Sanctuary for Modern Architecture – Villa Savoye, France

Villa Savoye

Villa Savoye, one of the most important house designs of the 20th century was designed by two Swiss architects Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret which was completed in 1929 and has paved the way to an effective contribution to modern architecture. The country house is now open to the public showcasing Corbusier’s initial design venture as well as one of the most influential buildings to the modern era.

Sanctuary for Modern Architecture - Villa Savoye, France
The perspective view of the house

Design of Villa Savoye

This villa has shown Corbusier’s precision in architecture as well as the design evolved around the 5 principles established by him:

Sanctuary for Modern Architecture - Villa Savoye, France
Corbusier’s five principles
  • Pilotis: Le Corbusier lifted the bulk of the structure off the ground, supporting it by pilotis – reinforced concrete stilts. These pilotis provided the structural support of the house and allowed him to elucidate his next two points.
  • Free Facade: The non-supporting walls, 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 to enjoy panoramic scenery while complementing Western Europe’s climatic weakness, which lacked sunshine.
  • Roof Garden: A functional roof serving 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 architecture through the structure.
Sanctuary for Modern Architecture - Villa Savoye, France
Roof garden at Villa Savoye

Floor Plans

Corbusier planned the ground floor according to the ratios of the golden section. The plan has set out using the principal ratios of the Golden section: in this case, a square divided into sixteen equal parts, extended on two sides to incorporate the projecting façades and then further divided so as to fix the position of the ramp and the entrance.

The ground floor consists of the main entrance hall, ramp, stairs, garage, chauffeur, and maid’s room. The first floor consists of the master bedroom, the son’s bedroom, guest bedroom, kitchen, salon, and terraces. Also at the second floor has a series of sculpted spaces that form a solarium. This private country residence settles in a sloping meadow surrounded by forest with a magnificent view by the riverside. The house occupies the center of the site also is the fact its leveled upon four pillars where every side and elevation of the house is designed and treated according to the sun’s orientation.

Sanctuary for Modern Architecture - Villa Savoye, France
An exploded view of the house

Circulation

Corbusier introduced also circular and elliptical arcs, such as in the staircase and the solarium. The spiral staircase of the villa paves the way to the winds straight up giving access to two cellars. The front of the house bears the front door leading to the main door throwing light on one of the most important elements of the house beside the stairs and that is the ramp. The ramp runs from the bottom of the house throughout the building acting as the spine of the house prolonging this movement from outside inward, and a spiral staircase. The garage which can accommodate up to 3 cars is laid out at a 45-degree angle matching the turning circle of the car. Also, from the solarium, the user can descend the spiral staircase which leads down to the entrance hall.

Sanctuary for Modern Architecture - Villa Savoye, France
The stairs at Villa Savoye

Spatial Treatment at Villa Savoye

The kitchen is not the sanctuary of the house but is precisely the important space with the living room where it is used the most. The living room is perceived as a closed space that acts as the main room of the house and has huge glass panels which open out to the terrace garden.

Sanctuary for Modern Architecture - Villa Savoye, France
The view to the living room

The bathroom of the master bedroom shows the villas most exquisite features where it has a rectangular bath clad in 5cm x 5cm turquoise blue ceramic tiles and a concrete reclining chase – long at the edge of the bath which is completely based on the earlier designs that the architect has worked on.

The view of the bathroom

The garden is not placed on the ground but is lifted 3.5m above. Thus it acts as a hanging garden and also paves the way to the landscape of the site. Moreover, the solarium that sited at the top of the house is placed where the ramp ends. It acts as an anchor to the house between the exterior view and the given landscape.

Although Villa Savoye, perceived as a simple design but has a very complex construction perspective. While Le Corbusier was experimenting with new concepts both on a functional and formal level. Those contracted to build the house were still involved in traditional skills and techniques.

Windows of Villa Savoye

The windows that Corbusier has used here are slightly different from the other contemporary design of his where here he highlights horizontal ribbon windows and he often chose timber rather than metal ones.  It has been suggested that this is because he was interested in glass for its planar properties and that the set-back position of the glass in the timber frame allowed the façade to be seen as a series of parallel planes.

The ribbon windows of Villa Savoye

Colour Palette

The color was nevertheless a strong display of polychromy (the art of combining colors) where Corbusier also states that “a man needs color”. Colour is the immediate, spontaneous expression of life. The Villa Savoye is predominantly white but the two side walls of the garage of the servant quarters. Also, painted dark green to create empathy with the surrounding lawn. A row of slender reinforced concrete columns supports the upper level, which painted white. The lower level is the setback and painted green like the surrounding forest. This is to create the perception of a floating volume above.

View of the living room

Materials of Villa Savoye

The materials used in the Villa Savoye are prosaic materials; such materials were using during this time in building houses for lower-class Parisians. Although the house is designed for the affluent, plaster walls and iron handrails were used. The most frequently used materials plaster walls, green painted plaster walls, and glass.

Elevation drawings with material

Recognition

The house was included in the seminal 1932 book The International Style: Architecture Since 1922. This was done by American historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock and architect Philip Johnson. It also coincides with their Modern Architecture: International Exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Villa Savoye floor plans

Also Read: Tokyo Garden and House by Ryue Nishizawa

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