Thursday, 27 October 2011

darbi : works #15

Buildings of Paris




atelier ozenfant // le corbusier // 1922
53, avenue reille, 75014 paris


the highest delectation of the human mind is the perception of order, and the greatest human satisfaction is the feeling of callobaration or participation in this order.1

maison-atelier ozenfant is a house and artist’s studio in paris, france designed by le corbusier in 1922 for his friend amedee atelier, a french cubist painter. it is an example of purism architecture and a manifestation of some of the principles which le corbusier was to set out in his famous five points.2 the building is well recognized by its studio space with the fragile glass cube - glazing on three of buildings surfaces.

le corbusier worked closely with ozenfant on the design of this building and many changes were made but this has led to a shortage of documentation concerning the early stages of the design. drawings sent to the mayor’s office for permission were different from what was actually built. it’s an intriguing design from outside and inside as much of the building’s exterior talks about its interior.

location in relation to the street is also interesting. atelier ozenfant has two street facing facades whilst still touching neighboring buildings on both sides. what’s fascinating about these two elevations is that it’s not quite clear which is supposed to be entrance. north facade is facing avenue reille, the main road. the door here that has also been mirrored on east elevation leads to maids flat [both of them] but because of symmetry of the small window and extended wall on the left side it seems to be declaring the building as house rather than to provide useful access.3 while north elevation appears to be inviting east facade is actually then being used. besides from the door on the corner this side of the building consists of a small area in front of it with a wall around it, garage door and a spiral staircase - the main entrance into the house. what’s curious about both of these facades as one is that the projecting sill above doors which is carried round both sides and ties up with the first floor level of the top of the spiral staircase, makes it impossible to read the street front in purely two dimensional terms.4 according to drawings of earlier design of atelier ozenfant the staircase wasn’t planned to be spiral but had to be changed to allow for a window into the garage.


ground floor plan



first floor plan

long vertical window above the main entrance has probably been used for handling the artwork. it also makes it clear that the circulation through the building is vertical, behind this window - the theme of rising through the house to the privileged studio [which] is also marked by the external concrete spiral staircase5. long horizontal windows, also called fenetre en longeur, create an illusion of a straightforward arrangement of living spaces. on south side it brings the light in kitchen and bedroom. here it is not easy to distinguish the wall between the two rooms whilst on avenue reille side windows reflect a number of interior spaces: kitchen on the ground floor, bathroom above, library above the atelier. organization of rooms within the building is very unusual. there is a bedroom, kitchen, gallery, reception hall and some storage spaces on first floor and studio with darkroom and library on top floor. what’s interesting is that there is no dining room, no living spaces as we know them. layout of the plans suggest that living and working area was combined into one  - atelier.

another interesting aspect of the house is circulation. as i mentioned before circulation through the building works vertically. curious is le corbusier’s choice of staircase designs. movement through the building starts with the concrete spiral staircase to the reception and living spaces, here one either is welcomed to visit the gallery or be taken upstairs to the studio. staircase to the top floor is curved, this curved is also imitated on the wall with the kitchen. a nice, theatrical touch has been given to the staircase from first floor to the studio - a cut-away in the balustrade of the steel staircase, so that one can look down into the gallery as one rises into the studio.6 architectural walk ends in the atelier facing away from the big window. more stairs [almost like ladders] go to the intimate ozenfant’s library and mezzanine and, above that, with a physical effort a visitor can make his/her way up to the roof slab. as these stairs are less comfortable - steeper, narrower and made in steel, it’s clear they are private.



second floor plan

third floor plan

le corbusier and ozenfant not only were good friends but also shared an interest in purism - rational aesthetic.

we have attempted to establish an esthetic that is rational, and therefore human.7

many of their ideas were put into design of atelier ozenfant. decorations - rational and practical, interior color - white, detailing of the building, for instance, window, door layout on facades - rationalized with the laws of geometry.

the interior of his ozenfant house literally explodes into space; all edges and modified changes of plane, are burned away in the whiteness of the light.8

ozenfant’s studio is a large space with a cube of air floating in one corner and a small, intimate library in the other. they contrast each other by their unique qualities and make one imagine the artist looking for enclosure and privacy in the bird-nest-like library with a small opening, limited light and a view to the city of paris. it is clear straight away that this library was once ozenfant’s hiding place, like a tree-house for a child with a ladder. this reminds me of a walk in guernsey i once took from icart road to saints bay. it is a small path that follows the coastline of high cliffs, goes up and down but when i got closer to the beach the path became steeper and steeper until i reached a staircase and a ladder at the very end of it. to my surprise it was only the children who climbed down this ladder and played around big, almost round rock. saints bay seemed very special to them. very similar in ozenfant’s studio where a narrow ladder like metal staircase lets one person at a time to climb up to the library.

facade facing avenue reille

a lot has changed since it was built. glazed roof, one surface of the cube of air, has been replaced with a roof terrace and studio has become a living room, mezzanine - sitting, maybe dining area. main door into the house has been moved to the right and is now touching the horizontal window strip, window placed where the door used to be. garage door and the door on north facade have been replaced by windows. the gallery is now a dining room.


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1 purism, le corbusier and amedee ozenfant, 1921.
2 sharp, d., twentieth century architecture: a visual history. Facts On File, 1991, p066.
3-4 benton, t., the villas of le corbusier and pierre jeanneret 1920-1930. birkhauser, basel, 2007, p041.
5 benton, t., the villas of le corbusier and pierre jeanneret 1920-1930. birkhauser, basel, 2007, p038.
6 benton, t., the villas of le corbusier and pierre jeanneret 1920-1930. birkhauser, basel, 2007, p041.
7 purism by le corbusier and ozenfant, 1921 published in herbert, robert l., modern artists on art. dover publications, 2000.
8  le corbusier 1922-1965 by vincent scully in brooks, allen h., le corbusier. princeton university press, 1987.