The fifth chapter -- Purism as Ultimate Assimilation will cover:
1. the relationship between Purist Architecture and Beaux Arts/eclectic architecture; ironically both are assimilation in the extreme, yet purism adds the necessary element of purge.
2. a brief history of Purism? - this could address the notion of architectural "style" in that Purism is a deliberate attempt to manifest an entirely new architectural style, (in a sense manifesting an entirely new period in history, if not an altogether new history itself).
3. an analysis of the Villa Monzie and the Villa Stein and the introduction of the promenade architecturale.
4. an analysis of the Villa Savoye as both the full fruition of Purism and of the promenade architecturale.
5. a bibliography of the promenade architecturale.
from Robert Slutsky, "Aqueous Humor," Oppositions 19/20:
"The pilotis of the lower A section are the metaphorical legs and the feet of this new structure; the middle B section enclosing the central floors is body - head - face - eye; the top section A' containing the highly articulated roof is the crown or brain, the exposed cranium."
"...the section that contains the eyes and ears (metaphorically or literally) is a central band mediating between the region below, which represents the more pedestrian or mundane functions, and the one above, which incarnates the seat of intellect and spirit."
"Through this centrally located 'optic nerve,' the roof becomes the receiver of the ground plane energies, in turn transforming and recreating them into a surreal microcosm
surreal : "beyond realism"
microcosm : a little world, a world or universe on a small scale, hence man, as if combining in himself all the elements of the great world
"...man is free to engage the celestial universe - the sun and the clouds, the moon and the stars. By day this roofscape appears as an arcadian scene of Apollonian celebration."
"By night, it gives place to pictorial tableaux of uninterrupted contemplation, to a ritualized theater of formalized dreams, ..."
"...the ocular, B zone of the facade is the center of pragmatic intelligence...in his later work, Le Corbusier ramps or bridges through this central point."
"The Villa Savoye initially appears as a four-sided, totemic object."
totemic : the belief in recognition and use of, the mysterious relationships believed to exist between an individual or group (here a building) and the spiritual powers inherent in their immediate environment
"This house is a machine for viewing. The curved forms on the roof further evoke the metaphor, suggesting a roll of film stretched around two spools, with the center position cut out like a camera aperature, framing first the sky and then the arcadian landscape as one progresses up the internal circulation ramp. The ramp connects the roof the the piano nobile, implying an intimate relation between the "cranial" roof structure and the "head-body" immediately below."
"The ground floor is primarily the receiver of circulation."
"...the Villa Savoye is transformed into a "floating city" - a microcosmic walled town within which visual delights are constantly savored."
from Kenneth Frampton, "Le Corbusier and l'Esprit Nouveau," Oppositions 15/16:
(caption) Villa at Garches, 1927. One of numerous elevational studies carried out for this project; variously titled as the Villa de Monzie" and "Stein de Monzie."
(caption) Villa at Garches, 1927. An early version in which the idea of "architectural promenade" completely dominates the form.
from John Winter, "Le Corbusier's Technological Dilemma"
Vers un Architecture was published in 1923... With this book he takes a stand that gives precise direction to his work for the next ten years and less precise direction for the rest of his life. It is not only polemic, it is also image...
purism 3 : a theory and practice in art originated about 1918 by Amédée Ozanfant and Le Corbusier that reduces all natural appearances to a geometric simplicity characteristic of machines
I am not going to give a short history of Purism (because there really isn't one in terms of architecture), but rather address the architectureal efforts of Purism, and these are (especially in relation to Le Corbusier):
1. the Dom-ino house
2. the four compositions
3. the five points
4. the promenade architecturale
These four "ideas" represent Le Coubusier's reduction of architecture down to its 'purist' form, at least in the viewpoint I am going to take. Of course, reduction is to be correlated to the concept of purge. Overall, though, I am afraid that I am oversimplifying this whole issue so here is a list of what I want to accomplish in this chapter:
1. Assimilation taken to the extreme leads to a purge.
2. Purist architecture can be seen as a manifestation of an assimilating imagination taken to the extreme, e.g., the elimination of everything superfluous and even the design process reduced to a handful of bacis principles and executed in pure geometries.
3. Here is where the focus of the argument shifts to the four (mentioned above) basic principles that Le Corbusier came up with.
