Study Abroad - Summer 2018
MAISON OZENFANT: THE LIVING MACHINE Jocelyn Wong
Illinois Institute of Technology
STUDY ABROAD - SUMMER 2018 ARCH 456-01 - Le Corbusier et L’Œuvre Complète Professor Colleen Humer ARCH 468-01 - Analytical Freehand Drawing Professor Martin Majkrak
STUDENTS Eric Drozd Daniel Whittaker Tiffany Chang Yuan Chen Duy Nguyen Dominique Sokan Jocelyn Wong Melisa Ozyurek Peidong Yang Erin Nelson Jingyu Jwa
With Illinois Institute of Technology.
MAISON OZENFANT: THE LIVING MACHINE By Jocelyn Wong
Le Corbusier’s Maison Ozenfant is a tribute to the defining principles of his career. Although the house is a predecessor to his more refined works, it nevertheless demonstrates some of his most important concepts. Le Corbusier’s characterization of a house as a “machine for living in”1 denotes his own dogmatic pursuit of the individual, and one’s connection with the surrounding space. This utilitarian principle can be traced back to his visits to the monasteries of Ema and Mount Athos, sites on his self-titled “Journey to the East” that would revise his understanding of the relationship of man to building. The most prominent features of the house are most likely derived from these influences. This paper seeks to analyze observations from Le Corbusier’s personal accounts, and therefore demonstrate how the impact of the trip manifested into the Maison Ozenfant. Upon receiving his first commission to design a house for the watchmaker Anatole Schwob, Le Corbusier left his home in La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1917 and made Paris, France his permanent residence. There, he met the artist Amédée Ozenfant. Ozenfant was Le Corbusier’s mentor and taught him the rudimentary elements of art and the Cubist painting style. Le Corbusier and Ozenfant began to form a partnership in their work, editing several books together as well as producing similar paintings that would later constitute a new movement in art called Purism, influenced by Le Corbusier’s background in architecture and Ozenfant’s creative vision. Their partnership would last for seventeen years from 1917 to 1934. In 1922, Le Corbusier designed a small apartmenthouse for Ozenfant in Paris. This was not the first house he had built specifically for an artist’s program. The Maison Citrohan (1920) and L’Esprit Nouveau Pavilion (1925, Paris) were also in development and were precedents to his partner’s studio.2 1 Le Corbusier, “Five Points Toward a New Architecture, 1926,” in Programs and Manifestos in Twentieth Century Architecture, Conrad Ullrichs, Ed., (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1970), 9 2 Peter Serenyi, “Le Corbusier, Fourier, and the Monastery of Ema,” The Art Bulletin, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Dec. 1967), 286.
The Ozenfant house was an early materialization of Corbusier’s “Five Points of a New Architecture”, incorporating the free facade and the horizontal window into the design of this building. Le Corbusier states in his book Vers une Architecture, (1925, written with Ozenfant), that,“Une maison est une machineà-habiter.”31Le Corbusier’s all-encompassing aphorism was a declaration of an ideal that seemed to demand the utmost minimalism from the individual. Le Corbusier designed this apartment-house for a single artist to live alone; this deceptively small house emphasizes essential living in every sense. The idea of the house as a machine meant that every feature had a function; nothing existed without purpose. However, that did not mean the house also needs to be a literal representation of a machine’s cold, rigid interior. As much as a house is a machine for living, it is also a living machine. Le Corbusier’s encounter with the monasteries of Ema and Mount Athos influenced this train of thought. In 1911, Le Corbusier embarked on a trip through central and eastern Europe. On this journey of self-discovery, he specifically sought to visit the Monastery of Ema in Florence, Italy. Through observing the way of life and how the monks used their space, Le Corbusier became “conscious of the harmony which results from the interplay of individual and collective life when each reacts favorably upon the other. Individuality and collectivity comprehended as fundamental dualism.”42 Separate living spaces allowed the monks to live together and in isolation simultaneously. Le Corbusier called these small rooms “cells”when united, they are part of the system that is the monastery. A trip to Mount Athos also made a powerful impression on him. There, he observed more monasteries and further strengthened his ideas about the self and the relationship of man to man.
