In 1929, Le Corbusier described the Villa Savoye as “a box suspended in the air in the fields over an orchard.” The house, designed for the Savoye family, was erected 20 miles (30 kilometres) by road from their Paris home. The use of the car as a link between the two homes was fundamental to the design of the villa. The semi-circular form of the ground floor plan was based on the turning radius of a limousine; “About the house, between the pilots, is a vehicular route…; the curve encloses the entrance, the vestibule, the garage, and the servants’ and utilities rooms . The cars drive up, are parked or drive away again – all beneath the house.” In the entrance area, the theme of circulation is again encountered in the expressive forms and dialectic arrangement of the primary and secondary routes up to the living quarters: in the form of a curving staircase and a gently rising ramp. The changing course of the ramp, which ascends through the entire height of the building, reveals an array of visual attractions as one progresses upwards. It is a “promenade architecturale, “ as the architect termed it.
Situated about a hanging garden, the living rooms are laid out in an L-shape form along two edges of the main living area. Strip windows drawn around all four sides frame the views out of the building to the surrounding landscape.
Emerging into the open air at the top, the ramp culminates in a roof garden with a solarium, an area screened form outside view and from the wind by high and partly curving walls. Aligned with the axis of the ramp, an opening in these walls marks the end of the “promenade.” At the same time, it provides a visual continuation of the route by forming a framed view of the lanscape and leading the eye out across the valley beyond.
The Villa Savoye is a summary of the vocabulary, ideas, and methods that Le Corbusier had developed in his work during the previous five years. The pilots, the horizontal strip windows, the roof garden , the “open layout” and the flexible treatment of the facades had all been formulated in the architect’s “Five Points of a New Architecture” in 1926. The free layout (plan libre) and the variable facade forms were made possible by the separation of load-bearing columns and internal partitions. The derivation of the formal criteria from functional needs and the use of standardized , industrially fabricated elements are in accordance with Le Corbusier’s concept of the house as “a machine for living in.”
The aesthetic, too, is influenced by the world of machines: by ocean liners, for example, with which the architect had illustrated his 1923 book, Vers une architecture. The forms of the solarium are reminiscent of a ship’s funnel and of the Platonic ideal volumes contained in the chapter “The Lesson of Rome” in the same book; they also recall the shapes of the bottles , glasses , and jugs that Le Corbusier depicted in his purist paintings. The promenade architecturale was the outcome of his interpretation of space in Arab architecture.
The Villa Savoye is an ode to modern life. At the same time, it is Le Corbusier’s elegant homage to antiquity: “It will seen (to the people will come to live here) as though their domestic life formed part of a poem by Virgil.”