The term “Good Architecture” differs for everyone, however, they have one thing in common. That is, it should create better habitable situations for its occupants and the crafted elegantly delighting the public. According to Vitruvius’ Principles of Good Architecture, architecture ought to stand sturdy as well as remain in good condition (Firmatis), be functional for the people in use of the building (Utilitas) and should delight people, raising their spirits (Venustatis).
Thus, good architecture is about craftsmanship and technology. In that sense, the absolute form of architecture embodies the Principles of a Good Architecture as well as evolving architecture today. This essay will discuss an ideal form of architecture focusing on the New Brutalist style while critically analysing Le Corbusier’s Maison Jaoul for the construction and technology. New Brutalism is an architecture style formed by its bulky presence from the use of raw concrete, repetitive modular elements and brickwork, Le Corbusier described as “béton brut” translating to “rough concrete”. It denotes a reflection of form and function based on human interaction.
It does not exactly have a set origin comparable to Classical Architecture bringing about Neoclassical Architecture, nonetheless, it was marked by the changes in social and political power. Nonetheless, the Brutalist movement had already begun before it had been associated with the name. Alison Smithson, a British architect, had called it ‘the Warehouse Aesthetic’.
1 Although, many would insist that Corbusier is the founder of the Brutalist movement. One of Corbusier’s most notable works which embody this style is the Maison Jaoul (1956). Located at number 81, Longchamp street, Neuilly-sur-Seine, in Paris France; less than a mile away from the home is the Champs Elysees and the park of Saint-James.
The site sits on a trapezoid block which is further subdivided into rectangular plots. Before development, surrounding homes to the site were detached houses with gardens, however, over the years these houses were being replaced by larger buildings and different configurations.1 Initial plans had been drafted for the home in 1937, however, by 1951 a new approach was presented. This was due to the uneven topography, outrageous cost to build and moreover the circumstances France had been under after the war. The home was initially owned by Andre Jaoul and his son. A previous client of his, who had a weekend home designed for him in 1937 but was never built.
2 Later on, ownership was acquired by the English millionaire, Peter Palumbo. Since 1966, the home was under the protection by the French government as a historical monument at the request of Andre Malraux.3 Currently, it is being owned by two sisters and their family. Corbusier having a great appreciation for craftsmanship, texture and different finishes expressed the Maison Jaoul as such. It is one of his few brutalist buildings that cleverly compliments the invention of the beton brut. It shows a bold presence and an unique use of materials making the appearance of its exterior rustic and rough. Materials used in the construction of the Maison Jaoul include bricks, concrete, stone, glass and natural wood. They tend to feel imposing, fortress-like, and visually heavy.
The home is divided into two sections named La Casa “A” and La Casa “B” of which are placed in an L-shape to each other. House B standing Northwest, has its façade hidden by the House A. This gives the feeling that House A protects the House B. Furthermore, House B is almost closed off, from the placement of the surrounding trees to adjacent buildings and passersby offering it privacy.4 Each house is divided into three levels with a connecting basement beneath, housing parking spaces, the boiler room, and a cellar.
The houses are situated on a 1000 square feet lot, measuring about 250 square meters for each house.5 House “A” comprises of a hall, toilet, kitchen with dining area, living room, library on the ground floor, hall, toilet, two bedrooms, bathroom, two toilets, chapel, balcony on the first floor, two bedrooms and two bathrooms surrounded by terraces on the second floor. House “B”, comprises of a hall, toilet, kitchen with dining area, living room, library on the ground floor, four bedrooms, one bathroom, three toilets, a balcony on the first floor and living room studio, one bedroom, a toilet surrounded by terraces on the second floor. The houses being quite different, still share the same building system. The lower floors stand as sculptural volumes forming a central core around the stairs and chimney.
The chimneys stand in the centre of the living space. This being an evocative characteristic of traditional Eastern European architecture.3 In comparison, this was one of Frank Lloyd Wright many focuses on his design concept. Wright is often quoted saying, “The hearth is the psychological center of the home”.
