dancing with architecture: Le Corbusier's Villa La Roche, Paris, France

Besides being an architect, Le Corbusier was also a painter. He and Amédée Ozenfant created an art style they referred to as Purism. Corbu first met Raoul La Roche, a middle-class banker, in 1928, when La Rouche began collecting their work. Corbu and Ozenfant advised La Roche on acquiring other paintings, such as those by Picasso, Braque, Leger, and Gris. Once La Roche had formed a collection, Corbu wrote him and said "La Roche, someone who has a fine collection like yours needs to build a house worthy of it." La Roche agreed and hired Corbu and Pierre Jeanneret to design and build a home and gallery for him. Corbu’s brother, Albert Jeanneret, joined the project as a client for the other half of the planned duplex.

Hidden at the end of a long cul-de-sac named Square du Docteur Blanche are Villas La Roche and Jeanneret, both designed and built between 1923 and 1925. Given La Roche's appreciation of Purism and desire to live in a house that reflected that appreciation, Corbu fused the colors of his Purist art with his architecture, something he would continue to do after this project.

Painting by Le Corbusier (1928; image from here)

The villas occupy an unusual lot and location. The property is in the middle of a city block, accessed by a two-car-wide drive, and surrounded by the backyards of the buildings around it. I wish I knew more about the story of the lot: it appears that the property owner sold off the community park in the center of the block. The lot came with some unusual requirements such as disallowing windows overlooking the surrounding backyards (suggesting, perhaps, it was originally community property).

Placement of the villas inside a developed city block (image from here).

When La Roche passed away in 1965, he donated his paintings to various museums and his house to the Corbusier Foundation, which now occupies Villa Jeanneret. La Roche’s part of the house is open to tours and, after a careful restoration of the house and the grounds over the past 10 years, is in great shape and close to its original form.

Besides the outside minimal aesthetics, the house is famous for its entry and curving gallery creating an architectural promenade influenced by the Parthenon. The entry is an atrium with a large three-story volume that shows a "stratigraphic" cross-section of the house (the site guide uses the word "stratigraphic" which, being part geologist, I love). On the right, after entering the house, is the private part of the home, and on left is the more public part with the gallery.

After ascending a flight of stairs that include the Modernist's Romeo et Julietesque balcony (echoing another one on the outside), you enter a two-story gallery lit by opposite banks of clerestory windows. After a malfunctioning heating system damaged the studio in 1928, Charlotte Perriand and Alfred Roth of Corbu's studio amplified the Modernism with the addition of a large indirect electrical light fixture, a marble table, and a reconfiguration (and modernisation) of the space beneath the stairs. Thankfully (since I adore Perriand), the restoration left these details intact.

The studio curves outward toward the street with the ramp hugging its trajectory.  The ramp leads to a semi-private area for a library. Although predominantly white and linear, the use of curves and colors softens the rationality of the building and heightens the drama of the space.

The rest of the villa's interior is ho-hum compared to the public spaces for entertainment and art. Villa Jeanneret hosts the Foundation's offices and is not open to the tour but is, presumably, similar to the private living spaces of Villa La Roche.

If you go, visit this website for hours and ticket information. Villa La Roche offers an Engish tour once a week (sadly, the guide called in sick the day we were there). However, the on-site brochure, available in English, is quite good. I took (and show below) a lot of photos, but as with all architectural sites, this villa is best explored in person. Architecture is experiential. 

All photos were taken by mwah unless otherwise indicated.

Street entrance to the villas.

From the firs set of gray garage doors towards us is Villa Jeanneret; the rest is Villa La Roche. The main entrance to Villa Jeanneret is beneath the protruding volume in the forefront of the photo. 

Straight ahead is the gallery wing of the project. You can see the wall gently bulge towards us.

The landscaping underneath the gallery. The grounds were recently restored to Corbusier's original plans.

The outside Romeo et Juliet balcony off the gallery.

Looking up towards the large bank of windows at the entry.

Looking towards the entry.

Inside the enormous three-story entry looking toward the public spaces (with the other Romeo et Juliet balcony). This atrium would have been a great place to hold a reception! Note the use of white tile in the entry and black tile on the stairs.

Floor plan from here.

Looking up towards the large bank of windows. Because of building restrictions, Corbu had to be clever about bringing light into the structure.

This pure cubist balcony is my favorite detail of the house. Also, note the curving wall below. Behind those walls was the guest bedroom (now an office). I bet there's a tub behind that curve.

Coming up the stairs, here's the backside of the Romeo et Juliet balcony.

Charlotte Perriand and Alfred Roth, both of Corbu's office at the time, added the long blue light fixture and table in 1928.

Floor plan from here.

View from the opposite end with a glimpse of the ramp.

Different view of the ramp with the 1928 cabinet by Charlotte Perriand and Alfred Roth beneath the stairs.

New (circa 1928) light added by Charlotte Perriand and Alfred Roth. The original lighting hung across the room like Christmas decorations. 

Back view of the indirect lighting added in 1928.

Daybed and desk in the corner of the gallery. Unclear if these are original or added in '28.

A piece of the furniture designed by Corbu and Perriand and debuted at the house.

A peek out the window reveals a curvy rooftop patio.

The villas were also the debut of furniture designs by Corbu and Perriand.

Continuing up the ramp takes you to the library with balconies into the reception area. Also, note the wide bridge a floor down that connects the gallery level with a large dining room.

Floor plan from here.

View from the library into the gallery.

Interesting detail below many of the windows: a sight shallow with a drain hole, suggesting the windows sweat in Paris. 

Back down a level and across the bridge is the large peachy (maybe too peachy?) dining room.

Close-up of one of the lighting fixtures.

Close-up of another lighting fixture.

Looking back from the private side of the villa toward the bridge and gallery.

Looking straight across at my balcony. Note the skylight in the upper left.

Turning left and looking toward the dining room. Note the use of color on the inside wall.

The view out a side window toward Villa Jeanneret. 

View from the roof-top patio.

View showing the surface expression of the skylight from the rooftop patio.

Stairs to the rooftop.

View of the pantry just off the dining room. Here's the destination of the dumbwaiter from the kitchen below.

And here's a view of the kitchen (tiny!) on the ground floor. Not very large but gloriously filled with light from above.

Neat detail where the plaster swoops out to the edge of the tile, probably to facilitate dusting/cleanliness. (Irving Gill did quite a bit of this in his houses.)

Detail of a light fixture in the kitchen.

One last glimpse of Villa Jeanneret as we head back out into the city.

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