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Villa Savoye ‘s Revelations on
Power
Eric Huang
470415302
This study is interested in ambient power architecture has in society,
it reveals architectures elevated control on our experiences and
the influence of the architect. The paper takes the case study of Le
Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, not only looking at its architectural elements
but also an investigation of the historical narrative surrounding the
project.
The building is interrogated through a series of varying lenses
illuminating several revelations. The Villa Savoye is exposed as a
“dispositif” maintaining and furthering an established power structure1.
Le Corbusier’s infatuation with mechanisation and mass production
highlight an ability for architects to be participatory in a systematic
societal suppression of the human aura. The Villa Savoye’s status as
the monument of Modernist architecture show architectures capacity
to influence history and the power of the monument in establishing the
ideal.
The Villa Savoye as a “Dispositif”
•
Foucault defines dispositive as the “heterogeneous ensemble
consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory
decisions...” and the “system of relations” between these elements that
maintain and further the established power structure.
•
The vertical hierarchy is established with the owners above and
the servants on the ground level.
•
Rooms for the driver and servants hidden away from the ground
floor entry space, yet close enough to be called up by the owners when
required.
•
“moat” of trees surrounds the buildings in the centre creating a
strong boundary against members of society.
1
Foucault, Michel. “The Confession of the Flesh” (1977)
interview. In Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews and Other Writings
(ed Colin Gordon), 1980: pg. 194-228
The placement of the caretakers house outside of the fence of trees,
further distinct the owners from their workers.
•
While Foucault’s speaks of a repression of sexuality, the Villa
Savoye is an apparatus in the repression of human autonomy.1
Mass Production’s suppression of Human Behaviour
•
Corbusier asserts that there is a need to “establishment of
standards in order to face the problem of perfection”2.
•
Corbusier establishes his “5 points of architecture” as such
“standards”.
•
Aligning Corbusier’s ideas to Plato’s cave allegory 3 , Corbusier
sees the ideal as the “automobile” and concludes mass production is the
means of achieving architectural enlightenment.
•
Mass production is not the representation of an ideal, but a
mimesis of an existing representation. It is a stationary progress of art
and does not push towards the enlightenment.
•
Corbusier’s assumes everyone in the “cave” is the same but they
are not, but the often callous “mass produced architecture” he wants
forces one type of berhaviour.
•
The long driveway into the building, dictates the only mode of
entry as by car.
•
Walter Benjamin provides a fair critique, that mass production
ignores context.4
•
In architecture that would be ignoring the inhabitants desire,
behaviours and place in society.
1
Foucault, Michel. The history of sexuality, 1st American ed. New
York: Pantheon Books, 1979.
2
Le Corbusier. Towards a New Architecture New York: Dover
Publications, 1986. Pg.135
3
Plato. “Book 7”, Republic. Translated by C. D. C Reeve, Reprint,
Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2004
4
Benjamin, Walter. “The work of art in the age of mechanical
reproduction,” in Illuminations. Translated by Harry Zohn. New York:
Schoken Books, 2007 (1936): pg. 217-252
The definitive power of Architectural monuments
•
The Villa Savoye is the monument of Modern Architecture.
•
The Savoye is an example of Nietzsche’s monumental history1
•
By transforming the Villa into a monument, we would have as
Nietzsche said obscured the past.
•
The villa lacked many key architectural elements resulting in
water leaks and structural problems.
•
The villa law abandoned and covered in graffiti after WW2.
•
Corbuiser had not intended for his building to become a
monument and wanted to repurpose it, but would the building be as well
known if he got what he wanted.2
•
His campaign through trying to draw awareness made it so there
only possible conclusion would require it look back on as a monument.
•
Nietzsche states the power of monumental history lies in its
ability to inspire, and as such the buildings shortcomings are ignored to
glorify a specific period of architecture.
The power of the Villa Savoye on society
•
Villa Savoye marked the rise of Modernism and the
International Style in Europe.
•
The ideology behind the Villa Savoye would influence the
development of society in Europe.
•
Ideas of mass production inspired social housing projects
including le Corbusier’s own Unite d’Habitation.
•
Re-established the relationship of architecture, it was no longer
a tool to show of wealth.
•
The Villa Savoye’s heritage status also redefined ideas of
conservation, and what was important for society to preserve.
1
Nietzsche, Friedrich. On The Advantage And Disadvantage Of
History For Life. Reprint, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publ. Co, 1980
2
Tournikiotis, Panayotis. “Le Corbusier, Giedion, and the Villa
Savoye: From Consecration to Preservation of Architecture.” Future
Anterior: Journal of Historic Preservation, History, Theory, and
Criticism 4, no. 2 (December 1, 2007): xii–11.
Annotated Bibliography
Benjamin, Walter. “The work of art in the age of mechanical
reproduction,” in Illuminations. Translated by Harry Zohn. New
York: Schoken Books, 2007 (1936): pg. 217-252
Benjamin takes a cynical view of mass/machine production. For him the
“work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction” has lost a sense of
quality and character, he proclaims that reproducing art ignores the key
importance of its context, that is the specific location with time it exists.
Benjamin offers a distinct view of mass production; his denouncement
of reproduction contrasts Le Corbusier’s idolisation of machines. The
facilitates a critical observation of how Le Corbusier expressed his
thinking in the Villa Savoye.
Foucault, Michel. “The Confession of the Flesh” (1977) interview.
In Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews and Other Writings (ed
Colin Gordon), 1980: pg. 194-228
In an interview with a group of historians, Foucault deliberates the
existence of apparatuses in society and asserts that these “dispositifs”
are a relationship between the numerous components that make up our
society which seek to maintain dominant power structures. Foucault
brings his extensive knowledge on the relationship of power to provoke
his audience to question the true function of objects in our society, of
which architecture is not excluded.