3 Serenyi, 277. 4 Le Corbusier, The Marseilles Block, (London: Harvill Press, 1953), 48.
Observations from oneâ€™s own journey to the same Monastery of Ema in Florence can only strengthen what Le Corbusier himself saw. Separate gathering places and hallways allow the monks to keep their silence while also gathering them to be in fellowship with one another. The layout reconciles private and public, and unity and diversity,51thus achieving a balance between such polarities. The solitary cell of the monk did not appear to be confining or melancholy; in contrast, the rooms were comfortable and warm with sunlight coming through each monkâ€™s private garden. It was easy to see how one could live a life both of solitude and in communion with others. Maison Ozenfant can be perceived, therefore, as an extension of the living cell. Although only a single person is meant to inhabit the entire apartment-house, it is similar to the smaller rooms of the Monastery of Ema and the monasteries in Mount Athos. The house and the monasteries both have fluid spaces designed to allow one to move freely from room to room and take advantage of their function with ease.
â ľ Serenyi, 286.
Fig 01: Monastery of Ema, Florence, 1348, Andrea Orcagna. Hall dedicated to silent prayer.
The machine for living- the Maison Ozenfant- is able to breathe because the house leaves no room for confusion of its purpose. By eliminating unnecessary artifact, the house is decluttered and gives sustenance to the dweller’s conscience.⁶1 Another element of the machine present in Maison Ozenfant is its attention to human scale. The relationship of humans to architecture is one of the essential elements that creates efficiency and order. If the volume is larger than the human figure, it minimizes the significance of the role of man in the house. In contrast, too small of a space creates a sentiment of restraint. The perfect medium between these two extremes lies in Le Corbusier’s observations made from his Journey to the East- the human scale that he meticulously adhered to throughout his entire career. What Le Corbusier concluded from his trip can be aptly summarized by Francesco Passanti, But in fact, during the Hungarian and Balkan part of the trip Le Corbusier was not particularly intent on recording architecture. His notes about ⁶ Ivan Zaknic,”Le Corbusier’s Epiphany on Mount Athos,” Journal of Architectural Education, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Summer 1990), 30.
Fig 02: Monastery of Ema, Florence, 1348, Andrea Orcagna. Exterior view of the monastery’s private “cells” for each monk.
Balkan houses are skimpy, compared with the attention that he lavished on Pompeian houses in a later part of the trip. The real emotion, in his Balkan notes, concerns people and the relationship of people and their artifacts. It is through this relationship, more than the borrowing of specific architectural solutions, that the Balkan experience affected Le Corbusier's modernism.7 Thoroughly1emphasized is the importance of the human aspect in architecture. The unity of the ensemble,⁸2as described in Le Corbusier’s Oeuvre Complete, entails an understanding that the architect creates a vision of a lifestyle realistic to future owners of the house. This “cell”, brought from his journeys into his work, speaks to the vision of a solitary and introspective life. Observing how the people in Istanbul use space according to their purpose, one is able to understand how Le Corbusier could create space that was intimately connected to the user. Istanbul lives up to its name as the City on the Seven Hills. The streets twist and turn in response to that varied topography; hidden corners and narrow alleyways may yield majestic views of the strait dividing the city. Something that can be observed immediately is the city’s vernacular. Labyrinths of buildings crowd with locals and tourists alike. These dense pockets of activity swarm with vendors, while other parts are more spread out and orderly. The mosques, places of spiritual importance, are the only buildings that stand out in the skyline. This gives the impression that the people of the city understand the significance of scale and its implications. Larger volumes indicate that the building is more important than its inhabitant; conversely, it is up to the individual to make a small space have meaning. Istanbul’s people have learned to maximize their living potential. 7 Francesco Passanti, “The Vernacular, Modernism, and Le Corbusier,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, University of California Press, Vol. 56, No. 4 (Dec. 1997), 439. 8 Le Corbusier. “Maison-atelier du peintre Amédée Ozenfant, Paris, France, 1922.” Oeuvre Complète, Volume 1, 1910-1929, 11th ed., (Birkhäuser Architecture, June 2006), 30.
Le Corbusier strives for Maison Ozenfant to accomplish the same goal. Keeping in mind his clientâ€™s occupation, he designed its features tailored to the practical and specific needs of an artist. Little details like the size of a table or the windows made a huge impact to the livability of Maison Ozenfant. He personalizes the features of the house to accommodate the artist. Because the house is so custom-built towards a certain lifestyle, its size fosters the efficiency and minimal ideals of a living machine. Taking a walk through Maison Ozenfant, one has a clear vision of certain early principles Le Corbusier would slowly refine in his career. Although the upper studio is most notable for the large industrial skylights and almost floor to ceiling windows, the lower levels of the house are just as important. Their features all point to the living machine Le Corbusier envisioned for his long-time mentor and friend. One unusual but forward-thinking aspect about Maison Ozenfant is its refusal to blend into its surroundings. It almost seems austere, but the look of the house was not new to its time. Industrial aesthetics originated in the movement of creating a
Fig 03: Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, Turkey.
