It’s our last day in Paris, what shall we do?
I have a few ideas…
It’s a really long way to go to see a house.
It’s not a house, it’s a villa…
Is it a villa in the woods?
It is set in the middle of the meadows, without disturbing anything. Here is it, Villa Savoye!
Villa Savoye is a major example of 20th century architecture and one of the finest works by the great architect of Swiss origin Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier (1887 – 1965). The first impression of the villa is of a perfectly white parallelepiped resting on slender concrete columns in the middle of a lawn.
The villa is in Poissy, in the outskirts of Paris. It was designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, and built between 1928 and 1931 using reinforced concrete. A manifesto of Le Corbusier’s “five points” of new architecture, the villa is representative of the basis of modern architecture, and is one of the most easily recognizable and renowned examples of the International style.
The house was originally built as a country retreat on behest of the Savoye family. During World War II the Jewish Savoye family was sent to concentration camps by the Nazis who took over the house and used it for storage. After being purchased by the neighbouring school it passed on to be property of the French state in 1958, and after surviving several plans of demolition, it was designated as an official French historical monument in 1965 (a rare occurrence, as Le Corbusier was still living at the time). It was thoroughly renovated from 1985 to 1997, and under the care of the Centre des monuments nationaux, the refurbished house is now open to visitors year-round.
When Le Corbusier was commissioned to build the house for the Savoye family in 1928, he had just celebrated his 40th birthday. He had been living in Paris for the past ten years and was a fully acknowledged member of the artistic avant-garde, not only as an architect, but also as a painter and a man of letters. Between 1920 and 1925, he wrote a series of articles for the mythical review L’Esprit nouveau. It ran to 28 issues, from which were collected and published four books marking the beginning of modernity in architecture and town planning, the most famous of which was the highly polemical Vers une architecture, later translated as Towards a New Architecture and translated into several languages. He was one of the first members of Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) and was becoming known as a champion of modern architecture.
The villas designed by Corbusier in the early part of the 1920s demonstrated what he termed the “precision” of architecture, where each feature of the design needed to be justified in design and urban terms. His work in the later part of the decade, including his designs urban for Algiers began to be more free-form.
Pierre and Emilie Savoye approached Corbusier about building a country home in Poissy in the spring of 1928. The site was on a green field on an otherwise wooded plot of land with a magnificent landscape view to the north-west that corresponded with the approach to the site along the road. Corbusier received a very clear brief for a summer house to “be set like an object in the middle of the meadow without disturbing anything”. Apart from additional requirements for space for cars, an extra bedroom and a caretaker’s lodge, Corbusier had complete freedom with the job and he was only limited by his own architectural palette. He began work on the project in September 1928.
The idea of creating a box-like building on columns soon emerged as the obvious solution. The clients were pleased with the idea, but the first estimate proved to be much too high (although the final cost in fact exceeded it…). Between then and the summer of 1929, Le Corbusier, assisted by his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, thought up several variants, before adopting a solution that was very similar to the original version: the idea of using both a ramp and a spiral staircase to get to the upper levels was retained, while the top level became a solarium and all the distances were shortened (the distance between the posts was reduced from 5m to 4.75m).
The project met with the clients’ approval, but putting it into practice soon proved to be quite another matter. Hardly had the building been completed, in the summer of 1931, when it was discovered that the house was not watertight, the main culprit being the ramp. A first restoration campaign therefore had to be organised, the main objectives being to seal the terraces and restore the paintwork, but the architect seems to have taken very little interest in the proceedings!
Apart from the first repairs which were carried out by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret in 1931, the Villa Savoye has undergone three important series of restorations.
The first full-scale restoration was carried out between 1963 and 1967, under the direction of the architect Jean Dubuisson. Le Corbusier was excluded from the operation, for fear that he might overmodify his work. He nevertheless had the right to inspect the work that was performed; it was with his support that all the original narrow frames of the sliding wood windows (steel windows initially planned turned out to be far too expensive) were replaced by thicker, painted aluminium frames.
Twenty years later, through lack of upkeep, the house was again in need of major restoration work. Particularly affected were parts of the main structure and its facades. This time the work was directed by Jean-Louis Veret (member of Le Corbusier studio) from 1985 to 1993.
The house has been opened to the public since 1992 and since then, it has received around 20,000 visitors a year, one third of them architects or architecture students. In 1996-1997 further was carried out to make the house more suitable for public use. The principal objectives were to scientifically restore the atmosphere of its interior by getting as close as possible to the original polychromy (complete restoration of the interior paintwork), improving safety conditions by rewiring and installing a system of electronic surveillance, and restoring its surroundings by reconstructing the original garden and grass-covered area on the southern side.
The Villa Savoye is probably Corbusier’s best known building from the 1930s, it had enormous influence on international modernism. It was designed addressing his emblematic “Five Points”, the basic tenets in his new architectural aesthetic. The freedom given to Corbusier by the Savoyes resulted in a house that was governed more by his five principles than any requirements of the occupants. Despite this, it was the last time this happened in such a complete way and the house marked the end of a phase in his design thinking as well as being the last of a series of buildings dominated by the colour white. His five principles allowed for increased access to vast amounts of light, air and space while creating uninterrupted openings in building facades and liberating the interior from the post and beam reinforced concrete structures within.