In the interview Foucault’s skilfully elucidates his alternate take on
societal structures. His explanation how the many things we play down
within society contain hidden, nefarious functions, serves as a lens for
this text to reveal how the Villa Savoye’s dictated the experience of its
inhabitants.
Le Corbusier. Towards a New Architecture New York: Dover
Publications, 1986.
Le Corbusier’s influential manifesto was a critique of the emerging
trends in architecture during his time. Le Corbusier campaigns for the
concept of what we now know as Modern architecture. A unique idea
at the time, he urges that architecture move away from its stylistic
obligation, “towards a new architecture” based on function.
The concepts Le Corbusier present formed the backbone for his design
of the Villa Savoye, his ground-breaking concepts of what architecture
should be, provide an alternate lens in which to measure architectural
ideals. his notions of the machine or mass production reveal Le
Corbuisiers intentions for the Villa Savoye and will assist in providing
the idealised version, envisioned by the architect and allow comparison
between the realities.
Loos, Adolf. “Crime and Ornament”, in The Arts and Popular
Culture in the Shadow of Adolf Loos, edited by Bernie Miller and
Melony Ward, XYZ Books, 2002
Adolf Loos decisively criticises the abuse of ornamentation within
architecture, he laments the power ornamentation held over designs
and the architect’s obligation for its incorporation It. He advocates
for “freedom from ornament”, which he believes would eliminate the
chance for obsolescence in architectural forms.
While the influence of Loo’s opinion on aesthetics have lost dominance
in current times, his architectural philosophy would form much of
the Modernisms ideological base. His significant ideas have clear
similarities to Le Corbusier, allowing an investigation into Le
Corbusier’s immediate contemporaries
Murphy, Kevin D. “The Villa Savoye and the Modernist Historic
Monument.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 61,
no. 1 (March 1, 2002): pg.68–89.
Murphy critiques the Villa Savoye’s transition from a building in
decline to monument cementing “its status in modern architecture. His
historical inquiry reveals the Villa Savoye’s conservation as the start
of a radical change in the awareness of cultural monuments and the
rethinking of the elements of a monument.
Murphy provides a highly detailed inspection of the events that lead
to the preservation of the Villa Savoye. His broad research into the
multiple attempts at securing conservation prompt a consideration of
the influence of art in advocating for the monumental history. This leads
further into an examination of art as the definer of monuments.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. On The Advantage And Disadvantage Of
History For Life. Reprint, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publ. Co, 1980.
Nietzsche poses a discussion on how we view history. He explains his
concept of the “monumental history” in which humanity looks back and
glorifies a past moment. It freezes the history in a way to only reveal its
greatness. He makes a great connection between the individual that acts,
as monumental history is best at inspiring and uniting under a collective
goood.
The preservation of the Villa Savoye is a clear example of such
monumental history. Nietzsche’s concept clarifies the reasons behind its
monumentation while also exposing the possible hidden truths that lie
behind the pristine preservation.
Plato. “Book 7”, Republic. Translated by C. D. C Reeve, Reprint,
Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2004.
“Book 7” of Plato’s Republic, paints an allegory of the cave to frame
the way education and philosophy function in society. He asserts that
humans should attempt to move in life from the stage of “imagination”,
where we can only observe representation and imitations to the stage of
“knowledge” where one becomes enlightened to the true ideals in the
world. Its influence cannot be overlooked, forming the foundation of
philosophical thought.
Plato’s ideas advocate for an attempt at a true imitation or
representation. This provides a new framework to view Le Corbusier,
his “ideal” becomes the machine and the Villa Savoye his endeavour to
recreate the ideal.
Samuel, Flora, and Jones, Peter Blundell. “The Making of
Architectural Promenade: Villa Savoye and Schminke House” 16,
no. 2 (June 2012): 108–124.
Samuel and Jones take a critical view of the “architectural promenade”
labelling it as too “generic” to describe the transition through a building.
They establish a contrast between two “architectural promenade’s”,
located in the Villa Savoye and Schminke House to arrive at a clearer
definition of the term. The duo critic the Villa Savoye regularised
implementation of the promenade, and promote a more cynical opinion
on the Villa Savoye.
Samuel and Jones utilise great care in their unpacking of the Villa
Savoye’s architectural elements, and through the comparison arrive at
a detailed description of its architectural effect. Forming the foundation
for the analysis of the building at a micro-scale.
Tournikiotis, Panayotis. “Le Corbusier, Giedion, and the Villa
Savoye: From Consecration to Preservation of Architecture.”
Future Anterior: Journal of Historic Preservation, History, Theory,
and Criticism 4, no. 2 (December 1, 2007): xii–11.
Tournikiotis is an expert on Le Corbusiers practice during the 1920s
and 1930s and was responsible for a Greek translation of his famous
manifesto1. Tournikiotis’ research into the conservation of the
Villa Savoye is a focused look at the individuals that helped it gain
conservation status. Tournikiotis zooms in on exchanges between Le
Corbusier and his companions to gain insight into the reason behind
their strong push for conservation. He arrives at a conclusion that Le
Corbusier had not intended for the Villa Savoye to be an architectural
monument, but instead wanted to find a way to repurpose it as a cultural
space.
Tournikiotis conclusion notes the importance of individuals in
cementing Villa Savoye’s status in architectural history. If we closely
investigate this story, it can be translated on to a grander scale,
challenging whether architectural monuments arise from themselves
or from a intentional attempt from architects and their disciples in
cementing a legacy.
1
Le Corbusier,. Gia Mia Architektonikē. Translated by Panagiōtēs
Tournikiōtēs, Reprint, Athēna: Ekdoseis Ekkremes, 2005
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