4 By making the fireplace the focus of the living area, it signified that the chimney as the heart of the house and families would meet and converse in that common area. He believed the Hearth of the home is the fireplace and within that space, no evil should be spoken.5 Making the fireplace the center point of the house links each space as one unit. In comparison to the rigid and rectangular structure of the exterior, the partition walls within the house create fluid movements within spaces.
Regardless of the thick walls, light shines generously from the many windows and openings as well as the soles of the bedrooms. After the World War II in 1945, most Parisians were living poorly. The economy was failing, Industrial as well as Agricultural production ran on 40% of the initial amount before the war and housing in high demand.
About 400,000 buildings during the war were destroyed with the number damaged buildings about five times.6 Between 1950 and 1960, the rise of modern architecture had come to place. Like many countries, France had gone through a series of different architectural styles. From the subtle Romanesque to the gory Gothic, going onto Renaissance, Classicism, Rococo to Art Nouveau and Industrialism. Thus, the addition of highways, skyscrapers, and thousands of new apartment blocks was introduced by the Modernist style to its architectural scape. One would imagine that the appearance of the Maison Jaoul would to follow the trend, however, it takes a very different approach. Recovering from the war, basic needs were hard to come by. Materials were very expensive, therefore influencing the style of the house.
This, in turn, breaks the series of Purist villas Corbusier designed in the early 20’s. Both favouring the crude nature of paintings done by Jean Dubuffet, it was easy to persuade Andre Jaoul to the aesthetics Corbusier proposed.He stated, “we appreciate the rough texture of exposed brick, joints coarsely mortared by the mason, whitewash laid over the brickwork…”. He estimated that about 20% of expenses would be saved exposing its structure and materiality.7 The main design concept for the Maison Jaoul was formed many ideas. Most importantly by his Modulor man and Le Corbusier’s five points of architecture. The Modulor influenced the proportions of the house.
Each house spanning at 7 ft. 6 in. by 12ft with a height to the soffit carrying horizontal bearers standing at 7 ft. 6 in.8 On the other hand, Corbusier’s famous concept ‘the Five Points of Architecture’ is a list of important points an architect must be aware of to provide occupants with healthy conditions. The points are; Pilotis, roof garden, free facade, free plan and horizontal windows. Formulated in 1926, it is very apparent in his works.
9 Most recognisable showcasing the five points is the Villa Savoye. Aside from the problems with regards to heat loss and the leaking roof, it is regarded as a respected work of art. It is the first of his villa oeuvre with the mass volume of the house supported by columns acting as stilts. It is described as a type of ‘mathematical lyricism’.
10Other examples include the Maison Citrohan (1920), Maison La Roche (1923), Ville Contemporaine (1922), “L’esprit nouveau” Pavilion (1925), Maison Cook (1924) and Villa Stein (1927). The same principles are applied to the Maison Jaoul, however, it is not so apparent at first sight. Gathering influences from the Sarabhai House and studying from Indian traditional architecture observing details of its vernacular architecture influenced the floor plan of the houses.11 The building floor plan is free from structural conditioning, so partitions are organized in a sequence of open spaces and private spaces. Having reinforced concrete columns bearing the weight of a building is a unique system in construction that Corbusier uses. This way interior walls have the option to be load free thus removing them for open space.
From the exterior, the horizontal bands of concrete walls express random and coarse aesthetic inspired by Dubuffet’s painting methods.12 The interior walls separate from the facade, relieving it of its structural function. On the other hand, the Maison Jaoul expresses one other design concept. An invention Corbusier called “Le Quatriame Mur” 13 otherwise known as the “fourth wall”. 14 Using an assembly of proportional wooden panels and ventilation openings, fitted over fully glazed walls. By alternating wood panels with glazing allowing for an experiment with the idea of ‘ juxtaposing rectangular elements’.15 The windows cutting along its length of the house offers privacy between the two houses and adjacent buildings. Being not of the same size, strategically, they allow the space to be lit equally.
