report on what’s been going on, based on statistics from those nice folks at WordPress. Most people who find this blog find it via a search engine, and search engines, as you know, only give back what you put into them. So, to those people who searched “what is microprocessor” (5), “melltorp help” (5), “đơn vị ở lớn marseille” (5), “oil” (5),  “zaha hadid shelter” (6), “burj a la rab” (7), and “where can i get ornamental architecture” (6), I hope you find what you were looking for. It wasn’t here. As we say in English, “go somewhere else”. We guess you did.

Sometimes, with search engines it’s good to just take a chance. To the eleven (11!) people who input “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” into google, well done! That would have taken you straight to The DARKER Side of the Villa Savoye, a classic post on a classic theme of ours.

Three and a bit times less astonishingly, 34 people input “valve to prevent water from gravity feeding”.

They would have been directed to Bashar’s post The Beauty I see in Al Hambra that describes Al Hambra’s ingenious system of water supply. Mind you, the actual sentence was “the engineers built several reservoirs on high ground, so that gravity would ensure a constant flow of water to feed the gardens.” Just for the record.

Some other people whose names we do not know, used terms such as “shit shapes” (9), “masdar bullshit” (5) “What’s the point of architecture” (7) and “architects bullshit” (6) to arrive at the misfits blogsite. Please send us your CVs.

Anyway, without further ado …  we now present the 2012 MISFITS’ TOP TEN SEARCH TERMS starting, of course, from No.10. In these rankings, we’ve gathered together similar terms, especially for the more difficult-to-spell terms.

No.10 Eileen Gray (81 hits)

Eileen Gray is the only female misfit. [Since I wrote that, we can now include Ann Lacaton of Lacaton and Vassal – see Architecture Misfits #6: Lacaton & Vassal.] Fittingly, Eileen Gray’s E1027 house doesn’t fit in with anything except its location and climate. It may have been one of the first high-performance houses, or maybe she was just working with local knowledge and a feel for the climate, and wanted a house that was pleasant to live in. Crazy huh? And who are these people? And what are they doing there? Find out at Architecture Misfit No.3: Eileen Gray.

No.9 Prosopis cineraria (99 hits)

This search term took people to The Process Behind a Better Architecture Building where they maybe learned a little bit about the Ghaf tree.

It needs hardly any water, and when it does, can send roots down 30m to find it. It can survive being buried in sand. It’s connected to every organism, animal, bird and insect in the desert ecosystem. These very useful characteristics are probably related to its rather dull green colour which, unfortunately, means that it’s never used as a street tree in the UAE (although I have noticed more of them being planted to stabilise the sand alongside intercity highways).

No.8 Barajas Airport (145 hits)

Most people were probably looking for this picture of a design feature that’s a bit dubious since, even if you know your colours, you still have to know your big numbers to find your departure gate. The accepted story is thus patronising bullshit. Besides, the colours could have been blended better methinks. But not that I care. Buen Viaje!

No.7 Jungfraujoch (191 hits)

This one’s an old favourite. The Sphinx Observatory, alternatively known as Jungfraujoch, is maybe not the cutest building in the world, but it has an important job to do in a environment that can be very nasty at times. Should it have been built to be more ‘in keeping’ with its surroundings? We think it’s just fine the way it is.

No.6 CCTV diagrid structure (275 hits)

We suspect that most of these searchers were looking for this image. Here it is from previous post The Things Architects Do #2: Ornament.

And there’s also the following image from September 2011’s The New Architecture of Austerity. This wall detail clearly shows that the pattern we see on the outside is not, in fact, what’s actually holding up the building. In the drawing it’s called “diagrid cladding” – in the sense of diagrid-patterned cladding elements – and is totally separate from the structural diagrid members linking the structural columns inside the building. (Maybe that’s what the person in the section is trying to point out). But are you fine with this? We’re not. Notice that the actual structure is smaller than its expression. Basically, what this means for life on earth is that showing everybody how clever you are, is more important than being clever. As such, this is the most depressing cladding sectional detail ever. Cheers for that Remment Koolhaus now can’t you please just go somewhere else?

No.5 Villa Savoye (434 hits)

Altogether, these included general searches (128) and people (146) interested about the site plan which, as you know from Bashar’s post The DARKER Side of the Villa Savoye is a bit “schoolboy”. A further 19 people were specifically curious about “villa savoye orientation”. Many people were sourcing dimensions, probably because their instructor told them they had to make a model or smmn. Other notable searches included “villa savoye materials” (5), “villa savoye problems” (7), “villa savoye heating” (5), and “villa savoye bad” (8). We hope you all found something you could use or think about. Maybe some of you tracked down the original client vs. LC correspondence about the bathroom skylight, the terrace leaks, the lawsuits and support our stance that IT WAS NOT A HAPPY HOUSE (even before WWII). Here’s a gratuitous picture. What makes this image interesting is that the building has been defaced digitally.