style from ordinary “found” elements of everyday life in 1928.⁹1 Le Corbusier, influenced by the works of Adolf Loos and Otto Wagner, promoted the “free facade”- by using architectural features as an ornament itself, the exterior is transparent about what the house is comprised of.102Maison Ozenfant is very much The lack of ornament actually liberates the building’s appearance in comparison to the weighty, embellished apartments adjacent. Upon entering the garage, one is presented immediately with the first set of spiral staircases that lead to the first floor. Le Corbusier was always adamant about allowing the visitor to have their own understanding about their relationship to the space around them, and the two spiral staircases of the garage and the first floor provide perspective at every angle. The garage itself is constrained to fit a single vehicle- nothing more, nothing less. It straightforwardly accomplishes its intention. The first floor is also strictly geared towards a single purpose. Curved walls guide the visitor through the short network of rooms that lead to a small parlor and another set of spiral 9 Passanti, 441. 20 Le Corbusier, “Maison-atelier du peintre Amédée Ozenfant, Paris, France, 1922,” 30.
Fig 04: View of lower level and garage.
staircases. The shape of these walls expresses efficiency; its form implies movement. Rooms tucked away into corners of the hallway are reminiscent of the cells Le Corbusier visited during his travels. Sanctioned for only one purpose, for sleeping at night or cooking, the rooms have no need to be larger. One is free to make better use of the more generous space upstairs. A horizontal, continuous window runs along the entirety of the kitchen and utility areas. This feature is one of Le Corbusierâ€™s five points in architecture. The window serves as both an architectural feature of the house, and abolishes the boundary of the exterior and interior in one bold gesture. Suddenly, one is able to see a complete view of the outside; traditional windows yield only snippets of the environment the house is in. Such large windows also let in copious amounts of light. This affects activities that can be done during the day, which in turn maximizes productivity- the main priority when inhabiting a machine for living.
Fig 05: Le Corbusier. Oeuvre ComplĂ¨te, Volume 1, 1910-1929. Second floor axonometric view.
One final turn about the spiral staircase leads into the heart of the machine: a spacious, all white room with a doubleheight ceiling meant for the artist’s studio (Fig 6). Sunlight flooding through the windows on all three sides amplifies the studio’s cubic volume. Le Corbusier’s vision for Maison Ozenfant culminates into this one room. All of the space that was compressed on the lower levels is suddenly released, as if one were holding their breath for the final act of a play. Some Corbusian features of this studio are especially worth mentioning. Inconspicuously attached to the side of the studio is an almost ladder-like metal stair leading to the rooftop (Fig. 7). Le Corbusier always approached stairs as a test to the visitor.111In order to gain a reward- usually the view of the landscape or a vision of what the building is in the greater urban context- one would first undergo an arduous journey up steep flights of stairs or a long, winding ramp. Although it may seem as a superfluous addition to an already grand space, the stairs are nevertheless an element that can only strengthen the overall concept. Two skylights on the exterior of the house (Fig. 8) allude to the modern industrial movement at that time period. The movement at the time, based on the “industrial aesthetics” mentioned earlier, was very in tune with Le Corbusier’s idea of the house as a living machine. Francesco Passanti asks in “The Vernacular, Modernism, and Le Corbusier”: “What role did the vernacular play in Le Corbusier’s construction of a modernist architecture? Its principal role, I have suggested, was not as a source of architectural motifs, but as a conceptual model... for the notion of modern vernacular- one as naturally the issue of modern industrial society, and as representative of it, as the traditional vernacular of common parlance had been of earlier societies.“122
Jose Baltanas, Walking Through Le Corbusier: A Tour of His Masterworks. Place: Thames & Hudson, 2005, 25. 22 Passanti, 447. 11
The design of everyday object had been translated into architecture. Maison Ozenfant can be seen as a product of that idea; the skylights, a simplified take on those found in warehouses, are only one of the many examples. The straightforward nature of the house is to live and to work- and in this, one can find the completeness of domestic life.
Fig 06: Le Corbusier. Oeuvre ComplĂ¨te, Volume 1, 1910-1929. View of interior studio.
Fig 07: Le Corbusier. Oeuvre ComplĂ¨te, Volume 1, 1910-1929. View of the room opposite window and staircase detail.
Fig 08: Le Corbusier. Oeuvre ComplĂ¨te, Volume 1, 1910-1929. Axonometric view of top floor and rooftop.
