Completed in 1931 by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret in Poissy, The Villa Savoye is one of the most significant contributions to modern architecture in the 20th century and an outstanding example of the International style. The revolutionary building is also an early example of the architect’s “five points” for new constructions.
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
Villa Savoye Photographs
History of the House
The house was initially built as a country retreat for the Savoye family. Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret were contacted in the spring of 1928 by Pierre Sayoye, a wealthy French insurer, and his wife Eugénie, who wanted to commission them the design.
By the end of the 1920s, Le Corbusier was already an internationally renowned architect. His book Vers Une Architecture has been translated into several languages. His work with the Centrosoyuz in Moscow had involved him with the Russian avant-garde, and his problems with the League of Nations competition had been widely publicized. He was also one of the first members of the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) and became known as a modern architecture champion.
The villas designed by Le Corbusier in the early 1920s demonstrated what he termed the “precision” of architecture, where each design feature needed to be justified in design and urban terms. His work in the latter part of the decade, including his urban plans for Algiers, became more free-form.
The house is a box in the air
– Le Corbusier2
Villa Savoye Construction
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.
Villa Savoye Influence
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 for Nature the land occupied by the building. 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.
Legacy of the Villa Savoye
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.
Villa Savoye Plans
Villa Savoye Image Gallery
About Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier, or Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887 -1965), was an international 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 Villa Savoye by Jacques Sbriglio
- Source: Precisions: On the Present State of Architecture and City Planning by Le Corbusier, 1930.