Rear View / Villa Savoye
Villa Savoye’s Rear Facade

The 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

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 Corbusier 1

Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye Photographs

Satellite Plan Villa Savoye
Aerial View of the Villa Savoye | Source: Google Maps
Apprach to the building
Front Facade / Approach to Villa Savoye
Rear Facade - Villa Savoye / Le Corbusier
Side View Villa Savoye
Living Room Interior View
Villa Savoye Living Room
Living Room Opening to Courtyard - Villa Savoye / Le Corbusier
Courtyard View from Living Room
Roof Level - Villa Savoye / Le Corbusier
Courtyard at First Level
Glass Openings - Villa Savoye / Le Corbusier
Sliding Doors at Courtyard
Villa Savoye Balcony View
© Fernando Leiva
Staircase and ramp
Villa Savoye Staircase and Ramp at First Level
Staircase at Ground floor
Villa Savoye Staircase

Villa Savoye: The 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 architecture bookVers Une Architecture” gained recognition, and he was a member of the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM). He was known as a modern architecture champion and was involved with the Russian avant-garde through his work with the Centrosoyuz in Moscow.

In the early 1920s, Le Corbusier emphasized 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, to mass-produce housing.

The supporting pillars on the ground floor further reinforce this idea, and the independence of the Villa from its ground is considered a vital aspect of the first generation of International Architecture.

The Making of Villa Savoye: A Look at its Construction Process

Construction - Villa Savoye / Le Corbusier
Villa Savoye during Construction | © Foundation Le Corbusier
Construction & Renovation - Villa Savoye / Le Corbusier
Villa Savoye during Construction | © Foundation Le Corbusier

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, including 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.

The materials utilized in the Villa Savoye were 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.

The Influence of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye

Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye (1929–1931) most succinctly summarized his five points of architecture, which he had elucidated in the journal L’Esprit Nouveau and his book Vers une Architecture and had been developing throughout the 1920s.

  1. Pilotis
    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.
  2. Free Facade
    Non-supporting walls that could be designed as the architect wished.
  3. Open Floor Plan
    The floor space was free to configure into rooms without concern for supporting walls.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.  Inside, incorporating stylish kitchen floor tiles adds an element of sophistication and practicality to the design, complementing the building’s harmonious blend of functionality and aesthetics.

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

The Automobile as a Design Influence

One of the most innovative aspects of Villa Savoye is its incorporation of the automobile into its design, reflecting the significance of car culture in the early 20th century. Le Corbusier envisioned the villa as a machine for living in, with the car playing a crucial role in this vision. The ground floor of Villa Savoye was designed as a carport, allowing for the seamless integration of the vehicle into the daily lives of its inhabitants. This area was specifically designed to accommodate the turning radius of a 1927 Citroën, showcasing Le Corbusier’s attention to detail and the importance of the car in his architectural planning.

The driveway and carport are integral to the overall experience of the villa, guiding visitors on a journey from the outside world into the heart of the project. The car’s pathway through the building is akin to a ceremonial route, leading directly to the main living areas via a ramp — a feature that highlights the significance of the automobile in connecting the different aspects of modern life. For architects and designers today, Villa Savoye’s treatment of the car and parking areas serves as a powerful source of inspiration, particularly in the design of custom garage door design inspiration that blends functionality with architectural integrity.

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.

Villa Savoye Floor Plans and Sketches

Floor Plans Villa Savoye
Floor Plans | © Foundation Le Corbusier
Sketch by Le Corbusier of Villa Savoye Terrace
Sketch by Le Corbusier
Elevation Villa Savoye / Le Corbusier
Elevation Villa Savoye | © Foundation Le Corbusier

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 Unite d’habitation in Marseille (France).

Full Bio of Le Corbusier | Other works from Le Corbusier 

  1. Source: Le Corbusier: The Villa Savoye by Jacques Sbriglio
  2. Source: Precisions: On the Present State of Architecture and City Planning by Le Corbusier, 1930.