Modern LivingA Visit to Le Corbusier’s Paris Apartment
The Swiss-born architect and urban planner believed that sun, sky, trees, steel and cement should constitute the basic materials of the modern habitat.
The shadow of a vine is cast onto a clean white surface. A black spiral staircase winds towards it, each step revealing more of the deep blue sky. At the top of the stairs, a glass-walled concrete cubicle opens onto a burst of greenery – a roof terrace, saturated by the late afternoon sun, where ivy and agave plants soften the straight lines of the architecture.
Roof gardens are a key spatial theme in the work of Le Corbusier. The Swiss-born architect and urban planner believed that sun, sky, trees, steel and cement should constitute the basic materials of the modern habitat, as established in his theory of the “Cité Radieuse”. And so it was natural, even imperative, that his 1931 design for an apartment block in Paris’ 16th arrondissement would draw upon the same qualities he deemed essential to modern living. He and his wife Yvonne occupied the top two floors of the building from 1934 until his death in 1965.
Located on the seventh floor, it was the apartment’s east-west orientation that first piqued Le Corbusier’s interest. Flooded with natural light, the space follows an open plan layout with long, horizontal windows looking out onto expansive views of the city to one side, and the verdant Bois de Boulogne park on the other. Pivoting doors split the apartment in two, dividing the west-facing living area from the east-facing painting studio. Le Corbusier considered himself, above all, a painter, whose architectural language was nourished by his “patient and obstinate gardening, plowing, hoeing of forms and colours, rhythms and proportions,” as he once wrote, adding, “I think that if some value is to be accorded to my work as an architect, it is on this secret labour that the underlying quality depends.”
Within the studio, divergent elements combine in a balanced tableau: a traditional cinder block wall contrasts with the apartment’s modern glass façade, while a large vault is juxtaposed with the simple, small office space in the corner. A symbiosis of wood, concrete and brick, the atmosphere is serene, with direct sunlight softened by opaque glass panels. Every morning, Le Corbusier dedicated himself to hours of painting, drawing and writing in his studio, before heading to his architectural practice in the 7th arrondissement in the afternoon.
Similar architectural motifs feature in the rest of the apartment, where the couple lived for over three decades with their dog, Pinceau. A white ceiling arches over expansive sliding windows in the bedroom and dining area. Breezes roll in from the balcony; beyond, the lush grounds of the Bois de Boulogne unfold. As a nod to the “Cité Radieuse”, and his fondness for pilotis in his structures, Le Corbusier placed the bed on raised stilts, high above the floor. In this elevated position, Le Corbusier and his wife could enjoy unobstructed views of the park below, whilst benefiting from a maximal circulation of light and air around the room. “Everything, especially in architecture, is a question of circulation”, he once wrote, referring to ‘airiness’ as one of the essential joys of modern living.
Even in the largely windowless sitting area, the conversation between interior and exterior, geometric and organic, pervades. A rectangular aperture in the wood-panelled ceiling opens onto the roof garden above. Through it, the gently swaying shadow of an ivy branch is projected, dancing across the red wall of the sitting room. A chaise longue completes the ensemble. This is the joy of modern living as defined by Le Corbusier: a painterly composition of light and shade, nature and architecture.