Villa Savoye is located in Poissy, on the outskirts of Paris, France. Designed by Le Corbusier in 1929, it had later become the milestone of modern architecture. The Villa is renowned for its “five points of architecture” – pilotis, flat roof terrace, open plan, ribbon windows, and free facades. 

Besides these features, here are a few interesting facts about the house that you should know!

1) Villa Sovoye was almost destroyed in the 60s

Villa Savoye was abandoned during the black years of World War II. Later in the 60s, the community of Poissy suggested building a school at the site of the villa. The construction of the school threatened Villa Sovoye as the community called for the demolition of the house and therefore, fired negotiations between Le Corbusier, the state, and the commune of Poissy. Luckily, the voices of scholars around the globe twisted the fate of the villa. Now, it had become Poissy’s state property and had registered as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

2)  The orientation of Villa Savoye

To prevent direct sunlight streaming inside Villa Savoye, Le Corbusier worked on the orientation of the house. In his design, the 4 facades of the house are facing north-east, south-east, south-west, and north-west respectively. Neither side is facing the east and the west, where the sun rises and sets. 

3) The Pilotis appeared in Le Corbusier’s Previous Design

Villa Savoye was renowned to be one of the best examples featuring the ‘five points of architecture’, however, the pilotis, one of the features, was not the first time to appear in Le Corbusier’s design. In 1922, he first presented the concept of pilotis in his second prototype of the Citronhan House exhibited at the Salon d’Automne. One year later, Le Corbusier applied it for the first time into his building named the La Roche House, and soon, Villa Savoye.

4) Multi-functions of the Pilotis

While some see the pilotis as ordinary weight-bearing pillars, Le Corbusier used them in a better way. Applying the pilotis, Le Corbusier defined 3 porticos at the lower level of the house and creating a shaded area. In fact, not only are the pilotis used to play with light and shadow, but they are also made to create an illusion – a floating box! Since the porticos are darker in colour, the white mass above becomes sharper in contrast. Therefore, the house looks like a huge mass that can defy gravity. 

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5) A Dialogue between Classic and Modern Architecture

Although Le Corbusier intended to build a modern house, he took the reference to elements of the classical buildings. The pilotis of Villa Savoye are termed “pentastylepilotis”, it means a total of 5 pilotis per façade. Looking at these pilotis, do they remind you of edifices of the baroque period? 

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6)  Contrasting design between the interior and exterior

At first glance, Villa Savoye is just a white symmetrical mass standing on a grass field, articulated with strips of ribbon windows, everything looks repetitive and ordered. However, when we entered the house, a different visual experience was presented. Walking through the main entrance, we will see a curved glass wall on either side of the door. And behind the door is a space where Le Corbusier termed it “the vestibule”. It is a space where an elegant spiral staircase can be seen. All these curves introduced fluidity to the interior which contrasts with the exterior squared mass. 

7) Facts about the Spiral Staircase 

The spiral stairwell in the vestibule reminiscent of the exterior staircase of the studio-house was designed in 1922 for the painter Ozenfant. Moreover, in Le Corbusier’s first proposal, the staircase was not intended to be built in a curved shape. In fact, the original design was a staircase parallel with the ramp of the house’s axis. As the staircase ascends in one direction in a similar fashion to the ramp, the visual variety was not as high as the latter design.

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8)  Breaking the Tradition Spatial Arrangement of a House

“Architectural buildings should not all be placed upon axes, for this would be like so many people talking at once.” Instead of linking the different spaces with an axis, Le Corbusier designed rooms with different sizes and shapes that articulate with each other. Besides, Le Corbusier applied a free plan in Villa Savoye, where less weight-bearing walls but columns were used instead. As a result, visitors can walk around the building more freely. 

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9) Using Sunlight to Define Spaces

The second floor of Villa Savoye is being divided into a public zone and a private zone. The public zone is made for social interaction, including a living room, kitchen, and pantry. When people arrived on the second floor, they will first land on a lobby that is bathed in sunlight. The bright and warm sunshine penetrates through the ribbon windows and windows facing the garden-terrace, creating a welcoming atmosphere for visitors. The light then continues to flow and reaches the living room, kitchen, and pantry. These areas are located in the north-west façade of the house, and therefore, are filled up with natural lighting. Moving across the living room, we arrived at the private zone – bedrooms. Located along the north-east and south-east sides, these bedrooms are relatively darker than the public zone during the daytime. 

10)  Application of Ramps inside a House

“A ramp provides gradual ascent from the pilotis, creating different sensations than those felt when climbing stairs. A staircase separates one floor from another: a ramp links them together.”  A ramp allows us to ascend smoothly and gradually to the upper level, like a fish swimming in the water, experiencing every bit of space.

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Reference book: Sbriglio, J. (2008). Le Corbusier. The Villa Savoye. Berlin, München, Boston: DE GRUYTER.

Tsz Kiu Pun
Author

Josephine Pun is a student who is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Architectural Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Being a storyteller, journal and photography are channels that she uses to express her unique perception of architecture. Read her articles and experience architecture without leaving your couch!

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