Le Corbusier – Villa Le Lac
I became lost in a moment (okay, quite a few moments) of time travel flicking through my beautiful and enormous Phaidon tome on Le Corbusier this evening. A bit like everything I do, this ‘quick’ foray ended up carrying me away for hours…
The book is full of beautiful drawings and wonderful, evocative photographs of another place and time – a very interesting place and time! Wandering through its pages transported me back to the crisp, Swiss air and the tiny, picturesque towns speckled with occasional glimpses into the Corbusian future that I experienced on my research trip into the European works of Le Corbusier in 2010. It’s lovely and a bit amazing to think that the buildings I visited throughout France and Switzerland were conceived, built, and have been inhabited for over almost a century now – and it’s wonderful to think that these spaces endure and have carried with them the character and philosophy of their creator(s) throughout this time.
Villa Le Lac
Villa Le Lac was Le Corbusier’s first truly Modernist house, and by this I mean that the house embodied not only the beginnings of his early Modernist ideals but also took on the Modernist form that we all recognise today. Le Corbusier designed the Villa with his cousin Auguste Perrier for his parents on paper prior to the selection of its beautiful site on Lake Geneva a sort of experiment – a means to test the ideas Le Corbusier had been developing as a young adult. The site looks south over the water toward the Swiss and French mountains, Chamonix and the French alps somewhere beyond.
The house was built in 1923-24 for Le Corbusier’s parents, who at this time relocated from their hometown of La Chaux de Fonds in the Jura mountains and lived in the Villa for the remainder of their lives (in fact, Le Corbusier’s mother outlived Corb himself, dying 5 years after he drowned in the Mediterranean in 1965).
Corseaux is a quiet Swiss town on the waterfront of Lake Geneva (I enjoyed a delicious roast dinner at a tiny brasserie overlooking the lake in the neighbouring, slightly larger town of Montreux the evening before making my way to the Villa). Villa Le Lac is encountered along the winding road that follows the water’s edge from Montreux to the east and eventually takes one all the way to Geneva at the western-most edge of the lake.
One comes upon the building rather suddenly, its sleek, modernist lines incongruent with the surrounding context of mostly typical Swiss houses with coloured stucco walls and peaked roofs. The slight sense of unease that comes with this discordance continues as one approaches the house – partially due to the Villa’s location right on the road’s edge, and partially because it turns its back to the street – the property is entirely walled at the roadside but for a single opening in the expansive swathe of smooth white render that indicates the way in. One must slip through this to finally escape the road’s edge and feel as though you have a moment (and a square inch of space) to comfortably stop and absorb it all.
Perhaps this is part of why the site has such a serene and contemplative mood – it feels like an escape, a secret garden meant for slowing down and soaking the scenery in. Funnily enough although I remember the building clearly from the outside I have very little passionate recall for the interior. The real success of the space for me is in the garden – the architecture has the powerful effect of scaling down the landscape and inviting it close so that one feels at once enveloped and protected whilst at the same table able to intimately experience the beauty of the distant vista as framed by the house and garden.