Art History Lab

The Iconic Villa Savoye: Le Corbusier’s Architectural Masterpiece

Le Corbusier: The Genius Architect Who Designed the Iconic Villa Savoye

Le Corbusier was an influential architect, painter, designer, writer, and urban planner of the 20th century. His famous projects, such as the Villa Savoye, still inspire architects and designers today.

In this article, we will explore the history of the Villa Savoye, and discuss Le Corbusier’s background, career, and his influence as an urban planner.

Commissioning and Design of the Villa Savoye

The Villa Savoye was commissioned by Pierre and Eugenie Savoye, a wealthy couple who wanted a modern and functional weekend house located outside of Paris. Le Corbusier, with the help of his cousin Pierre Jeanneret, was chosen to design the villa.

Le Corbusier proposed three design proposals to the Savoye family. They finally agreed on the third option, an iconic building that is still admired today.

The villa was built between 1928 and 1931, during which time it became a showcase for modern architecture. The cost of the project was a concern for the Savoye family, and Le Corbusier had to come up with a design that could fit within their budget.

The design incorporated unconventional space-saving techniques which helped create more functional space within the villa. The villa also had innovative features, including a ramp that connects the first and second floors and makes the house more accessible.

Repairs and Abandonment of the Villa Savoye

The Villa Savoye suffered from quality issues, including leaks, and poor construction materials. In World War II, the abandoned villa suffered from heavy damages caused by the Nazis that used it as an ammunition store.

After World War II, the city of Poissy took ownership of the villa and planned to demolish it. However, after the intervention of the French architect historian, Le Corbusier and the villa were restored and are now open for tours.

The restoration of the villa took years, although the building still looks modern and functional to this day.

About Le Corbusier

Background and Career

Le Corbusier was born as Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris in Switzerland in 1887. He was later known as “Le Corbusier,” a name he adopted during his travels to Italy.

Le Corbusier was an accomplished painter, but it was his architecture and design work that catapulted him to fame. He is also known as one of the founding members of the Congrs international d’architecture moderne (CIAM), a group that was formed as a response to the issues of overcrowding in European cities.

Le Corbusier was concerned about the social inequality that was caused by the poor living conditions in the cities. He believed that architecture could play a significant role in solving these problems.

Influence as an Urban Planner

Le Corbusier’s influence as an urban planner can be seen in his work with CIAM. He played a crucial role in the development of modern urban planning principles which are still used today.

Le Corbusier believed that the city should be free from congestion and that high-density housing should have green, open space. He proposed high-rise housing units, which he called “vertical villages,” to help solve issues of overcrowding.

Le Corbusier’s plan emphasized a functional approach to urban planning, including the separation of vehicular and pedestrian traffic.


Le Corbusier’s iconic Villa Savoye is an example of his innovative approach to modern architecture. The villa showcases his unique style, propelling him to worldwide fame.

Additionally, his work as an urban planner, particularly with CIAM, has influenced modern urban planning. Le Corbusier’s legacy continues to inspire architects and designers today, and his impact will continue to shape the world of architecture and design for generations to come.

3) Use and Restoration of the Villa Savoye

Handover and Initial Use of the Villa Savoye

After its completion, the Villa Savoye’s new owners, the Savoye family, used it as their weekend house. The unique design of the villa made it an attraction for visitors from around the world.

The Villa Savoye became a symbol of modernity, and it quickly became a part of the modern architectural canon. Villa Savoye’s Abandonment and Demolition Threat

During World War II, the Villa Savoye was left empty, and the German army used it as a store.

The building suffered significant damage during this time. After the war, the city of Poissy took ownership of the villa, and it was used alternatively as a youth center, a holiday home, and finally as a riding school.

Because of the poor condition of the villa and its out-of-date design, there were many threats to demolish it. The renovation of the villa began in the 1960s when the Ministry of Culture in France classified the Villa Savoye as a historical monument, saving it from demolition.

The city of Poissy bought the villa and started a rehabilitation project with the aim of integrating it into the national heritage site. Le Corbusier’s Role in the Restoration of the Villa Savoye

Le Corbusier’s relationship with the Villa Savoye didn’t end after its initial construction.

In the 1950s, Le Corbusier started campaigns to save the villa from demolition and to restore it to its former glory. He also advocated for the villa to become a museum that would showcase his architectural style and approach.

