Villa Savoye, completed in 1931 by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret in Poissy, France, is a landmark in modern architecture and a defining example of the International style. It is considered one of the 20th century’s most important contributions to the field and a pioneering embodiment of Le Corbusier’s “five points” of architectural design. The innovative building features a striking blend of functionality, expressionism, and cutting-edge technology, making it a timeless testament to the power of architecture to shape the future.
Villa Savoye Technical Information
- Architects: Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret | Biography & Bibliography
- Location: 82 Rue de Villiers, 78300 Poissy, France
- Client: Pierre and Eugénie Savoye
- Topics: Villa, Unesco Heritage, Concrete
- Style: Modernism, International Style
- Area: 480 square meters / 5,100 square feet
- Project Year: 1928-1931
- Photographs: © Foundation Le Corbusier, Flickr Users: © Fernando Leiva, © proxectodhabitat, © End-User
A ramp provides gradual ascent from the pilotis, creating totally different sensations than those felt when climbing stairs. A staircase seperates one floor from another: a ramp links them together.
– Le Corbusier1
Capturing the Beauty of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye: A Collection of Photographs
Villa Savoye: A History of an Iconic House
The Villa Savoye was built as a country retreat for the wealthy French insurer Pierre Savoye and his wife, Eugénie. In the spring of 1928, they commissioned the design to the renowned architect Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret.
By the late 1920s, Le Corbusier was a well-established and renowned international architect. His book “Vers Une Architecture” had gained recognition, and he was a member of the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM). He was known as a champion of modern architecture and was also involved with the Russian avant-garde through his work with the Centrosoyuz in Moscow.
The early 1920s saw Le Corbusier’s emphasis on the “precision” of architecture, where every aspect of a building’s design had a specific purpose and fit within the urban context. However, as the decade progressed, Le Corbusier’s approach became more experimental, as evidenced by his urban plans for Algiers and other projects.
The house is a box in the air– Le Corbusier2
The Concept Behind Villa Savoye
The Villa Savoye, designed by Le Corbusier, was intended to embody the concept of a “machine as a home”, where the daily functions within it play a crucial role in its design. The driving force behind the design was the movement of cars, which was a passion for Le Corbusier for many years.
The concept also views housing as a standalone object that can be placed anywhere in the world and reflects the influence of transportation design, such as airplanes, cars, and ships, with the goal of mass-producing housing.
The supporting pillars on the ground floor further reinforce this idea, and the independence of the Villa from its garden is considered a key aspect of the first generation of International Architecture.
The Making of Villa Savoye: A Look at its Construction Process
Le Corbusier used reinforced concrete and plastered masonry to build the Villa Savoye. The use of reinforced concrete was a very modern construction method in the 1920s and 30s. Villa Savoye was the vision of Corbusier’s 5 points to a new architecture and included his idea and concept of open plan and free space. This meant that Corbusier needed to use materials with structural integrity.
A French industrialist, Francois Coignet, was the first to use reinforced concrete in construction. He used iron-reinforced concrete to create a four-story house in Paris. However, his intentions in using concrete weren’t to add strength to the building but to prevent the wide, elongated walls from collapsing and falling over. For Corbusier, this allowed him to create a long, horizontal wall that encases the wide windows, giving great structural support. It also gave enormous strength and stability by using reinforced concrete pilotis.
Discovering the Lasting Influence of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye
Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye (1929–1931) most succinctly summed up his five points of architecture that he had elucidated in the journal L’Esprit Nouveau and his book Vers une architecture, which he had been developing throughout the 1920s.
Le Corbusier lifted the bulk of the structure off the ground, supporting it by pilotis – reinforced concrete stilts. These pilotis provided the house’s structural support and allowed him to elucidate his following two points.
- Free Facade
non-supporting walls that could be designed as the architect wished.
- Open Floor Plan
The floor space was free to configure into rooms without concern for supporting walls.
- Horizontal Windows
The second floor of the Villa Savoye includes long strips of ribbon windows that allow unencumbered views of the large surrounding yard and constitute the fourth point of his system. This is a strength in enjoying panoramic scenery while complementing Western Europe’s climatic weakness, which lacks sunshine.
- Roof Garden
A functional roof serves as a garden and terrace, reclaiming the land occupied by the building for Nature. A ramp rising from ground level to the third-floor roof terrace allows for a promenade architecturale through the structure.
Progress brings liberation. Reinforced concrete provides a revolution in the history of the window. Windows can run from one end of the facade to the other.
– Le Corbusier
A ramp rising from ground level to the third-floor roof terrace allows for a promenade architecturale through the structure. The white tubular railing recalls the industrial “ocean-liner” aesthetic that Le Corbusier much admired. The driveway around the ground floor, with its semicircular path, measures the exact turning radius of a 1927 Citroën automobile.
The Enduring Impact of Villa Savoye on Modern Architecture
The building featured in two hugely influential books of the time: Hitchcock and Johnson’s The International Style, published in 1932, and F. R. S. Yorke’s The Modern House, published in 1934, and the second volume of Le Corbusier’s series The Complete Works. In his 1947 essay, The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa, Colin Rowe compared the Villa Savoye to Palladio’s Villa Rotonda.
The freedom given to Le Corbusier by the Savoyes resulted in a house that was governed more by his five principles than by any requirements of the occupants. Nevertheless, it was the last time these five principles were expressed so thoroughly, and the house marked the end of one phase of his design approach and the latest in a series of buildings dominated by the color white.
Years later, it was purchased by the neighboring school, and it became the property of the French state in 1958. There were several proposals to demolish the house at that time. However, it was designated an official French historical monument in 1965 (a rare event, as Le Corbusier was still living). It was thoroughly renovated between 1985 and 1997, and the refurbished house is now open to visitors year-round under the care of the Centre des monuments nationaux.
In July 2016, Le Corbusier’s house and several other works were registered as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Materials Used in Villa Savoye
The materials utilized in the Villa Savoye are conventional and commonly used in the construction of houses for lower-class Parisians during that time. Despite the house being designed for the wealthy, simple materials like plaster walls and iron handrails were employed.
Villa Savoye Floor Plans and Sketches
Villa Savoye Image Gallery
About Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier, born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887-1965), was a groundbreaking Swiss architect and city planner who merged functionalism and sculptural expressionism in his designs. He was a pioneer of the International School of Architecture and used rough-cast concrete for its aesthetic and sculptural qualities.
In 2016, 17 of his architectural works were named World Heritage sites by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), including the Ronchamp Chapel (France), the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo (Japan), the House of Dr. Curutchet in La Plata (Argentina), La Tourette in Eveux (France) and the Unitd’habitationon in Marseille (France).
- Source: Le Corbusier: The Villa Savoye by Jacques Sbriglio
- Source: Precisions: On the Present State of Architecture and City Planning by Le Corbusier, 1930.