Maison Dom-ino (1914), very early development, name comes from houses laid out in plan like dominos
the five points for a new architecture:
1. the pilotes
2. the roof garden
3. the free plan
4. the strip window
5. the free facade
the four compositions:
1. maison La Roche
2. maison à Garches
3. maison à Stuttgart
4. villa Savoye
the promenade architecturale
caption for the photograph of the ramp leading up to the solarium at the villa Savoye.
"In this house we are presented with a real architectural promenade, offering prospects which are constantly changing and unexpected, even astonishing. It is interesting that so much variety has been obtained when from a design point of view a rigorous scheme of pillers and beams has been adopted."
text accompanying the presentation of the Villa Savoye in the Oeuvre Complete vol. 1.
"This house will be rather like an architectural promenade. You enter: the architectural specacle at once offers itself to the eye. You follow an itinerary and the perspectives develop with great variety, developing a play of light on the walls or making pools of shadow. Large windows open up views of the exterior where the architectural unity is reasserted...Here, reborn for our modern eye, are historic architectural discoveries: the pilotis, the long windows, the roof gardens, the glass façade. Once again again we must learn at the end of the day to appreciate what is available...
Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, Oeuvre Complète, I, p. 60. - accompanying the presentation of the maison La Roche
My main ask is to bring to light the formula of the architectural promenade:
1. a box elevated above the ground on pilotis.
2. a vertical circulation element that connects the ground plane with the roof garden and changes from interior to exterior in the process.
3. transparency of the ground floor wall and its recessed position relative to the perimeter of the box above
"In 1914, he (Le Corbusier) was polemically antinaturalistic in the design for the Dom-ino house, a model structure for low cost housing projects in reinforced concrete that is constructed from easily reproducible components and assures its occupants total independence. The Dom-ino house was both a conceptual simplification and a manifesto whose program Le Corbusier reworked over and over again, experimenting with its possibilities on an urban scale in the residential complex at Légé (1924)."
Tafuri and Del Co, Modern Architecture, New York: Henry N. Abrams, Inc., 1979, p. 133.
manifesto 1 obs : DEMONSTRATION, EVIDENCE 2 : a public declaration of intentions, motives, or views : a public statement of policy or opinion
"In the face of the machine. Le Corbusier experienced the same intoxication as the avant-garde, but without their bewilderment and disorientation. When he exalted the aesthetic of the engineers or the functional purism of industrial silos, it was for his own purposes. Where Perret and Garnier stopped, his meditation on spontanéité moderne began; where the Vienna Werkstätte left off in their experimentation with form, the poetic eagerness of Le Corbusier founded a language free of all fiction. His strong feeling for "sincerity" exploited the antiornament polemic of Loos for his own ends: to liberate architecture from the renunciations of Loos, but also to dispel the anxieties of the avant-garde in the face of the machine universe, these were the complementary aims of his personal utopia. The machine à habiter was the trail balloon announcing the poetic, allegorical, liberarian relationship the Le Corbusier was instituting with the modern nightmares."
Tafuri and Del Co, op cited, p. 136.
"The purist polemic took its stance on a basic hypothesis: the necessity for overcoming the tautologies of the Cubist experience by a return to "classical" models.
Tafuri and Del Co, op cited, p. 136.
"In the Villa Stein in Garches (1927), the play of the juxtopositions is set into a initary volume and rationalized by the pointed structure of the uprights and the cylinders of the staircases; but plastically autonomous sections detach themselves from the elementary main structure. The tension generated by the dialectic between the regular outlines and such oneric exceptions makes one perceive the interior spaces of the villa as a sucesssion of events: entire portions unexpectedly enter into dialogue with the green area around the house and with forms that cancel out any discontinuity between the real and the unreal.
Such petrification of artifice reached its climax in the Savoye house in Poissy, built between 1929 and 1931. As total object it has something of the completeness of a piece of sculpture. The sighs characteristic of Purist composition here take on material consistency. The white structure, furrowed by horizontal bands of windows, is separated off from nature by being raised on IpilotisI (slender columns), but the seemingly compact closed square box of the exterior is a fiction; the interior is slached through by a continuous ramp winding upward to the variously shaped structures on the upper terrace. But the ramp also makes clear the continuity of the spaces it fragmants: dividing their form but connecting their signs, it is the symbolic locus of an initiatory ritual and is to be disciphered by reconstructing intellectually the dialetic that erodes in the nature-as-sculpture of the sun deck. An uninterrupted succession of surprising spaces, the Villa Savoye shocks the habitual thinking of the spectator. In every possible way it strives to appropriate to itself an artificial universe of signs capable of absorbing unconscious pultions. And it is precisely a luxurous object of contemplation that the villa assumes the presence of a public as an integral part of its own landscape, though not to arouse its reactions but only to make it aware of its own destiny as object among objects. This then is the form of the machinist civilization, the sole natural condition possible."
