The Sunny Days of Villa Savoye

The Sunny Days of Villa Savoye
Jean-Philippe Delhomme, Jean-Marc Savoye
Birkhäuser, March 2020

Hardcover | 8-1/2 x 6-3/4 inches | 60 pages | 54 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-3035620610 | $22.99


Villa Savoye is an icon of modern architecture. But who were Eugénie and Pierre Savoye, who had the house built between 1928 and 1930? Why did they commission Le Corbusier? And how did they live in the country house they dubbed "Villa les Heures Claires"?

Their grandson Jean-Marc Savoye tells the story of the villa and its residents using rare documents and family memories. In his pictures, illustrator Jean-Philippe Delhomme – long fascinated by the building – brings to life the construction site, everyday life, the war period, its use as a barn, and its rescue from demolition. In 1965, Le Corbusier lived to see Villa Savoye declared a monument; in 2016 it earned a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list and now welcomes 40,000 visitors each year.

Jean-Marc Savoye is the grandson of Eugénie and Pierre Savoye; Jean-Philippe Delhomme is illustrator for Vogue and The New Yorker among others.

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Villa le Lac was one of seventeen works by Le Corbusier that were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2016. Much more famous than that house, which was known also as "A Little House" and featured on this blog a few days ago, is Villa Savoye, completed in 1931 in Poissy, a suburb of Paris. If the small lake house Le Corbusier designed for his parents in 1923 is an early exploration of the architect's idea of a "machine for living," Villa Savoye is the pinnacle, coming after a decade of one modern house after another. (Eighteen of 26 houses in Le Corbusier Redrawn: The Houses fall into this period.) There are numerous books devoted to this singular masterpiece, most focusing on its its form, plan, and its synthesis of Corbu's Five Points for a New Architecture. In turn, any new book on Villa Savoye needs to approach it from a different perspective in order to add to the existing literature rather than just reword the same old ideas.

The Sunny Days of Villa Savoye, the translation of Les Heures claires de la Villa Savoye from 2015, is a novel approach to the house, since it was written by the grandson of the original owners, Eugénie and Pierre Savoye. Jean-Marc Savoye's brief words on the house are personal, carried down through his family and via archival documents, mainly correspondences between his grandparents and Le Corbusier. His is a history of relationships, events, and complications; the last are particularly pronounced as the book goes on, including such cliché things as leaks and the architect's inaction in doing anything about them. Jean-Marc's text is accompanied by the colorful illustrations of Jean-Philippe Delhomme, which depict the house, its clients, and its architect in an idealized light. Even the painting of Eugénie and Pierre dealing with a leak over the house's famous ramp has a quiet beauty to it rather than embodying the frustration evident in her letters to Corbu: "It is urgent that you make [this house] habitable. I would hope it will not be necessary to have recourse to legal means."

The author's grandparents lived in the house fewer than ten years, leaving it at the beginning of World War II. It's remarkable that the house managed to survive occupation by German and American soldiers, being used as part of a farm, and threats of demolition. Jean-Marc recounts those years after his grandparents had to abandon the house but also the fact Eugénie — more important as a client than Pierre — wanted their house to be a lasting statement. One century after the start of Corbusier's fruitful decade, after numerous restorations, the longevity of the house is guaranteed. And now, like Villa le Lac, it is a house that people can — no, must — visit.