Blog — 15 Apr 2015
For an architect, there is inevitably a heightened level of curiosity and anticipation when visiting the home of another architect, never more so than when it is one of contemporary architectures great heroes. Le Corbusier’s apartment and studio sits at the top of a building that he designed in Paris’s 16th arrondissement for the commercial developer Kouznetzoff and Noble in 1931-34. Today the apartment is owned and managed by the Fondation Le Corbusier, and can be visited each week on Saturdays. There is something quite exciting about ringing the buzzer, being let in by intercom and taking the lift to the sixth floor and then walking up to the 7th floor, to be greeted at its front door, it feels authentic, like visiting a friend. It reminded me of when I used to visit The Soane Museum as a student, it used to have this quality. I do think that it is quite unusual to enjoy a similar experience 35 years on.
The apartment does not disappoint, not only is it spatially interesting in plan and volume, it has a human and personal quality that perhaps tells us more about the architect as a designer, artist and human being than any other of his works. Residential architecture resides in the details that define daily life, the kitchen the bathroom, the storage spaces or the fireplace for example. Le Corbusier designed this place for his own use, it is not a public building or a manifesto, it is his home and studio, he used it until his death in 1965, unlike Soane I am sure he never imagined that it would be museum piece.
To a student of Corbusier's work the apartment uses a familiar palette of materials and colour, it is nevertheless exciting and challenging, the materials are selected to reinforce the spaces and to shape the way daylight enters. Glass manifests itself in many guises, clear for views, obscured or wired for light and privacy, coloured to highlight the dining table, glass block for diffracted shadowless light to work by. Paneled timber ceilings contrast with the plastered white vaults of the studio and dining space. Smooth painted dividing walls contrast with the raw brick and stone of the party walls.
Whilst the early twentieth century modernists were searching for a new architecture for the machine age, technology was some way behind the curve. As a result architecture of this period often has a crafted hand made quality, perhaps that is why it is so appealing, and in some ways relevant to us today. Lighting, heating, plumbing has become so complex, a result of legislation as much as affluence, but does it enrich the quality of life or just make us all conform to a set of regulations that tick the right boxes and enhance value? Or do we really only want a basin, a tap, a radiator, a light bulb? Why not put on a jumper if the temperature drops, or go to the local shop to get your bread and milk everyday. Do we really need remote controlled heating, and fridges that tell us when we need to order some more butter? It is all so joyless, conformist and dull. So visiting a property like this is uplifting, it is modernist and yet it is quirky and humane.
Perhaps it is his bed that exemplifies why this place is so fascinating, in order to enjoy the views of the Boulogne over the concrete balustrade of the principle façade, it is raised on spindly legs to a height of around four feet.