A Corbusian Cruise

Last month, students were treated to an week of workshops, exhibitions, and a Parisian dérive centered around the work of modernist architect Le Corbusier. Here are some highlights from the week.

Installation view of Hoel Duret, “Too Dumb to Fail”

The cruise began with a private tour of Hoel Duret’s installation “Too Dumb to Fail” at Galerie Manet in Gennevilliers.  The exhibition takes place on a grounded cruise ship – the MS Lagoon Princesse  – her systems have begun to fail. The lighting is eerie, a haunting song plays over and over.  The setting is on the coast of Brazil. The ship is shutting down. Half melted light fixtures slump from the walls.  Passengers and crew move and pose on a gallery of video screens. Towels hang from distorted racks. The hero, on the cruise in search of a mysterious new kind of music enters the Ship’s Lounge again and again.

Installation view of Hoel Duret, “Too Dumb to Fail”

This installation is only the beginning – research continues in a workshop at Parsons Paris exploring the scenario of utopian superstructures – these ideal projects are a feature of Le Corbusier’s work, and these self contained worlds are the very definition of a cruise ship.

Exterior of the Villa Savoye

We started the next week with a visit to Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye at Poissy (built 1928-1931).  We took an early train with Professor Rebecca Cavanaugh – in the pouring rain – but the villa is still glorious. The elevations evoke the imagery of a cruise ship, and the composition elegantly embodies Le Corbusier’s concept of a house as a ‘machine for living.’  We walked through the house, experiencing the fluid circulation and relationships of spaces, as well as the abundance of light incorporated into the plan. The design of the Villa Savoye was critical to the development of Le Corbusier’s later work and theoretical writings.

The iconic staircase of the Villa Savoye

We ended the week with a day-long derive through Paris with Professor Gabriel Wick to view more of Le Corbusier’s projects.  We started in the 13th arrondissement at La cite de refugé – the recently restored homeless shelter originally completed 1929-1933.  The building houses up to 600 people in individual cells above, the lower level base provides dining and recreational facilities as well as a medical clinic.  Le Corbusier’s provision of light and air to residents, as well as his use of color is emblematic of his work; and his use of glass block walls and ceramic tile in bright white and primary colors marking the entry and the residential floors distinguishes the building in the neighborhood.  The original construction was sponsored by the princesse de Polignac, who maintained an apartment on the roof terrace, which now houses staff.

Cité de Refugé

We passed by the Maison Planeix (1925-28) on boulevard Massena – the house was built for the sculptor Antonin Planeix, and features an enclosed ground floor in lieu of pilotis – this was added to create rentable studio space.

The Maison-Atelier Ozenfant

Our next stop was the Maison-Atelier Ozenfant (1922), built for the artist Amedee Ozenfant off avenue Reille near the Parc Montsouris.  The maison interior is flooded with an abundance of light – from the horizontal windows of the apartment on the first floor to the glazed walls of the grand studio on the second floor – a roof terrace opens to views of the reservoir beyond.

Then on to Cite Universitaire (founded 1921) – we had lunch at their cafeteria, then proceeded to the two residential pavilions designed by Le Corbusier.

The Swiss Pavilion (1930-1933) was unfortunately (for us) undergoing restoration, so we were able to see it only from the outside, but the buildings adherence to Le Corbusier’s principles is evident.  The structure is elevated – for budgetary reasons on concrete piers rather than slender pilotis – communal activities are located in a low stone-clad building, student apartments are above, provided with abundant light from the horizontal windows in the curtain wall.

Cité Universitaire – Swiss pavilion

The Brazilian Pavilion (with Lucio Costa, 1957-1959) is an example of Corbusier’s later work, done with one of his former students.  This structure also rests on concrete piers and features a base accommodating communal and office spaces with residential floors above.  Balconies are recessed, with interior walls painted in bright colors, enlivening the beton brut facade, panels of colored glazing bring color and light to the lobby.

Interior view of Villa La Roche

The 16th arrondissement was the next stop – two adjacent maisons located on square du Docteur Blanche – the Maisons La Roche et Jeanneret  (both 1923-1925). The Maison La Roche now houses the Fondation Le Corbusier. The house illustrates perfectly Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture – pilotis, free plan, free facade, flat roof and ribbon windows – it was designed for an art collector, and accommodates gallery space as well as living – it is furnished with the original furniture designed by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, and Jeanneret.

Interior of the Villa La Roche

The last stop was rue Robert Mallet Stevens (1927).  The street was planned as a subdivision – a block of white cubist structures inserted into the urban fabric.  Mallet Stevens was responsible for design of all the houses, including his own house and studio (at number 12), and a house and studio for the Martel brothers (at number 10) – sculptors for many art deco and modern projects.