All of these small elements assemble into a statement of Le Corbusierâ€™s early guiding principles. Unfortunately, with the passing of time, and a change of ownership, the house has lost some of its special features. The present day owner has taken the liberty of removing the skylight and converting them into a rooftop terrace. Studio is now transformed into a living room, and the garage has also been converted to a room. Additionally, the front door has been positioned elsewhere. Did the owner commit a grievous mistake in altering a historically important piece of architecture? Perhaps the evolution of Maison Ozenfant achieves a different expression of the same Corbusian ideals. Analyzing photographs of the house in its present-day state may yield some perspective into the ownerâ€™s rationale for such design decisions. The exterior, as pictured (Fig. 9-10), seems fundamentally changed in many aspects compared to when it was originally built. Its front, made so clear and pristine in its architectural features, has been now obstructed with a tree and foliage from the rooftop terrace. Now it seems as if the removal of the jagged skylight further enforces the strong rectilinear elements already present in the windows.
Fig 09: Le Corbusier. Oeuvre ComplĂ¨te, Volume 1, 1910-1929. Original facade.
Fig 10: Emre AltĂźrk, Cross Reflections: Architecture, Photography and Text. 2016. Present-day view.
The studio’s interior, however, might be considered the most controversial transformation. Le Corbusier intended the studio to have the effect of being within a cube of light- which is now lost with the removal of the industrial skylight. Comparing pictures from the date of original construction to present day, one can immediately notice the change in the quality of light in the room. The skylight added a dimensionality to its volume that, once taken away, becomes subdued and flat. However, the next photo gives a different perspective on how the owner is able to interpret the new space. Photographer Emre Altürk summarizes Cross Reflections: Architecture, Photography and Text: The reasons this photograph of the Atelier Ozenfant gives a very powerful feeling of space are apparent from the viewpoint of perspective. The wide window profiles and especially the division bars of the closed ceiling window create a superbly geometric space, adding a depth to the photograph reminiscent of the black-andwhite tiled flooring in seventeenth-century Dutch paintings.13 It is more dependent on the viewer’s perspective to create their own understanding of this space, rather than allowing the architectural features to speak for themselves. The tension between elements in this photo create a depth beyond perspective.1412
Emre Altürk, “Paris, Maison-Atelier Ozenfant,” 2016, 38. Altürk, 38.
Fig 11: AltĂźrk, Emre. Cross Reflections: Architecture, Photography and Text, 2016. Living room interior.
Le Corbusier originally provided the studio with only a pair of tables, since Ozenfant himself would bring in other pieces of furniture. His intention was vastly different; utilitarian, strictly functional, and isolationist, Le Corbusier found comfort in austere simplicity- and he assumed others did as well. However, the studio’s current state proves otherwise. On the inside of the former studio, the owner furnishes the space with a plush living room rich in leather textures and earthy tones. Altürk describes a tension between the Corbusian chairs and the leather sofa against the window. “Canonically modernist interiors are often accused of being sterile- unwilling to allow life to leave a trace on them,” he observes. “...Conversely, with their loose, crumpled, non-geometric cushions, the brown leather sofas bear the traces of their users, betraying the spots that were last or most often sat on.”15 1A comfortable lifestyle contrary to Le Corbusier’s preferred isolation is evident in other signs of life: plants, mugs, and other miscellaneous artifacts are strewn about the room. The owner’s changes may have stripped the house of its former identity, but there is no doubt that a new, more appropriate scheme has taken its place. In context with the new changes and their impact, can Maison Ozenfant still be considered the living machine Le Corbusier once envisioned? A machine has a purpose, and its performance relies heavily on is operator. The house in its present state can be perceived as a deconstructed machine. It has served its role as a simple studio for the artist Ozenfant, but is now repurposed for a different, perhaps more universal style of living. Being one of Le Corbusier’s early works, Maison Ozenfant is an important milestone as a precursor to many of his principles in his later career. Influenced by his significant journey to the Balkans in 1911, the solitary architect experienced an epiphany about the human relationship and the intimate connection between space and body. He refined the concept of the cell, extended the concept to encompass Maison Ozenfant,
and incorporated the industrial vernacular at the time to express his ideas about the house as a “living machine”. The success of the studio-house lies in Le Corbusier’s ability to synthesize small details and bold architectural gestures; his design decisions make clear his peremptory assumptions about the way one should live. Regrettably, these assumptions did not withstand past his lifetime. Irrevocable alterations from the present owner have changed Maison Ozenfant’s identity. A redefinition and a more open interpretation of the living machine, however, enables the modern critic to explore the implications of Le Corbusier and his ideals with a new perspective.
Le Corbusier’s Maison Ozenfant is a tribute to the defining principles of his career. Although the house is a predecessor to his more refine...
Published on Aug 10, 2018
Le Corbusier’s Maison Ozenfant is a tribute to the defining principles of his career. Although the house is a predecessor to his more refine...