Tafuri and Del Co, op cited, p. 140.
There is much in the above quote that points to and describes the promenade architecturale without ever actually mentioning it. I want to use this quote and the specific 'promenade' quote by Le Corbusier to make the case that the promenade architecturale itself becomes the key element of Le Corbusier's (purist?) architecture. I guess what I want to say is that after all the purist experimentation is complete, so to speak, the promenade architecturale sort of manifests itself (surprisingly enough to Le Corbusier himself) as an unexpected synergism. I think I will start with the ramp of Savoye but quickly point out that the route the ramp takes, i.e., an ascending path through the building from ground to roof is more important than the physical features of the ramp itself. From there I will just go on with the ingredients that I have already listed in the Strasbourg study.
synergism 2 : cooperative action of discrete agencies (as drugs or muscles) such that the total effect is greater than the sum of the two or more effects taken independently -- opposed to antagonism
The purism chapter will begin with the Villa Savoye and then recall all of Le Corbusier's architectural experiments that Savoye is a culmination of. I will first disect Savoye as to it promenade architecturale and then present prior evidence as to where the ultimate manifestation of Savoye came from. The whole promenade architecturale issue, however, will have to come after I make a case of purism as ultimate assimilation.
"[In] Le Corbusier's house, Les Heures Claires, built for the Savoye family at Poissy-sur-Seine and completed in 1930 (sic) the vertical penetrations are of crucial importance in the whole design. They are not large in plan but, since they are effected by a pedestrian ramp, whose balustrades make bold diagonals across many internal views, they are very conspicuous to a person using the house. Furthermore, the ramp was designed as the preferred route of what the architect calls the promenade architecturale through the various spaces of the building -- a concept which appears to be close to that almost mystical meaning of the word "axis" that he had employed in Vers un Architecture.
Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age.
"An axis is perhaps the first human manifestation; it is the means of every human act. The toddling child moves along an axis, the man striving in the tempest of life traces for himself an axis. The axis is the regulator of architecture. To establish order is to begin to work. Architecture is based on axes. The axis is a line of direction leading to an end. In architecture you must have a destination for your axis. In the Schools they have forgotten this and their axes cross one another in star-shapes, all leading to infinity, to the undefined, to the unknown, to nowhere, without end or aim. The axes of the School is a recipe and a dodge.
Arrangement is the grading of axes, and so it is the grading of aims, the classification of intentions.
The architect therefore assigns destinations to his axes. These ends are the wall (the plenum, sensorial sensation) or light and space (again sensorial sensation).
Le Corbusier, Towards a New Architecture, New York: Praeger Publishers, 1960, p.173.
from Stanislaus von Moos, Le Corbusier, elements of a synthesis (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1979).
"[P]urism...stands for the distinctive characteristics of modern thought. To a certain extent, it represents a synthesis of French enlightenment and German Werkbund pragmatism. In the purist world engineers occupy the center of the stage and the rational discipline of their skills--insofar as it manifests itself in the static beauty of their creations--is a constant subject of praise for Ozanfant and Jeanneret."
"The return to logic, clarity, and simplicity and a reconciliation with the great, "eternal" values of the French tradition are the leitmotivs of purism."
"In the paintings from around 1928, the outlines of the objects serve only as the starting point for an autonomous architecture of contours and surfaces."
"Le Corbusier's opinion was that the true architecture of the era was being created on the engineer's drawing boards, not only because their work was useful, but because it conveyed the impression of harmony, since it was in tune with the laws of nature."
"One of the central ideas of Vers une architecture was the assumption that an elementary Platonic geometry is inherent in the nature of mechanical design and that "the wholesome spirit of the engineer" leads quite automatically to a new classic beauty and to forms that possess an objective, immutable character."