Le Corbusier’s campaign was a success, and the Villa Savoye was finally opened as a museum in 1965. Today, the Villa Savoye is an iconic building that is visited by thousands of tourists each year.

The restoration of the villa was a massive task, as it had suffered severe damage over the years. It was a delicate balance between preserving the building’s original design and ensuring that it was safe for tourists to visit.

The restoration of the Villa Savoye was carried out despite significant opposition from critics who believed that the villa was too out-of-date to be restored. The restoration was supervised by the architect Jean-Louis Veret, who was responsible for the reconstruction of some of the villa’s key elements.

The restoration process involved repairing the structure’s damaged parts, reintegrating abandoned or missing objects, and updating the facilities to improve visitor’s experience.

4) How the Villa Savoye Was Built

Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture

Le Corbusier developed his five points of architecture as a response to the changing needs of society. These five points are (1) piloti, (2) free facade, (3) ribbon windows, (4) open plan, and (5) rooftop garden.

Piloti refers to the use of reinforced concrete columns that lift the building off the ground. This technique creates a sense of weightlessness, which gives the impression that the building is floating.

The use of piloti also allows for the free movement of people and vehicles around and underneath the building. The concept of the free facade includes the idea of separating the building’s skin from the structural work.

This allows for greater flexibility in the layout of rooms, as the facade does not have to support the building’s weight. Ribbon windows are long, horizontal windows that run around the building’s exterior.

They provide ample natural light to the interior spaces and create a continuous connection between the exterior and interior of the building. Open plan refers to the use of flexible spaces that are not separated by walls or dividers.

This allows for the creation of different interior spaces as needed and a more open and fluid floor plan. The rooftop garden provides an outdoor space that is connected to the interior living areas.

The rooftop garden can be used for recreational purposes or as a place to grow vegetation, and it also provides additional insulation to the building. The Domino Concept in Villa Savoye’s Construction

The Domino Concept in the Villa Savoye’s construction refers to the use of concrete slabs on the building’s structure.

The concrete slabs were comparatively inexpensive and could be easily fabricated offsite and transported for use at the construction site. The concrete slabs are an essential part of the villa’s structure, and they also help distribute the building’s weight evenly across the piloti.

The concrete slab’s design also reflects the free facade concept, which separates the skin of the building from the structural work. The use of concrete slabs in the Villa Savoye’s construction method was efficient, affordable, and allowed for the creation of an innovative design that was ahead of its time.

Today, the Villa Savoye remains an example of modernist architecture, and its construction techniques influence architects and designers around the world.

5) Exterior Features of the Villa Savoye

Floating Effect and Green Walls

The Villa Savoye’s floating effect is one of its most iconic exterior features. The floating effect is created by the pilotis, the reinforced concrete columns that lift the building off the ground.

The villa appears to float over the landscape, giving it an otherworldly quality. Another unique exterior feature of the Villa Savoye is the green lower-level walls surrounding the pilotis.

The walls are covered in verdant climbing plants, which highlight the villa’s fusion of nature and architecture. The green walls are also practical; they provide insulation, protection from weather changes, and shade.

Unique Facades and Flowing Ramps

The Villa Savoye has three unique facades that create an asymmetrical design. The front facade has a large glass wall with ribbon windows that give an uninterrupted view of the garden.

The back facade is closed and compact with small ribbon windows on the upper floors. Another striking exterior feature of the Villa Savoye is the spine of the house, a free-flowing ramp that connects the first and second floors.

The ramp modifies the space, making it more functional and accessible. The ramp provides easy access throughout the house without using stairs, which allows for a seamless flow between living spaces.

The flowing ramps are not just functional but also decorative features of the building. The ramp provides a unique and artistic element that sets the villa apart from other modernist designs.

6) The Villa Savoye Interior

Entrance and First-Floor Layout

The Villa Savoye’s entrance centers around a grand staircase that spirals around a white column. The staircase, which is also known as The Monumental Ramp, leads visitors to the second floor.

The ramp is complemented by the wall’s curved shape, creating an elegant entrance. The first floor of the Villa Savoye is designed for communal living.

It comprises different areas such as the master bedroom, second bedroom, salon, and kitchen. The open plan design allows for a seamless flow between the different areas.

