It seems paradoxical that someone involved in one of the most conservative professions, the insurance industry, commissioned a radical and emblematic symbol of modernist architecture. M. Pierre Savoye and his wife Emilie gave free rein to Le Corbusier and his cousin Jean Jeanneret to build a residence in the outskirts of Paris on a wooded plot of land located on slightly elevated ground. It commanded great views at the time of the construction.
The white and geometrical structure almost floats in the middle of a richly green grass. My first impression was of a spacecraft just landed or about to take off. It is a monument to a strong faith in function. Le Corbusier developed his architectural principles on the basis that housing must simply fulfill its operative mission: a sheltering structure, a space for daily chores and, curiously, a container of light. The rest is superfluous. He dismissed with the fervor of a militant, cluttering rooms with furniture and decorative features. The language of architecture had to be as close as possible to the language of the machine: streamlined and efficient. This hyperbole is well on show at Villa Savoye.
How does Villa Savoye speak to today’s sensibility? The man who revolutionized building design and postwar urbanism seems to just murmur faintly to contemporaries. This bare and austere villa evokes more than a rupture with the past. It generates a plethora of contrasting emotions: purity and fluidity but also denial and lack. Madame Savoye wrote to the architect in 1937 “after innumerable demands on my part, you have finally accepted that this house which you built in 1929 is uninhabitable”. The roofs leaked as soon as the owners moved in. The dream of the visionary had some practical flaws. The marriage of function and architecture ended in this case in divorce.