le corbusier [redux]

On Saturday morning, Seth and I awoke bright and early (6:30 am! geez) to catch an RER-A train to Poissy, a western suburb of Paris. Once we arrived (thirty minutes early!), we waited on the platform for our studiomates and our Replaying Modernism professor Jim before heading into “town” for a quick, much needed café. Our first stop on our walking tour was the Villa Savoye (1928-1931), a country retreat designed and built by Modernist architect Le Corbusier. Seven of us had seen the house as sophomores, so we were not too excited to revisit it. As Sanket, our studiomate and tour guide, talked us through the project, I quickly began to realize how much I had learned in the past four years. The concepts of forced perspective, machine aesthetics, and sculptural experimentation were suddenly clear. I had read about these ideas in books, and I had visited Futurist paintings in museums, but seeing them again as one inhabitable space felt so different. For the longest time, I had been angry with the building’s longstanding function as a museum, but I began to understand that the Villa Savoye was never really meant to be lived in. It was an experimentation in bringing together Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture (pilotis, a free facade, an open floor plan, ribbon windows, and a roof garden), Fernand Léger’s Tubist aesthetic, and the new century’s mass production.

After meandering through the Villa Savoye, we took a taxi to Neuilly-sur-Seine to see the Maisons Jaoul (1954-1956). The ride was tight and smelly, and the weather had taken a turn for the worst, so we were all pretty grumpy. Seth guided us through the two houses or, rather, the first floor of each house. The houses are currently occupied, so public viewing is limited. It was interesting to see the houses filled with stuff—furniture, general clutter. They seemed less like pieces of Architecture (with a capital A) and more like… architecture. They were quiet, restrained, even somewhat ordinary.

We broke for a quick lunch in the 16th arrondissement before heading to 24, rue Nungesser-et-Coli (1931-1934) or, as Americans tend to call it, 24 N.C. The eight-story apartment building sits at the very edge of the city, with Le Corbusier’s penthouse and studio hiding at the top. It was my turn to guide the class through a building (Sanket guided the first and Seth, the second), so I talked some about the concept but mostly about the details. Chronologically, my project fell between the first and second projects, so I was able to draw comparisons between all three. I was quite relieved go to last, as Sanket and Seth’s tours gave me a lot to work with.

After a long day of walking and learning, Seth and I took the subway home. (We really should have taken an RER!) We picked up a couple of bottles of wine and a six-pack of beer at our neighborhood grocery store before turning in for a quick nap. A couple hours later, our friends came over for beverages and conversation. Once the wine and our appetites kicked in, we walked to the Arcade Brady for some Indian food. With ten to twelve restaurants to choose from, we finally settled on one. (Sohael’s nose led the way.) The food was good, if a little carnivorous. After dinner, a few of our friends went to a bar down the street. Seth and I were too full and too tired to ingest any more alcohol, so we walked home. We hoped we would wake up this morning feeling rejuvenated and motivated to work. False. All I want to do is play with my camera.

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