What I recently learned about the Villa Savoye

So, yes Talia, I am finally blogging…

Anyways, so this summer I read Towards a New Architecture like a good architecture student, and it was interesting.  Personally I believe I would have to read it multiple times in order to understand it.  Le Corbusier seems to declare his thoughts without much detail as to what he is getting at (might be a language translation thing), and I also am not familiar with the time period so references go over my head.  From the gist that I did understand, I believe that he is too closed minded in what he proposes.  He proclaims that the “modern man wants a monk’s cell, well lit and heated, with a corner from which he can look at the stars” and while thats good for some people I believe that there are many different people with very different wants.  Now please feel free to dispute my findings because, like I said, I am no where an expert on the book or the man, I just wanted to let you know my beginning feelings.

Now the second book I began this summer and am going to probably finish tonight is The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton.  This book I found very clear and easy for me to understand.  It is very interesting because the author melds human psychology with architecture.  I highly suggest this book.  But first something interesting and possibly funny that appeared in the book.

Yes it does have to do with our dear friend the Villa Savoye or as le corbusier calls it “a machine for living”

Did you know… ?

“One week after the (Savoye’s) moved in, the roof sprang a leak over Roger’s bedroom, letting in so much water that the boy contracted a chest infection, which turned into pneumonia, which  eventually required him to spend a year recuperating in a sanatorium.”

Letter from Madame Savoye to Le Corbusier: “It’s raining in the hall, it’s raining on the ramp, and the wall of the garage is absolutely soaked.  What’s more, it’s still raining in my bathroom, which floods in bad weather, as the water comes in through the skylight.”    …. and even further added on to that…  “After innumberable demands on my part, you have finally accepted that this house which you built in 1929 is uninhabitable.”

Interesting stuff huh?

-Becky Cole


4 Responses to “What I recently learned about the Villa Savoye”

  1. 1 Liza
    2009/06/20 at 7:22 am


    What in particular does Alain de Botton say about human psychology? Could you describe this more?

    Also, I think that many of us are quite sick of the Villa Savoye considering that we were lectured about it and had to recreate it in 3-D model form. So any kind of talk that describes how the function does not, is probably encouraged..

    A machine for living, huh? That makes the reference in episode 2 of Mister Glasses much more understandable.

  2. 2009/06/21 at 3:26 pm

    Haha. Glad to see you blogging, Becky.

    I think the nature of the manifesto also has something to do with the declarative and sometimes ambiguous nature of Towards a New Architecture.

    Also, keep in mind that Corbu’s modern man is not necessarily our modern man, or anyone else’s for that matter. HE is his modern man. HE wants a quiet “well lit and heated” place to work and to think. We might generalize similarly and say that our modern man wants high-speed internet and some “chill” music (to work and to think). There will always be different wants and needs, regardless of the time period, but for the sake of the manifesto, sweeping generalizations are usually justified in the point they’re making (maybe that no one wanted to outwardly recognize the fact that that “monk’s cell” was so appealing, and so nothing like that could be found in the architecture of that era?).

    De Botton is on my To Read list. I’ve heard mixed responses to the book, but mostly good. And as you mentioned, the number one thing people say is that it’s accessible and just makes sense. From what I understand, it’s also sort of a manifesto (?) so it might prove interesting to contrast the two.

    In defense of Le Corbusier, leaking roofs certainly make you aware of living…as does pneumonia.

    And Mister Glasses is the MAN.

  3. 3 cmuarch2013student
    2009/06/21 at 9:44 pm

    So, I will now elaborate of some of the finer points in the book I just read due to popular demand…

    To quote the back of the book which may be better at describing what the book entails this book is about “the philosophy and psychology of architecture and the indelible connections between our identities and locations.”

    De Botton investigates what beauty is and how it affects us throught the arts, specifically architecture. He contrasts the idea of beauty with the modernist point of view that architecture is not to be beautiful but to function well. He says that humans look for buildings for function and another purpose that is attributed to a certain emotion. He uses John Ruskin’s idea, (yes from Critical histories “some obscure reference to glass beads”) that we want buildings for shelter but also to “speak to us-to speak of whatever we find important and need to be reminded of.” This idea is of course very vague which allows it to be applied to a multitude of instances in architecture.
    If you think of historical examples it holds up.
    In Versailles, they wanted it to speak of wealth which I think they did a fairly good job with all the embellishments. Likewise, Corbusier wanted the Villa Savoye to be a machine, very clean lined and purposeful.
    De Botton also goes on to say that architecture and art has the ability to encourage us to be certain ways and have certain moods. As an example that we do sense emotions from objects, you have to look at abstract art. We find an emotion in a seemingly unemotional object. For instance, (this is hard to illustrate but if you read the book you can see the actual picture) there was a study where they asked children to draw a closed loop of a good marriage and bad marriage. The former was represented by a smooth flowing loop while the latter was a jagged loop. (Hopefully it is easy to imagine this). I find it intriguing to put this idea into a simple concept but it is true. This whole idea is that we personify the objects we view whether consciously or subconsciously.

    While there are many other ideas he touches upon this is another that I found particularly intriguing. He puts forth the argument: “when our lives are at their most problematic that we are likely to be most receptive to beautiful things.” and I would agree with this claim. Also there is a part that beauty in objects is usually recognized when we see in them the characteristics that we ourselves wish to possess. Of course this is not an end all to happiness, but I know that I have found myself amazed with beauty at the simple sculptures that children make, probably because I recognize in them that there is no self-conciousness and fear in them of whether others will admire the sculpture.

    Now there are many other claims made in the book that are well researched and mostly all of them made me go, ‘wow that is something I never considered before but it seems very applicable’ and I can no where near list them all in this response, which Im sure if you get this far in reading this you actually are interested, but I highly suggest this book in that it argues that there is importance to everyone in what we, as architecture students, will be doing someday.
    sorry about the length, Liza told me I could.

  4. 4 Kai Gutschow
    2009/06/24 at 1:46 am

    From a Financial Times article of June 24, 2009: “Just add to water”, by Edwin Heathcote

    Frank Lloyd Wright’s relationship with water could be problematic. “If the roof doesn’t leak,” he once said, “the architect hasn’t been creative enough.” And when one client complained that water was coming through his new roof he famously asked whether he had considered getting a bucket.

    But it is for a different kind of falling water that Wright has been remembered. Growing out of the rocky hills of west Pennsylvania, Fallingwater is perhaps the best known and most genuinely popular house of the modern era. A mesmerically beautiful building set theatrically above a waterfall in the woods, it perfectly expounds the architect’s notions of an organic architecture wedded to the landscape, yet with no reference to history, to what has come before. It is also the perfect illustration of the incredible drama that can be achieved by setting a building beside, or above, water.

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