To better understand the project and Le Corbusier’s creative approach, one has to backtrack several years prior to its conception. In the 1920s a new Architectural language was emerging that got to be known as ‘International Style’. Projects were emerging around the world, in Europe, Russia and North America adopting the new style and its aspirations. The style revolted on the prevailing tendency of creating the building as a block and decorating the external enclosure with ornaments. The new movement stripped the building from its ornaments and focused more on three-dimensional exploration of the volumetric intricacies within the architectural space. This new style aspired to represent what was thought to be the machine age. It used the new construction techniques based on concrete, steel, and industrial glazing to build its hovering planes and interaction of the solid concrete and steel with the lighter glass. The Style wanted to project a utopian image of the future where the Machine brought a higher level of living.
Le Corbusier strongly believed in this new trend. He was a purist totally dedicated to the new theoretical principles that he believed defined this new Architecture. He imagined houses built like cars in a standardized production process. He admired the ocean liners for their ‘tenacity and discipline’. In 1022 he sketched a prototype called Maison ‘Citrohan’ referring to carmaker Citroën. He intended it as a ‘machine to be living in’ .It was a white cube with industrial size windows. He introduced reinforced concrete round columns, the pilotis to enable the car to go under the house, provide a garage space, eliminate the bearing walls and large spans.
In 1923 famous book ‘Towards an Architecture’ (‘Vers une Architecture’) Le Corbusier pleads the case of the new language. He writes about the underlying structure of primitive shapes. He concludes that the primary geometric forms should be used to embody the Architecture of the age of the machine. “Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of volumes brought together in light. Our eyes are made to see forms in light: Light and shade reveal these forms: cubes, cones, spheres,and cylinders or pyramids are the great primary forms which light reveal to advantage. The image of these is distinct and tangible within us and without ambiguity, It is the reason that these are beautiful forms.” He establishes the relationship between the plan and its surroundings: ‘The plan proceeds from within to without; the exterior is the result of the interior, The elements of Architecture are light and shade, wall and space.’ Through this fusion, Architecture focuses on space and volumes and their interaction rather than the two-dimensional cosmetic treatment of the ‘Façade’.
In 1926, Le Corbusier established five points as the core of his design language he called them ‘Certainties from discoveries to date’. Described briefly, those five points were as follows:
Use of pilotis to raise the buildings above ground and free the space under the building.
Free the plan: using a frame construction to free the plan from load-bearing walls to flow according to function and aesthetics.
Free the Façade that can become a void, a large window or a thin membrane.
Use of ribbon windows (horizontal strip windows) that let in the most light.
The roof garden: switching from pitched roof to a flat roof and using the space as a garden terrace and bringing the landscape into the house.
With all that in mind, it becomes easier to describe Villa Savoye. Unlike the houses that he designed prior to this one, where he was confined to their urban surrounding, the site here is located around twenty miles off Paris, at the outskirts of the small town of Poissy, within a valley and surrounded on three sides by trees. This freed Le Corbusier to ingeniously build on his concepts to provide the most powerful expressions of his ideas to that date. He also added the element of time as a fourth dimension in the project.
Le Corbusier conceived the approach towards the house to be best experienced by a car passenger. Past the entrance gate, the visitor’s vision is blocked by trees. The house reveals itself all at once as a grand white box, hovering on pilotis. This is a powerful expression of an elevated primitive shape with openings that reveal glimpses of the interior. The elevations get animated by the interplay of light and shade, solid and void, glimpses of the interior carefully framed by the external enclosure.
As the car is drawn closer to the house and into it, the passenger realizes he is experiencing a temporal progression through an ingenious link of spaces that allow a gradual exploration of the project. What Le Corbusier called a ‘Promenade Architecturale’. Our perception of the space and the elements surrounding it changes progressively depending on their location in space and time within the project.
The car gets under the pilotis and circulates around a glazed curved wall. At the apex of this wall is located the main entrance door where the car passengers are dropped off (At that time cars had chauffeurs). The chauffeur continues to the parking space. The passenger goes past the entrance door and into a vestibule, a ramp placed in the axis of the entrance invites the user to go to the upper floor.