The Villa Savoye was a very influential building of the 1930s and imitations of it can be found all over the world. The west wing of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra designed by Ashton Raggatt McDougall, is a near exact replica of the Villa Savoye, except its black colour. This antipodean architectural quotation is according to Howard Raggat “a kind of inversion, a reflection, but also a kind of shadow”.
Villa Savoye is on the pilgrimage trail for architects and architecture students, and little bears with Lego sets.
Some of the pieces have fallen off!
It needs restoration, just like the big one, but we can do that back home.
Back in Paris, a little walk in the park to the north of the Place de la Bastille.
On Thursdays and Sundays, a large, open-air market occupies part of the park, along the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir. Consumers can find fresh fruit, fish, meat, cheese and bread along with clothing and typical flea market items. Little bears were looking for bear sized windmills. And they found one!
After a little lunch…
… two little bears decided to walk in the footsteps of inventors and pioneers of progress and explore a one-of-a-kind repository of scientific and technical knowledge… at Musée des arts et métiers.
In 1794, Henri Grégoire, a cleric and National Convention deputy, proposed that a “Conservatory for arts and crafts to assemble all f the newly invented or perfected tools and machines” be created. The museum would spark curiosity and help train artists and craftsmen by permitting them to “copy excellent models”. From this sprang the idea of a site to conserve and display machines, models, tools, inventories and books that would serve to “perfect the national industry”. The Conservatoire would be housed in the former abbey of Saint-Martin-des-Champs, appropriated by the Conservatoire des Arts at Métiers on June 10, 1798. The former abbey’s new purpose saved it from being demolished.
The collection dates back to the contraptions bequeathed to Louis XVI by the mechanical engineer Jacques Vaucanson (1709 – 1782). The collection of such objects as “machines for making chains” and “crafting techniques for producing silk fabrics” would soon be expanded to include Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot’s fardier or steam carriage, the first steam-run “automobile” which had just left the Arsenal in 1800 for the Conservatoire; Ferdinand Berthoud’s marine chronometers; and precious objects from Charles and Abbé Nollet’s collection of physical apparatus. Among the gifts from the Académie des Sciences were Lavoisier’s laboratory instruments and The Dulcimer Player, an automaton that once belonged to Marie-Antoinette.
Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum published in 1988 enhanced the popularity of the prestigious yet little known museum.
“You enter and are stunned by a conspiracy in which the sublime universe of heavenly ogives and the chthonian world gas guzzlers are juxtaposed.” Umberto Eco
The year was 1600: The Florentine camerata had invented baroque music and Giordano Bruno, the link between Copernicus and Galileo, was burned at the stake for heresy when he insisted that the Earth revolved around the Sun. But this theory was soon to become a certainty, and the next two-and-a-half centuries were full of excitement for the inquiring mind, and on February 3, 1851, Léon Foucault finally proved that our planet is a spinning top! His demonstration was so beautifully simple and his instrument so modest that it was a fitting tribute to the pioneers of Renaissance. Foucault, having observed that a pendulum’s plane of oscillation is invariable, looked for a way to verify the movement of the earth in relation to this plane – and to prove it. He did this by attaching a bob to the sphere of the pendulum, so that it brushed against a bed of damp sand. The pendulum was only attached to the Earth at a single point, which allowed it to maintain its direction of oscillation. The pattern traced in the sand showed that it was not the pendulum that turned, but the Earth, turning beneath the pendulum. The rotation of the instrument was only apparent; it is the Earth and everything firmly attached to the Earth, including people, that are turning around the pendulum.
Foucault made his first demonstration to his peers, in the Observatory’s Meridian room at the beginning of February, and did it again in March for Prince Bonaparte, under the Pantheon’s dome. The pendulum he used was seventy-seven meters high, and swung in sixteen-second periods, thereby demonstrating the movement of the Earth in a single swing.
It does swing! With an enigmatic tranquility. And little Puffles and Honey are hypnotized by Foucault’s pendulum, which shows before their very eyes that the Earth is turning.
Today, in the deconsecrated church of Saint-Martin-des Champs, built on the site of a 6th century Merovingian funerary basilica, a pendulum swings, left to right. Its oscillations continue with reassuring regularity, its movement maintained by an electromagnetic device in the base of the installation.
The Musée des arts et métiers was refurbished in 2000, and now exhibits over 2,400 inventions. They are split into seven collections Scientific instruments, Materials, Energy, Mechanics, Construction, Communication and Transport.
On the way back to the hotel, Puffles and Honey met a new pawsome friend 🙂
At the hotel, little bears got excited about their new acquisitions…
Look Honey, Volta introduced his battery to Napoleon in 1801.
And Levi invented blue jeans in 1873.
Have you fallen asleep after snacking on the cakes?