Le Corbusier designed the House, commissioned by Dr. Pedro Curutchet in 1948. It is one of the very few buildings the architect built attached to preexisting buildings and perfectly responded to a historical context. With this House, Le Corbusier proved, more than with any of his other projects, that modern architecture could be in a harmonious dialogue with traditional architecture. Construction began in 1949 under the supervision of Amancio Williams and was completed in 1953.
Curutchet House Technical Information
- Architects: Le Corbusier
- Location: Avenida 53 Nº320, 1900, La Plata, Argentina
- Client: Dr. Pedro Domingo Curutchet
- Topics: Unesco Heritage, Modern Movement, White Architecture
- Area: 200 m2
- Project Year: 1949-1955
- Photographs: © ArchEyes
If I would answer your question of why I asked Le Corbusier to design my house, I would not be certain to explain it, it happened a long time ago. Maybe because, as Baltazar Gracian wrote, “one has good sudden ideas”. Sometimes, I ask myself the same question, and I suspect that it was because I had an affinity with the great innovator (Le Corbusier), being in my own a revolutionary architect of surgical instruments and technique
– Pedro Curutchet, 1978
Curutchet House Photographs
Design and construction
The city of La Plata, founded in 1882, was laid out in a Cartesian grid intersected by diagonals. The House is situated on a standard lot in the city. Long and narrow, measuring approximately 23 by 9 meters, it was set within three preexisting walls.
To the west was a traditional house with the facade following the diagonal line of the street. However, the House volume to the east ignored the diagonal. Le Corbusier’s solution resolves the program-site
relationship by respecting the geometry of the surrounding context. It acknowledges the historical typology of houses in the city and attempts to define volumes best suited to the intense light of the region.
The young surgeon had several requirements. The principal rooms were to overlook the park, and his office was to be clearly detached. He sent a sketch to Le Corbusier suggesting that the House include a
basement in which the doctor’s office was located. ‘A special requirement was that the House has abundant natural light. Le Corbusier stated his conditions. He should be allowed to use the Modular and standardize everything possible. The client had no objection. Having received the plans for his future home, Dr. Curutchet wrote to the architect. “In every moment, I discover a new interest, a new mirror of intellectual beauty.”
He anticipated occupying the House and, with time, assimilating the artistic essence of this “architectural jewel” into his new life. In an attempt to free the House from the surrounding structures, Le Corbusier established a four-by-four meter grid of slender pilotis while still relating the facade to the diagonal of the street. Also, he set in motion a set of opposites by dividing the House into two primary volumes -a device previously used in the twenties when designing the Atelier Lipschitz.
In both cases, the frontal volumes absorb the diagonal imposed by the street. The difference in the
Curutchet House is how the circulation ramp links the two opposing volumes. By adopting a simple scheme of rooms and courtyard, Le Corbusier refers to a predominant house type in the city, the “chorizo” or “sausage house.”
This type is particularly well adapted to the narrow elongated lots resulting from the urban growth of the late nineteen century. Brought to Argentina by the Spanish, its precedent can be traced to the Roman peristyle house and was modified by immigrants in the 1880s. It consists of successive patios which facilitate light and ventilation.
As one penetrates the House, the intimacy of the patios is apparent. It allows for privacy, protection, and a greater sense of autonomy for the inhabitants, yet large windows in the facade establish a visual link to the street. Le Corbusier intentionally referred to these characteristics.
The complexities imposed upon the program by a narrow lot and the need to maintain views of the park made the “sausage house” an efficient type of Le Corbusier’s solution.
The ground floor provides a common entrance for the office and family quarters, a garage, and a small service court. A mezzanine level contains the doctor’s office and a staircase leading to the family areas. The next floor has the living room, terrace, kitchen, and studio. The upper level contains bedrooms and bathrooms.