To me, this says something about how our opinions of buildings are formed by images. At first, some of us may have thought “how could they??!!” and then it turns out, they didn’t, and then the thought is “but hang on, they did!!!” But all they defaced was an image we had in our minds and, such is they mystery of the human mind, we know VS has been restored to extra-virgin anyway. What can one conclude? “Graffiti ain’t what it used to be?” Or, “CAMISA, CLOUDINHO BF and TONIOLO, grow some balls and do it for real!”  (And send us a photo.) Architecture has a complex relationship with this house.

No.4 Hannes Meyer (631 hits) 

We’re glad for this and proud – I mean, where else are you going to find about about Hannes Meyer? If the Bauhaus was that f*****g important, then why is he not remembered – if for nothing else, as the only guy who made it turn a profit by making useful stuff. Btw he was also the guy responsible for the Bauhaus having an architecture program – true story – but who cares about that? Thanks anyway Hannes – we miss you! You’re still Architecture Misfit No.1!

No, really, you are!

No.3 Microprocessors (1,052 hits)

Basically, microprocessors are cool. They’re not trying to beautiful. Go back to our classic post The Microprocessor Is Not Trying to Be Beautiful for details. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s what one looks like. The gold isn’t there to be fancy.

And don’t forget: There’s no such thing as an ugly microprocessor.

No.2 AK-47 (1,559 hits)

You’d think nothing could be simpler to input than AK47 but no – it’s also known as “aka 47” (6), “a k 47” (7) and “ак-47” (8). This last one’s disturbing – I mean, if Cyrillic-writing people have to use Google to source something so local and essential to life as an AK-47 then what kind of world is it we live in I ask you?!! But we forget – the AK-47 has global appeal because of its performance beauty. In a nutshell, it may not be the purrtiest thing, but it does what it does, well. (Go back to the same The Microprocessor Is Not Trying to Be Beautiful for details.) Intriguingly, ten (10) people searched for AK-47 Type II. Is it that much better? Let us know.

No.1 Unité d’Habitation (3,886 hits)

In all it’s glorious forms. Correct alphanumeric input can be a problem but think of the poor French! Fortunately, “unite habitation” (77), “unite d’habitation” (72), “unité d’habitation” (232) and “unitè d’habitation” (387) will all get you to the same place, as will “мікропроцесор” (5) and “микропроцессор” (7), whatevertf that means.

Many viewers may have been looking for these student staples – plans and sections of Corby’s Unité d’Habitations in Marseille. Here they are once again – look no more.

All this was contained in the post The Things Architects Do and which went mildly viral last October, spiking  once last November last year and consistently this March because the single point running throughout the post was that THE UNITE D’HABITATIONS IS NOT VERY GOOD. Most of my objections were to do with the wasteful planning in what is supposed to be social housing. We only ever see the ‘interlocking’ apartments even though the building contains about 35 different types of apartments. This is often explained as Corbusier providing for different family configurations and preferences (and actually, to be fair, it would be described in exactly the same way today). However, it is bullshit. Families requesting social housing are not usually able to pick and choose their apartment type. How about the family on the bottom half of the above ‘interlocking’ section. Did they ask for a plan where the only living space was at the end of the parents’ bed? [That’s a bit crap, non?] Or how about the family in the apartment at the bottom left of this plan? Did they say “We want an apartment that has windows only to the south because we would prefer to not look at the Mediterranean?”

Anyway, I won’t go into that now. For people wanting a little more information on Unité d’Habitations and how crap it is, I’ve organised the more obvious points into a table, showing how they were solved or not over the course of LC’s next four versions. Unsurprisingly, it’s the hugely flawed first attempt that’s remembered, not the improved ones. From this, we can surmise that the other four were somehow compromised by reality and therefore not fitting the narrative fiction that sustains the idea of genius.

Unités d’Habitation comparison

Editable Word doc.

Architecture Misfit #3: Eileen Gray

Hello – meet Eileen Gray.

Eilen Gray (1878–1976)

Here’s a good blogpost with a quick bio and here’s another one with pics of most of her important work. In the shallow fiction that is architectural history, she gets namechecked for designing this house, E1027.

E1027 is in a nice little corner of the world. Cap Martin, French Riviera.  43°45’35.57″N   7°27’47.38″E

That’s Monaco in the distance. The beach is at Roquebrune. Roquebrune beach is  famous for Corbusier’s body washing up there late morning 27 August 1965. And what was he doing there you may ask? OK, if you must. Here’s a summary (taken from here).