The kitchen is in one corner of the room, the salon in the opposite corner, and a bedroom in between. The master bedroom also has its own private balcony that overlooks the surrounding garden.

Color Usage and Accent Walls

The Villa Savoye’s interior design is mostly white, creating a sense of spaciousness and light. However, the architects also added accent walls with bright colors or prints.

These walls serve as mood modifiers, creating a sense of fun and playfulness in the house’s otherwise austere design. The use of color accentuates the interior design’s vibrancy and richness, highlighting the modernist movement’s avant-garde spirit.

The Villa Savoye is a perfect example of how color can be used to balance a space’s design, creating coherence and artful spaces. The walls also bear traces of Le Corbusier’s design philosophy, particularly with his principle of free plan and flexible space.

The flexibility of the rooms allows for a frequent change in their use and arrangement.

7) Contradictions of the Villa Savoye

Le Corbusier’s Contradictory Choices

The Villa Savoye, while hailed as a masterpiece of modern architecture, is not without its contradictions. Le Corbusier himself made several contradictory choices in the design and construction of the villa.

One such contradiction is the use of wood window frames and aluminum frames in different parts of the building. The wood window frames were used in the front facade of the villa, while the rear facade featured aluminum frames.

This contrasting choice puzzled many, as it deviated from the uniformity and coherence that is often associated with modernist architecture. The use of both wood and aluminum frames can be seen as a reflection of Le Corbusier’s experimental spirit.

He was constantly exploring new materials and technologies, and these choices may have been influenced by his desire to push the boundaries of design and construction. However, these contradictions can also be seen as a product of different construction phases, as the villa underwent various renovations and modifications over the years.

Significance and Influence of the Villa Savoye

Despite its contradictions, the Villa Savoye remains a significant and influential building in the history of modern architecture. It represents Le Corbusier’s vision of the machine-as-a-home archetype, a concept that has had a profound impact on the field of architecture.

The machine-as-a-home archetype refers to the idea that a house should be efficient, functional, and designed to meet the needs of its occupants. Le Corbusier believed that architecture needed to adapt to the changing world and the advancements of technology, just as machines did.

The Villa Savoye embodies this concept with its open plan, flexible spaces, and innovative features. The Villa Savoye’s influence can be seen in the widespread adoption of its design principles.

Its innovative features, such as the pilotis, free facade, ribbon windows, and rooftop garden, have inspired countless architects and designers around the world. It has become a symbol of modernist architecture and a touchstone for architectural experimentation.

Furthermore, the Villa Savoye represents a milestone in the development of modern architecture. It is a testament to the radical ideas and progressive thinking that emerged during the 20th century.

The villa challenged traditional notions of architecture, reimagining the way people lived and interacted with their built environment. In addition to its architectural significance, the Villa Savoye holds cultural and historical value as a tangible link to a specific era.

It serves as a reminder of the social and cultural context in which it was built and the aspirations of the time. It is a testament to the desires for progress, innovation, and a better quality of life that characterized the early 20th-century society.

The Villa Savoye’s contradictions, such as the use of different window frames, can be seen as a part of its historical narrative. They reflect the complexity and evolution of the building over time, as well as the diversity of influences that shaped Le Corbusier’s design choices.

In conclusion, the Villa Savoye stands as a remarkable architectural achievement despite its contradictions. It represents a visionary approach to design, reflecting Le Corbusier’s belief in the machine-as-a-home archetype.

Its significance and influence on modern architecture cannot be understated, as it continues to inspire and challenge architects and designers. The Villa Savoye remains an enduring symbol of the avant-garde spirit of the early 20th century and a testament to the power of architecture to provoke thought and shape societies.

In conclusion, the Villa Savoye, designed by Le Corbusier, is a masterpiece of modern architecture that showcases innovative design principles and challenges traditional notions of housing. Despite the contradictions in its design choices, such as the use of wood and aluminum window frames, the Villa Savoye remains influential and significant in the field of architecture.

Its machine-as-a-home archetype and incorporation of the five points of architecture have inspired countless architects and designers. The Villa Savoye stands as a symbol of progress, innovation, and the power of architecture to shape societies.

Its historical and cultural value, along with its architectural legacy, make it a must-see for anyone interested in modernist architecture.

Popular Posts