"According to Sedlmayr, the nineteenth century's chief concern was with "upward assimilation," for example, the museum was fashioned after the model of a feudal or royal palace, or as in Ledoux, the charcoal kiln was made to resemble a pharaoh's grave. Stock exchanges and hotels draped themselves with colonnades reminiscent of temples and palaces. In the twentieth century, however, assimilation proceeded "downward": the house now became a "machine for living in," and the soul degenerated into a "soul silo." Sedlmayr bemoans "A lower-placed idol than the machine can hardly be imagined."49
49. Hans Sedlmayr, Verlust der Mitte (Salzburg, 1948), pp. 60 ff. On the role of the machine in archetectural thinking see P. Collins, "The Machanical Analogy," Changing Ideals, pp. 159-166; obviously, the machine was a conceptual "analogon" to phenomena in physics, politics, and economics well before theoreticians like Horatio Greenough, James Fergusson, or Viollet-le-Duc of the nineteenth century discovered it for their own use.
"For Le Corbusier, the concept of the machine was far from synonymous with pure "mechanics" and mere utilitarian function. It evoked a spiritual rather than a material order. Thus there is no contradiction between his constant reference to the machine and his polemical refusal of mere functionalism and utilitarianism."
"Much of Le Corbusier's formal language can be (and has been) understood in terms of this basic set of architectural principles. But the five points are an insufficient premise for any attempt at reconstructing the framework of his architectural language. They do isolate a few factors of architectural form--those that seemed, at the time, best suited to the promotion of a universal style based upon objective and scientific "facts." However, as one looks more closely at the individual buildings that incorporate these facts, one becomes aware that the five points are didactic abstractions from a body of architectural thought and style which, at the time they were coined, had already grown so complex that it was impossible to express them adequately in terms of a simple, handy theory."
The Villa Savoye and the Symbolism of the Ramp
The Villa Savoye in Poissy is situated on a smoothly sloping hilltop in the midst of a field, with a splendid view of the Seine Valley. The house's ground plan is a perfect square. Pilotis raise the "corps du logis" one story above the ground, and the ground level is defined as the zone of motion--of traffic. The arrival and departure of guests takes place here protected by the building itself. The minimum turning radius of an automobile determined the radius of the semicircular ground floor that contains an elegant reception hall, garages, and the servant's quarters. The traffic solution of the Villa Savoye with its curved driveway (recurring, decades later, on a larger scale in American bus terminals)is the most straight forward application of Le Corbusier's definition of the ground level as the area of motion versus the upper stories as an area of the motionless (living and working).
From the hall a two-stage ramp leads into the living area. The generously dimensioned rooms are arranged in an L-shape along two of the four sides of the "corps du logis." About one-third of the surface area is occupied by an open terrace enclosed by the walls of the house. The corner-to corner slits of the elongated windows addord views of the distant landscape, and the ramp then leads upward under the open sky to the solarium.
On the solarium level, straight and curved screens form a geometric landscape of surfaces and volumes in space. The immediately surrounding landscape is blocked off; one is left face to face with the sky. Perhaps the most sttriking feature of the Villa is the ramp, which lends a simple walk on the roof terrace the aura of a ceremonial ascent. What is the origin and meaning of the motif? The articulation of the arrival-zones in terms of solemnly exposed ascents has been a major theme of "high achitecture" from Palladio up to the great châteaus of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In Le Corbusier's case, however, the forms appears to have industrial, that is, machine age, overtones recalling moterized traffic with its roadways in the forms of bridges, ramps, and loops. In Towards a New Architecture he had published a photograph of the Fiat test track on the roof of their factory in Turin, and in Paris, large elevated access ramps for taxis were outstanding architectural elements at the old Gare Montparnasse and the Gare de Lyon. All this most have interested Le Corbusier and there is little doubt that ramps in his houses reflect something of the thrill of fast motorized circulation within the modern city.
This idea found other, more obvious realizations in later years, The most spectacular is Harvard's Carpenter Center: its ramps are a sort of miniture version of Boston's Southeast Expressway running through the structure in a bold S-shaped curve, peircing it like a tunnel, and inviting the pedestrians to take a metaphorical stroll through Corbusier's ideal "ville radieuse."
So much for the explicit machine-age symbolism. But the ramp is also a spectacle of pure form and space, and it has been praised as such by Giedion who insisted that it is impossible to "comprehend the Villa Savoye by a view from a single point; quite literally, it is a construction in space-time." Le Corbusier's own comments on space-time are more straightforward: "It is by moving about . . . that one can see the orders of architecture developing." And once again, as he had done earlier in connection with the Villa La Roche, the architect speaks of "promenade architecturale," and the vernacular architectue of North Africa as sources of inspiration.