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret first came to Roquebrune at the invitation of the critic and architect Jacques Badovici. He owned Villa E1027 he had designed in 1929 with the Irish designer Eileen Gray. She was soon exasperated by cohabitation with Le Corbusier and his crews, and the conflict reached its paroxysm when he decorated the walls of her villa with eight murals inspired by ‘Purism,’ a post-Cubist pictorial movement of which he was one of the theoreticians. Eileen Gray slammed the door of E1027 never to return.

The murals have a story of their own but the mural above is the creepiest.

Le Corbusier referred to the mural as Sous les pilotis or Graffite à Cap Martin, and sometimes he also labels it Three Women.  All three are remarkable titles. Why “pilotis” when Eileen Gray never speaks of pilotis? Why would Le Corbusier describe his own work as graffiti? And who are these three women anyway? According to Schelbert, Le Corbusier explained to his friends that ‘Badou’  Badovici] was depicted on the right, his friend Eileen Gray on the left; the outline of the head and the hairpiece of the sitting figure in the middle, he claimed, was ‘the desired child, which was never born.’

This extraordinary scene, a defacement of Gray’s architecture, was perhaps even an effacement of her sexuality, her relationship to Badovici notwithstanding. For Gray was openly gay.

Beatriz Colomina’s psycho-sexual, feminist critique is rather credible, especially given what Nicholas Fox Webster has to say. Anyway, Eileen Gray never returned, never forgave Corbusier and was still cross about it 30 years later and, on balance, probably rightly so.

Eileen Gray, still cross in Paris 30 years on

This next photograph then, must have been taken after she slammed that door in 1937 because that’s definitely a corbydoodle on the wall.

We don’t know who’s taking the photo, but the man on the right is Badovici and the very thirties’ lady at the back, apparently, is La Corbusier. This is the only photograph I’ve ever seen of her. I’m surprised she’s there and she probably is too – I get the impression she’d rather be elsewhere then this historic snap. Nicholas Fox Webster says she had no interest in architecture and forbade it being discussed at the dinner table. I’m feeling that. But, back to E1027. Corbusier apparently loved it, staying there on occasion. Once, after a stay, he wrote to Gray,

I am so happy to tell you how much those few days spent in your house have made me appreciate the rare spirit which dictates all the organisation, inside and outside, and given to the modern furniture – the equipment – such dignified form, so charming, so full of spirit.

Until it all went wrong of course. But hell, all this happened in 1939. Lots more in Europe was going to go very wrong very shortly. Everything that went wrong at E1027 amounts to nothing more than a hill of beans in a teacup. What it would be useful for us to know is a) Is E1027 any good? and b) Was Eileen Gray the first architecture femisfit? Perhaps. Let’s have a look. As we’ve seen, there are worse places for a house to be.

photo: Gino Ginelli

E1027 was completed in 1929, a year before LC’s Villa Savoye and two years after his Villa Stein (á Garches). If LC had a love/hate relationship with either Gray and/or this house then it’s easy to see why as this house is many things that Villa Savoye and Villa Stein, are not.

Location: The site for one. It overlooks water. There’s no need for this house to pretend it’s a ship – it’s better than a ship because you can have a view of real water and at the same time have a nice garden as well, with bougainvillea.

It’s hard to forget the view, but the garden at E1027 simply looks a more pleasant place to be than Corby’s roof garden. If LC’s idea of ‘access to nature’ was a bit of sun and air, then I’d rather the sun and air at E1027 anytime. Even as a terrace – it’s actually terraced! – it’s got real plants in real soil. It’s not a garden because someone says it is. E1027’s relationship to site and nature is a real, not conceptual. The garden is more than a pretend sea for a pretend ship. It’s something that can actually be enjoyed. This difference I’ve noted is not abstract conjecture. Think about VS. How do you even get to the garden? Apart from the main entrance, the only other ground floor doors are a service entry for the kitchen stairs and an external door to the chauffeur’s sleeping space. To be fair, VS was for a site in soon-to-be-suburban Paris. A sea view and coastal climate were never going to be. Corby was probably thankful E1027 was hidden away on the Riviera whilst he was bigging up his intellectual houses in Paris.

Fact: No Corbusian house had a great location except for the small hut Le Cabanon he designed for himself (somewhat creepily) along with these cabins, right behind E1027.

Orientation: Nor did LC think much about orientation. You might remember from The Darker Side of the Villa Savoye that Villa Savoye is orientated with respect to the street. It’s all about the driveway and “the approach”. As is Villa Stein. E1027 is oriented with its main windows facing south-west. E1027 is great for academics. Beatriz Colomina did the psycho-sexual feminist reading. Daniel Ryan of the University of Sydney re-evaluates E1027 in terms of proto-sustainability or, as he puts it, an “environmental re-imagining”, whatever that is.

