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I need help. | by Ben Ledbetter, Architect
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I need help.

This photograph is of the rear of Le Corbusier's Villa Stein (Garches) outside of Paris, completed in 1927. The photograph was taken near the time of completion (as can be seen in the workers to the left and the marks on the glass).


That the great works of "modern" architecture were made before the (popular) advent of color photography, and that uneducated future users, even of Corbu's works, often changed or obliterated original colors, presents a problem*. Almost all of the original colors of this house (which was built as a duplex for Gertrude Stein's brother and his wife and one of their close friends and is now broken into five condos!!!) have been painted white. But in 1927 the house was extraordinarily polychromatic. You can tell this in this photograph, even though what the colors were is a mystery: the horizontal elements in the plane of the windows and in the plane of the raised terrace and stair rail down to grade are white. All the other elements (rendered by black and white film as varying shades of gray), including the oval (in plan) form that is holding up the terrace as well as the roof elements, are colored. Several different colors.


That the house was polychromatic was a critical aspect of Le Corbusier's conception of and the execution of the house.


I have tried in vain for years to find out what the colors are in this photograph. Three years ago I asked this question here in flickr, and got one response**, referring to one of the books where colors do, in fact show up, but those illustrations represented the colors as they existed long after subsequent owners (the Steins only lived in the house for ten years) had drastically tampered with the architect's intentions.


If anyone has clues I would be so very grateful.


[In the 1990s there was briefly exhibited a model of the house in the design section of the Museum of Modern Art, and more color was shown than I have seen anywhere else. My (likely faulty) memory*** was that the oval cylinder under the terrace was an ochre, the planes perpendicular to the facade were green and pink, and the wall at the back of the cutout was blue. When I went back to see the model again it was gone, and queries including phone calls to MoMA were answered with confusion. No one there remembered the model! (I've wondered since if I dreamed this. A few years before I had dreamed that I was sitting at my kitchen table with Corbu and was distressed that, as we talked, I saw that he had a diamond stud in his ear, which, to my greater horror, was filled with lint.)]


* If poor Richard Meier had had color monographs to crib his understanding of Corbu from, his houses would not have been all white.





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Taken on April 2, 2012