A ramp, which links both volumes of the House, is located parallel to an existing perimeter wall, generating space for a shady courtyard. The Argentinean patio house and Le Corbusier’s roof garden are
combined to create a generous central court and expand the living room.
Le Corbusier incorporates natural light and models the volumes of the House. Typical of the patio houses
in the city, Le Corbusier’s drawings propose a poplar tree for the courtyard.
Some of the most exciting aspects of the House occur in the section where a sequence of layers and the see-through thickness of the brise-soleil are visibly manipulated. This carefully articulated sequence allows brightness from the sky and foliage from the park to visually penetrate the House.
In section, Le Corbusier combines elements of organic architecture with his earlier purist devices. A constricted site, a demanding program, and Le Corbusier’s tendency towards “simplicity” merge into a sophisticated architectural solution.
Despite the constraints imposed by a narrow lot, using the ramp combined with the overlapping floors generates livable architecture in “space, in-depth and in height.” In customary Corbusian strategy, the House explores a dialogue of confrontation by accommodating opposites.
The composition of the facade is the result of two opposing yet complementary forces, the brise-soleil
in the front face and the pan de Verre or applique in the rear facade, a type of modulation he later employed in the design of the Millowners’ Association Building.
The architect combines the order of his five points with organic shapes. This tension intensifies as one ascends through the upper levels. Walls begin to bend into organic forms, connoting sculptural spaces.
The platonic, pure shapes are dialectically opposed to the floating forms to distinguish specialized rooms. Bathrooms and corridors, expressed with convex forms, regain their significance. The opposition between the expanding ground floor and the compression and tension of the upper level is reconciled by directing
views toward the park.
The floating brise-soleil, which appears strikingly heavy yet non-material, is contrasted against by the rigid, tall pilotis. The orthogonal order of slender columns interacts with the diagonal line of the exterior.
This facade was defined as “not explicable in terms of Le Corbusier’s purist architecture” and also represented “his emerging sense of the wall as a sculptural device.” It is, perhaps, in the front facade where Le Corbusier best interprets the memories of his earlier visit to Argentina. The impressions from the drawings he produced while lecturing in Buenos Aires recur thematically in the facade of the Curutchet house.
As in his earlier improvised sketches, a door bisects the front elevation. Le Corbusier’s wall, however, is dematerialized and interpreted as a mesh screen. The narrow passage between the two properties is redefined to accommodate a ramp, and the loggia expands the upper level.
The distinction between the wall mass and roof plane contrasts the thin, tense layering of columns, Brise Soleil, and screen against the dense, flat planes of the surrounding houses.
Le Corbusier designed the Curutchet house almost twenty years after his lectures in Buenos Aires. Although he never returned to Argentina, the memories of his visit and regard for his city plan are presented in the House. Not only would Le Corbusier reinterpret images of the local context, but also,
his five skyscrapers amid the stars would now be abstracted into the facade’s design.
The five shining volumes, transformed into slender, transparent screens, define the boundaries between the street, the House, and the sky.
The House was restored from 1986 to 1988 during the centennial of Le Corbusier’s birth and was declared a national landmark by Argentina’s Commission on National Landmarks. It currently houses the Buenos Aires professional association of architects, the Colegio de Arquitectos and is open to the public for tours.
In July 2016, the House and sixteen other works by Le Corbusier were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Curutchet House Plans
Curutchet House Image Gallery
About Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier, or Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887 -1965), was an internationally influential Swiss architect and city planner whose designs combined the functionalism of the modern movement with bold, sculptural expressionism. He belonged to the first generation of the International School of Architecture.
In his architecture, he joined the functionalist aspirations of his generation with a strong sense of expressionism. He was the first architect to make a studied use of rough-cast concrete, satisfying his taste for asceticism and sculptural forms. In 2016, 17 of his architectural works were named World Heritage sites by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization).
- Source: Le Corbusier: The Built Work
- Source: Precisions: On the Present State of Architecture and City Planning by Le Corbusier, 1930.