The strategy in most of Gray’s Mediterranean work of orienting bedrooms to the east, living rooms to the south and west and service areas to the north reflects a negotiation of
both the Zeilenbau approach of designing for morning sunlight in bedrooms and afternoon sunlight in living areas and Adolf Behne’s counter-idea that service areas should be located to the north and living areas to the south. … While Gray did pick up a more or less southern orientation, she shifted the building away from its terraced site.

upper level

lower level

The bedrooms indeed have large windows facing south-east. The living room does have a large window that faces south-west and slightly outwards towards the sea, rather than the coast. It may be coincidence but the alignment is exactly 22.5° off the E-W axis. This means that the bedrooms are pleasant places in which to wake up. The large living room windows can be easily shaded by (blue?) canvas awnings and the one west-facing window seen below, would provide a shaft of evening light along the length of the living room.  The third picture below is of a daybed in the dark corner of the living room by that narrow west window. It looks like a nice place to read or have a nap in the afternoon when it’s too bright or hot outside.

Layout: There’s more to the layout than where people are at various times during the day. Again, unlike Villa Savoye, guests in this house are going to stay the night or maybe a few days. They can leave the guest room and fix themselves a meal or walk down to the water without passing through the main room. The house has a summer kitchen and a winter kitchen, both of which can also be accessed without going through the main room. In fact, it’s possible to go from any room, directly to the outside. There’s even some stairs to take you to directly to the main bathroom after a swim. (This photo is from a series showing the recent restoration here, at Friends of E1027.)

Whereas overnight stayers at Villa Savoye are controlled and choreographed, guests at E1027 can come and go through multiple, uncontrolled and natural transitions between inside and outside. It’s relaxed. Hosts can relax for they don’t have to entertain their guests. Guests can relax for they don’t have to entertain their hosts.

Interior: Perhaps the biggest difference between E1027 and Villa Savoye is the interiors. All the rooms at E1027 have been designed. This may just reflect the difference between a house for oneself and a house for a client. Showing too much of an interest in interior design, colour and texture and all that, has never gone down well in the macho world of architecture. The truth is, we know a lot about Corbusier’s ideas for how other people should live, but we don’t know much about how he would like to have lived. Or, indeed, until he moved to Cap Martin and built his shed, how he actually did live. In E1027, the furniture and tables are constantly inviting the visitor to lay down, have a cigarette, pick up a drink, an olive or a novel. The main space of E1027 is more suited to lounging than formalized conversations about art, jazz, Josephine Baker, or politics.

Vernacular techniques: Apparently, the walls of E1027 have a layered construction that was probably recommended by the local builders Gray used. Below, you can see how the windows rotate and slide to provide 100% opening. The window shutters are of a type commonly used around the Mediterranean and they too slide to provide 0-100% shading. They’re set away from the wall for improved airflow and parts of them also open outwards for the same reason. None of this is new. If it ain’t broke, etc.

Here’s them being restored.

Irony: Eileen Gray and E1027 have been ignored for decades. After Gray decamped, Corbusier never encouraged its physical restoration or its historical rehabilitation despite living next to it from 1952-1965. It’s the exact opposite of the agenda that made his name in the 1930s. In the heroic alpha-male world of architecture he breathed, it’s easy to imagine him dismissing terracotta and timber, colour and texture until he ‘discovered’ them in the Maisons Jaoul twenty years later. It’s easy to imagine him scoffing at the life preserver that adorned the front balustrade of E1027, secretly dismissing it either as naff ornament or girly whimsy.

I wonder if the thought of that live preserver flashed through the mind of the man the world knew as Le Corbusier as he drowned offshore. I wonder too if Eileen Gray, in here Paris apartment, thought of it when she heard the news.

Eileen Gray, Misfits salutes you!

7 May 2015


Sure, Eileen Gray paid attention to colour and pattern and texture and designed a tray that didn’t make a clatter when you carried it. Rowan Moore is guilty of the traditional “Women – they’re so good at colour and texture!” prejudice that Gray must have suffered from in her lifetime – not least of all from backyard villain LC.

Sure, the house is sensual, but much of living is to do with satisfying the senses – getting the internal temperature right, keeping the inside dry, letting enough sun in and keeping too much out. It’s these unseen dimensions of architecture that Moore fails to see, let alone give Gray any credit for. Gray designed a relaxed, liveable and enjoyable house that had multiple entrances and exits for guests to come and go as they please, where sunlight entered at the right angles and times to make the rooms more pleasant, where real plants in real soil were there to be lived with and enjoyed, and where you could see, hear and smell the real sea from a real house, not a pretend sea from a pretend boat.

8 May 2015

To celebrate the re-opening of E1027 to the public, Friends of E1027 has launched a new website.