Sunday, September 25, 2005

Jeremy Frank 09-26-05

Comparison and Contrast of Villa Savoye and Robie House

An examination of common and contrasting characteristics of International Style and Organicist architecture can be facilitated by a more narrow, analogous examination of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, respectively. In these buildings, the qualities that define the relevant styles are well represented. This assertion is underscored by the opinion, articulated in Modern Architecture Since 1900 by William J.R. Curtis (p. 281), that “one is bound to say that the Villa Savoye, like the Robie House, and like certain of Palladio’s mature villas, represents a high point of expression within a vocabulary of type forms.” Here, we should specify the characteristics of that vocabulary, although it must be acknowledged that examples of these “styles” represent the individual expression of their creators, architects with distinct philosophical and cultural attitudes.

Broadly, with regard to International style buildings, “one could speak of the shared characteristics in terms of recurrent motifs like strip windows, flat roofs, grids of supports, cantilevered horizontal planes, metal railings, and curved partitions; or one could define the general qualities of the style by more abstract features such as the recurrent tendency to use simple rectangular volumes articulated by crisply cut openings, or to emphasize hovering planes and interpenetrating spaces.” (Curtis, p. 257)

Many qualities of Organicist architecture portray an attitude or approach that corresponds with such aspects of the International Style. These include the emerging tendency to create spaces that flow together, rather than being contained in discrete volumes that correspond with a particular function. Additional shared attributes include a general tendency toward simplification of form, the elimination of unnecessary and decorative elements, and a marriage of form and function. However, Organicism also diverges from International Style in many ways. Here, the context is utilized as a guiding force in the design of the building. It influences the form as well as the choice of materials, which are meant to arise from and integrate with the character of the surrounding environment. This anticipates critical regionalism, and stands in sharp contrast with the generalized quality often associated with the International style.

These common and contrasting elements, as exemplified by the Villa Savoye and the Robie House, are explored graphically below:



Exterior images indicate that both buildings emphasize the horizontal, are free of applied ornament, and speak of volume rather than mass. Conversely, a strong contrast exists in the way that they relate to their respective environments. The Robie House is rooted in the site, whereas the Villa Savoye is divorced from it, raised on pilotis.




Interior images indicate that both buildings have eroded the box; spaces flow without discrete partitions between them. The contrast in materiality is evident here, with the Villa Savoye celebrating the clean simplicity of the machine age, and the Robie house making reference to the sumptuous comfort provided by natural materials.

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