What could be a better birthday gift than a Lego reconstruction of Le Corbusier's classic Villa Savoye?
Nothing, my wife thought, and I'm glad. I loved Lego as a child, and the Lego Architecture series is making it permissable to build a new collection, some 30 years after my first Lego sets were retired (perhaps not forever) to the loft.
Lego Architecture recreates classic designs of the past century, those so far available including, in addition to the Villa, Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, Farnsworth House and the Guggenheim Museum.
The Savoye model comes with an extensive booklet providing historical background about the building and its guiding design principles, and extensive brick-by-brick instructions. They need to be: it took me about three to four hours of concentrated work to complete it. I was impressed by the care taken to ensure the model's interior spaces follow those of the original, even though you have to peer closely through the windows to see them once the roof bricks have been snapped on. According to the booklet Lego went through 15 versions before settling on the final design.
Le Corbusier and fellow architect Pierre Jeanneret designed the Villa during the late 1920s as a private country house for the Savoye family. The open-ended commission specified no particular style so the pair took the opportunity to develop a radical design that applied five guiding principles Le Corbusier had established for the construction of a modern home:
- The building should be elevated on columns or pillars, allowing an extended continuity of the garden beneath.
- The roof should be functional, serving as a garden and terrace, reclaiming for nature the land occupied by the building.
- The floor plan should be open, relieved of load-bearing walls, allowing walls to be placed freely according to aesthetic judgement.
- Windows should be cut as long horizontal strips, ensuring illumination and ventilation.
- The façades should be freely designed, serving only as skins of walls and windows, and unconstrained by loading-bearing considerations.
Le Corbusier himself described the Villa as 'a box in the air, pierced all around, without interruptions, by a long window.'
The building's aesthetic is supremely rational - all perfect spheres and sharp corners - but it was designed to harmonise with its woodland surroundings. Its elevation invests the Villa with an etherial quality allowing a gentle transition to the lawn on which it sits. Some of the ground floor design elements are coloured green to blend with the trees and grass, and the terraces and generous windows ensure the Villa's landscape is visible from all parts of the house.
Certainly, a sense of harmony and logic was my abiding impression when constructing the model. In the booklet the German architect Michael Hepp, who designed the Lego version in collaboration with the company's design team, says:
When attempting to construct the roof elements, I was amazed yet again by Le Corbusier's art: nothing is coincidental and every change in his design principles led to imbalance and disharmony in the model.
I'm looking forward to investigating others in the Architect Series. Hopefully, now, there's no need to agonise about which boring, complicated philosophy book to buy me for a Christmas or birthday present: another one of these will do nicely, and thank you in advance.