The interior of the house evokes the look of a train wagon by including Catalan vaults. Inspiration he drew from Pisano’s house as well as from his journey to the Columbia exploring the system of wooden shutters.16 The curvature of the roof and vaulted ceiling technique saves energy and money. In addition, it creates an airy feel within the space as well as deceiving the eye to make the space feel bigger than it is. Because the width span of the house is quite wide, a horizontal bearer, acting as a beam ties the frame together preventing the ceiling from collapsing and distributing the weight over its irregular openings.17The skinny nature of the horizontal bearer is almost invisible adding character to space. The Catalan vault possibly creates the best feature of the house.
The vaulted ends are situated on the west sides of the plot, therefore, allowing natural light within the space, resulting in interior heating. In addition, introducing a roof garden allows the building to give back to the space it has taken for the ground. As the world of architecture changes, the basics remain the same. The five points of architecture show a concern for designing, creating an attention around the human movement and interaction.
This has been made a vital element influencing the Modernist style. Concrete often associated with being rough and heavy can still hold the aesthetic of being clean and sculptural. This is one of the few building materials Corbusier extensively worked with. Buildings like the Baghdad Gymnasium (1956) and the Palace of Assembly (1950). Both brutalist buildings, have a repetitive nature of square windows, heavy concrete walls, yet incorporate other shapes and forms which break away from the usual rectangular nature expected. During the postwar era, Brutalism was often referred to as large, ugly and unpopular. Critics often describe the style as unappealing and cold. One point for criticizing the style is the choice of materials, stating that the materials do not age well under certain climates and are subjected to vandalism.
According to Anthony Daniels, a British author, physician, and political commentator, Brutalism represents an artefact of the European philosophical totalitarianism, a “spiritual, intellectual, and moral deformity.” He described the style as cold-hearted, inhuman, hideous and monstrous. In addition, he states that reinforced concrete “does not age gracefully but instead crumbles, stains, and decays”, which makes alternative building styles superior.18 In maritime climates, such as Northwestern Europe and New England, concrete is liable to water stains and in some cases to moss, lichens and rust stains from reinforcements. However, problems as such can easily be prevented by using a concrete sealer. Otherwise, concrete facades can be sandblasted or covered in stucco. Despite the criticism, the style is appreciated by others, and preservation efforts are taking place. Although the Brutalist movement ended in the mid-1980’s, it has paved way for other forms such as Structural Expressionism and Deconstructivism.
It is a very eco-friendly and sustainable form of architecture. In addition, it makes for durable, excellent thermal mass, and great strength for buildings. Over the years, it has become quite popular and many are seeing the beauty in its rough aesthetics. Brutalism has made a comeback in the architecture world fitting almost seamlessly. For instance, the Washington Metro station, like many other underground stations in the US, with brutalist vaulting bears great similarities to the Pantheon in Rome. Brutalism is one of the most honest forms of architecture.
By exposing its structure and displaying the true form of its materials, it can tell one how a building was built and why it was built. It has a personality that modern buildings cannot necessarily give. Regardless of how different Modernism and Brutalism are, they still share a fundamental principle. A principle often promoted by Louis Sullivan, that “form forever follows function,” without relying on revivalist architectural styles of the past.
19 Therefore paying little to no attention to decorative facades. For instance, it would be impossible to imagine the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin by Peter Eisenman in anything but subtle, simple and in concrete. In addition, Brutalism is quite versatile.
New ideas are being developed with the style. Consider Olafur Eliasson’s Studio Other Spaces, specifically the Ilulissat Icefjord Park, using the technique to have glacial ice cast in concrete to create space. A series of textured irregular spaces is revealed when the ice melts resulting in a very interesting and different design concept.Therefore, there is more to come with the movement especially with the style revamping itself.
In conclusion, Brutalism in many ways fits the characteristics of the absolute architecture and has taught the architecture world. It may not be the most appreciated style but it holds up to its character. Concrete is one of the fundamental materials used to illustrate the style serves as a natural and an eco-friendly style for architecture. It is truthful and not garish, representing its spirit greatly. Although Le Corbusier’s works changed over the years, his oeuvre steered Modern architecture to a new position from his ideas as well as questioning the art of living.