HISTORY AND CRITICAL THINKING: FIELD TRIP TO PARIS Review

by Gili Merin, MA History & Critical Thinking student

13 January 2017
Paris, France

 

maison-corbu

Le Corbusier’s studio and atelier occupied the top two floors of this apartment building in west Paris. With a stadium at the footsteps of the building, the project’s context was aligned perfectly with Corbusier’s ideals of sport and leisure appearing in his ‘Radiant City.’ Photo credit: Gili Merin.

On a crisp autumn morning in the Parisian district of Boulogne-Billancourt, a small group of students from the MA program for History and Critical Thinking gathered in front of the Molitor apartment block, home of one of Modernism’s most controversial and praised architects: Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, also known as Le Corbusier. Designed by himself and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, this relatively unknown masterpiece was built between 1932 and 1934- following the completion of his canonical Villa Savoye (1931) erected a mere 20 kilometres to the west- the culmination of Corb’s 1920s attempt to perfect his radical Five Points of Architecture. Though modest in scale, Corbusier’s principles are formalised in his self-built apartment, visible in the wall-to-wall glass façade, the first of its kind in the world (though all original Nevada Glass blocks have been long replaced), horizontal windows, and his beloved rooftop garden.

Corb-apt4

Open plan, use of primary colours, and scattered original furniture: inside Le Corbusier’s scruffy studio and atelier. The spiralling steps lead to the rooftop garden and a guest bedroom. Photo credit: Gili Merin.

 

corb_rooftop

Prof. Tim Benton and the HCT students on the rooftop garden, overlooking grand Paris. Corbusier incorporates in his design on of the Five Points for Architecture by utilising a flat roof for greenery and domestic leisure. Photo credit: Gili Merin.

Led by Professor Tim Benton, a Corbusier expert and author of several seminal books on the topic of Corbusier’s teachings, the tour was to conclude the semester-long course titled “Le Corbusier (1920-35): Style, the Zeitgeist and Nature” taught at the AA by Benton himself.

Ascending to the light-filled penthouse, we encountered a group of young architects labouring on the preservation and refurbishment of the apartment that is currently in various stages of charming decay, including scattered original furniture, crumbling wall paint, and crooked ceramic flooring.

color-layers_corb-preservation

Layers of colours uncovered on the walls of Le Corbusier’s studio apartment, as a part of the ongoing preservation process. Photo credit: Gili Merin.

After spending some time examining Corb’s somewhat nightmare-evoking bedroom furniture (which includes a 5 foot-high bed, a door-and-wardrobe combination, and a low-ceiling shower) we followed Professor Benton around the 16th arrondissement for further Corb sightseeing.

BEDROOM

Le Corbusier’s Spartan bed, placed high where he could see the city’s views while lying down. Le Corbusier and his wife inhabited the apartment from its completion in 1934 until his death in 1965. Photo credit: Gili Merin.

Through an electronically-locked gate we entered the private Allée des Pins, where two early 1920s projects are carefully hidden- the Villas of Miestchaninoff and Lipchitz (1923), designed for a so-called artist complex and today inhabited by (wealthy) art-lovers.

VILLAYELLO2

Villa Miestchaninoff (front, yellow) designed for the sculptor Oscar Miestchaninoff, and Villa Lipchitz (rear, red) for sculptor Jacques Lipchitz. The villas originally housed the artist’s ateliers in the ground floor, hence the vast windows, and residential quarters above. Both houses were completed in 1923. Photo credit: Gili Merin.

Before rushing off to the Fondation Le Corbusier for our final presentations, we stopped to glance above a high fence over the Villa Cook, a shimmering plaster-white structure rising on a single piloti and completed with Corb’s now-familiar ribbon windows.

Cook

Villa Cook was designed for the American painter and journalist William E. Cook. and was completed in 1926. Photo credit: Gili Merin.

Lastly, we arrived at the L-shaped Maison la Roche and the adjacent Maison Jeanneret, built for Corb’s brother and today home of the Le Corbusier Foundation (FLC). Equipped with radiant-blue plastic shoe covers, we tiptoed around the once-home of a wealthy Swiss banker and avant-garde art collector, whose walls are now decorated with a selection of exhibits from Le Corbusier’s projects, in honour of the recent UNESCO announcement to include 17 projects in the list of internationally significant architectural sites.

HOMEPAGE-ROCHE

The villa was designed for Raoul La Roche and was constructed between 1923 to 1925. The iconic room presents a harmonized colour palette and a steep curved ramp, key elements of the ‘promenade architecturale.’. Photo credit: Gili Merin.

At last, we gathered in one of the rationally-proportioned rooms of the foundation for an irrational debate, each presenting our own research outlining an inherent contradiction we discovered in Corbusier’s built and unbuilt works; surely a blasphemous act in such surrounding, emblematic of the ‘critical thinking’ aspect of our program, and a perfect ending to an insightful semester.

roche-inside

Inside Maison La Roche, guided by Prof. Tim Benton. Photo credit: Gili Merin.

For more information:
History and Critical Thinking Programme Brief
Fondation Le Corbusier Site
The UNESCO announcement regarding Le Corbusier’s work