France’s Villa Savoye sits just outside Paris, elevated above a lush meadow and a nearby forest. The striking home is considered emblematic of International Style, and just a quick look at its streamlined figure and large glass windows, both key elements of the style, proves that to be true.
Villa Savoye was built from 1928-1931 by Swiss architect Le Corbusier for the Savoye family. Le Corbusier was a considered a rising architectural star of the time— he had published a popular book on his design principles and won a number of architectural competitions.
The Savoye family were only looking for a few things from Corbusier: they wanted a country estate to escape from busy Paris, a place for their cars, an extra bedroom and a caretaker’s house. The rest they left up to the architect. Le Corbusier soon designed a home he considered a modern take on the French country house that was representative of the new machine age.
The home embodied Le Corbusier’s mantra that the “home was a machine for living,” as its modular design was efficient, innovative and ready for the couple’s every need. The villa contained a central courtyard that was surrounded by numerous private spaces, a ramp to take its residents from one floor to the next, a small garage and a rooftop terrace and garden.
Villa Savoye also stayed true to every one of Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture— the only one of Corbusier’s designs to do that. The home was lifted from the ground thanks to a series of pile-ons, allowing a garden to grow beneath it (Point 1) and there was a rooftop terrace and garden that “gave back” the earth the space the home had taken (Point 2).
Villa Savoye had an open floor plan (Point 3) and long, horizontal, clerestory-like windows that brought in fresh air and sunshine (Point 4). Finally, because the exterior walls were not load-bearing, Villa Savoye’s facades could be ‘freely designed’ (Point 5).
The Savoyes moved into the home in 1931, and remained there until World War II. However, the villa was not without its problems— the exterior was prone to cracking and the roof often leaked. These problems were only amplified during the war, as the home was occupied by both the Germans and Americans, who further damaged the structure.
The couple eventually abandoned the home after the war, and it was later purchased by the French government in 1958, who thought about turning it into a school. However, thanks to the conservation efforts of numerous architecture aficionados and architects (including Le Corbusier), the home was designated as an official French monument in 1965.
Over the next few decades, Villa Savoye underwent numerous renovations before it was opened to the public. It was eventually designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016, and now tens of thousands of people visit the monument to International Style each year.
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