Our guest writer today is our friend and colleague Alice Novak, Curator of Education at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.  Alice and I were together recently in France with our large extended family. —  Richard


As Richard Norris and I hopped out of an Uber in Poissy, France (thanks to his magic ways) and approached Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, he said to me . . . . “you know it’s still classical.”  Yes! the regularly spaced pilotis, the unity, harmony, balance . . .  Le Corbu dreamed into being his modern vehicle of ancient Greek ideals.

We all know Le Corbusier’s famous adage “The house should be a machine for living in.”  As we entered the efficient, modern space designed in 1929, I felt my energy channeled and directed up that spiral stair case I had seen so often in photos, rising above the hidden garage (camouflaged from the exterior by being painted green, and designed on the car’s turning radius) and the working spaces . . .

Richard and I wandered, discovering enormous sliding glass doors, pilotis streaming through the living spaces from below and acting as spines, and unexpected materials and early built-ins.  Sadly, the house shows its wear a bit, which comes as no surprise considering it was occupied by both German and Allied troops during the Second World War (a fact that resonated as we had just visited Omaha Beach the day before.)   Nonetheless we were easily able to imagine the original inhabitants in their glory, lounging on the roof, sitting in a delicious space outside the kitchen that never seems to appear in photos (not to mention the perfect tiny gardener’s house that no one ever talks about.)  As we departed, I found that one can actually use “les toilettes” Le Corbusier designed for the ground floor – oh sacred pilgrimage!

The question I was left with, of course, and posed to Richard was how to think of the house in relationship to its environment.  While it sits in the landscape looking a little machine-like, so much of the living space was designed to allow the inhabitants to be present in nature, including the crowning outdoor space.  One can check off the list of the modern attributes  “ribbon windows, flat roof (even if imperfect at first), steel, concrete”,  but the Villa Savoye challenges the criticism of Modernism as “impersonal.”  It’s on a human scale, and it spoke to me, especially since I was able to experience it with a favorite friend and McAlpine man.

Yes, Le Corbusier, “The house is a box in the air . . .”  Thank you for a great hour of my life.


Alice Novak


Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye

The covered entrance

Same, from another view

The garage


Do we take the spiral stairs or the ramp?

Following the guide map, we chose the ramp and started our tour at the top and worked our way down.  Here the Hanging Garden is seen through the living room sliding doors.

The roof top Solarium

Looking down to the Hanging Garden

Looking back to the living room.

A terrace “window” frames a view.

The spiral staircase 

Alice as scale model in the living room.

The kitchen

Another “window” framing the view from the small kitchen terrace.

The original blue of the hallway.

The gardeners cottage at the entrance to the estate.

Tool shed below, living quarters above.

Second floor access up an exterior stair.


  1. Dot Moore says:

    I ❤️ the house.
    Bauhaus followers are my favorite designers.

  2. Gaye Stathis says:

    I love McAlpine’s versions of modernity in residential architecture. Le Corbu’s “house” is so cold and stark and devoid of any feeling of a home. I think that if I lived in this building day and night I would lose my mind. Perhaps a wonderful office space at best. Perhaps with artwork and upholstered furniture it would feel differently than the cold stark interior it appears to be.

  3. Belle W. says:

    Nice Alice! Jealous of your travels

  4. David Braly says:

    Dearest Alice,
    What a wonderful photo essay; it took me back in time to a visit to the villa with Auburn students some 25 years ago, refreshed my memories and my desire to live a simpler, uncluttered life…eventually.
    Thank you!

    • Alice Novak says:

      David, May we all become less cluttered some day! I am glad you enjoyed revisiting the trip with your students, and you were certainly in my thoughts as I reflected on our adventure!

  5. Alice Novak says:

    Richard, I just wanted to let you know that I taught from your great photos on this post when we studied Le Corbusier in A.P. Art History today. Thank you!

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