le corbusier, villa savoye, 1928-29


Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye was built between 1929 and 1930 in Poissy, France.  It was built as a part of the Purist Movement, in which artists such as Le Corbusier shifted from overt ostentation toward clean lines.  He was also interested in making art and architecture appear more machine-like as a way of praising man’s intellect and technological innovation.  The Villa Savoye is a revolutionary building because it was designed to be functional and to revolve around people’s daily lives.  With its systematic efficiency, lack of ornamentation, and clean lines, the Villa Savoye exemplifies Purism and Le Corbusier’s desire to simplify design.

Its basic design makes the Villa Savoye a modern looking building.  It is primarily made of concrete and glass.  The outside is white with a green base and has little ornamentation, allowing the observer to view the building as a whole rather than to focus on individual features.  The Villa Savoye is a timeless piece of architecture because its lack of ornamentation makes it difficult to surmise when it was built.  Although it also lacks ornamentation, the roof is the one feature that stands out from the rest of building.  The roof, which is an abstract design built to function as a garden, is the only part of the architecture that is not symmetrical.  By making the roof garden different from the rest of the house, Le Corbusier’s design forces the eye upwards, making the observer examine the entire building.  By forcing the viewer to look at the entire building, the Villa Savoye seems to work as a unit, making it appear more efficient and machine-like.

Despite being one cohesive unit, the building is segmented into three parts: the ground level which consists of columns, the middle sections which contains the windows, and the roof garden.  In Le Corbusier: Architecture and Form, Peter Blake remarks that these levels illustrate “a poetic version of [Le Corbusier’s] favorite trinity – the stilt, the cube, and the sculptured roof.”[1]  These three sections seem to be the ‘parts’ in the ‘machine,’ which work together to make the Villa Savoye functional as a home by allowing the building to contain everything necessary for daily life in France.

The design choices Le Corbusier made for the Villa Savoye represent his interest in Purism.  He made the house seem almost cold and uninviting by painting it white and by excluding decoration, making it look more like a machine.  By making the house look like technology, it appeared more modern and less traditional, an important aim for Purists.  In “The Villa Savoye and the Historic Modernist Movement,” Kevin D. Murphy refers to the Villa Savoye as an example of early modernism.[2]  As most young architects went to schools which taught the importance of functionality, Le Corbusier introduced the revolutionary concept of creating harmony through creating architecture that was equally focused on aesthetic as function.

Le Corbusier created harmony between aesthetic and function by experimenting with light and space.  M. Christine Boyer describes Le Corbusier as designing his buildings to revolve around the needs of modern men.[3]  Since the modern world increasingly revolved around paper, there was a greater need for light.[4]  Accordingly, the Villa Savoye is surrounded by windows.  Le Corbusier also included desks and chairs to allow modern men to work using the natural light afforded by the many windows.  He also made the Villa Savoye spacious to create versatility within each room.  By focusing on light and space, Le Corbusier denounced the common practice of designing rooms for specific purposes.  He was also revolutionary in balancing aesthetic and function as the natural light and space made the building seem more organized thus more appealing.  The Villa Savoye was destroyed during World War II but has been restored and made into a museum as a pillar of early modernism.

Le Corbusier’s design for the Villa Savoye clearly attempts to harmonize function and aesthetic as well as traditional and modern.  For instance, he designed a spiral instead of a straight staircase, despite the fact that a straight staircase would be more efficient, which depicts his desire to strike a balance in his architecture.  Blake describes the significance of the foundation of the household similar to the balance struck by the design of the stairwell:

The Villa Savoye is divorced from the ground and raised up against the sky in a                             precise, geometric silhouette – raised up as if by some giant hand [ . . . . ] The                                 precise, geometric silhouette of the Villa Savoye permitted no confusion of                         architecture with nature. This was meant to be a man-made object, the product of                                 man’s one great distinguishing characteristic – pure reason.[5]

If, as Blake argues, Le Corbusier designed the Villa Savoye to express the power of man over nature, he did accomplish this feat.  The building is located in a large, open field and has several windows to utilize natural light and a rooftop garden.  It seems to embrace nature, rather than spurn it.  Because the Villa Savoye is a machine-like building surrounded by nature, it appears to present a balance between modernity and the natural world.

Le Corbusier was inspired by the geometry of the classical world, suggesting he wanted to harmonize old and new architecture.  He argued that Greek architecture was built using basic geometric shapes, which evoked emotional responses from observers.[6]  Le Corbusier considered geometry the “return to order” for which the French sought after the war.  Boyer describes Le Corbusier’s fascination with geometry and order:

A work of art [ . . . ] arises from a natural need for order; man is compelled to        create due to this need for order [ . . . . ] for to create order is the most elevated          human need.[7]

Because Le Corbusier considered this desire for order his motivation for design as well as people’s interest in art, he began focusing on using the basic geometric shapes in ancient architecture for his modern buildings.  By incorporating ancient techniques and adding modern features, Le Corbusier created a balance between traditional and modern, making the Villa Savoye an excellent example of the way in which Purism embraces clean lines and order while maintaining an aesthetic appeal.






Blake, Peter. Le Corbusier: Architecture and Form. Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books, 1960.

Boyer, M. Christine. Le Corbusier: Homme de Lettres. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011.

Murphy, Kevin D. “The Villa Savoye and the Modernist Historic Monument.” Journal of the

Society of Architectural Historians 61, no. 1 (2002): 68-89.   http://www.jstor.org/stable/991812.

[1] Peter Blake, Le Corbusier: Architecture and Form (Baltimore, Maryland: Penguin Books), 61.

[2] Kevin D. Murphy, “The Villa Savoye and the Modernist Historic Monument,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 68, no. 1 (2002): 68, http://www.jstor.org/stable/991812.

[3] M. Christine Boyer, Le Corbusier: Homme de Lettres (New York: Princeton Architectural Press), 390.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Blake, Le Corbusier, 64.


[6] Boyer, Le Corbusier, 287.

[7] Ibid.

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