Villa Le Lac – Home of the Month
Architectural photographer Richard Pare is the author of the seminal The Lost Vanguard: Russian Modernist Architecture 1922–1932 (The Monacelli Press, 2007). He was the founding curator of the photography collection of the Canadian Centre for Architecture and a consultant to the collection since 1989. He is represented in many major public collections of photography. His years-long documentation of Le Corbusier’s extant work culminates in the recent publication of Le Corbusier: The Built Work.
Jean-Louis Cohen is founder of the Cité de l’architecture, a museum, research, and exhibition center in Paris’s Palais de Chaillot. His research activity has been chiefly focused on twentieth-century architecture and urban planning. He has studied German and Soviet architectural cultures in particular, and extensively interpreted Le Corbusier’s work and Paris planning history. Cohen is the author and curator of many architecture books and exhibitions. He wrote the text for Le Corbusier: The Built Work. The following is an excerpt.
Location: 21 Route de Lavaux, Corseaux
All photographs by Richard Pare
In 1923, Le Corbusier proposed a study of a “small ‘Purist’ house” for Georges-Édouard and Marie-Charlotte-Amélie Jeanneret, as referred to in his father’s journal, without specific site, but with the intent of locating it near the edge of the lake. After a number of unforeseen twists, a narrow strip of land was acquired on the edge of Lake Geneva at the outskirts of Vevey, on a site dominated by terraced vineyards. The project itself as built, with its elongated proportions, is practically a homothetic reduction of the plot, which took on the form of a “railway car,” in the words of Georges-Édouard, who eagerly followed the construction.
While it is essentially blank and opaque when seen from the road to Lavaux, the house is instead completely oriented to the view of the lake and the light it reflects. That side of the house provided Le Corbusier with an opportunity to extend his explorations of openings and their role in framing views. In 1954, Le Corbusier revisited the project in a booklet entitled Une Petite maison, writing, “The all-powerful and ever-present landscape on every side becomes tiresome. Have you noticed that under such circumstances ‘one’ no longer really ‘looks’ at it? For the landscape to actually count, it must be delimited, given dimensions through radical decision-making: by closing off the views to the horizon, erecting walls and only revealing the views at strategic points, through interruptions in the walls.”
The first of the two “strategic points” is in fact a line—the eleven-meter-long window that opens onto the living area. It is this opening that “introduces the immensity of the outdoors, the unfalsifiable unity of a lakeside landscape with its storms or radiant calms.” The second “point” is the squared-off opening in the masonry wall that separates the outdoor “summer room” from the lake, and which is opposed at every point to the interior band, thus forming an antithetical coupling of windows. The house was completed in 1924, shortly before the death of Georges-Édouard, whose son noted in Une Petite maison, “My father lived for one year in this house. The landscape filled him with joy.” He had enough time to start referring to it by the metonym “Le Lac.”
This modest building would soon be modified. In 1931, a small volume meant for the preservation of fruits, designed by Junzo Sakakura, was added at the northwest of the house, where Le Corbusier set up a desk with a view to the lake. Over the course of this period the building developed “wrinkles, appendicitis, and rheumatism,” to such an extent that the facade facing the road had to be covered in galvanized sheet metal that same year. The facade facing the lake would in turn be clad in aluminum in 1951.
Marie-Charlotte-Amélie lived in the house until 1960, and Albert Jeanneret lived there until 1973. A careful restoration was carried out between 2013 and 2015, which started with cutting down the paulownia tree of the “summer room,” which had become diseased due to clumsy pruning.
Le Corbusier: The Built Work by Richard Pare with text by Jean-Louis Cohen is the most thoroughgoing survey of nearly all of Le Corbusier’s extant projects, beautifully photographed and authoritatively detailed. It is available now everywhere books are sold: