THE STACKED HOUSE
Le Corbusier’s immeuble-villas; the stacked houses studied by Diotallevi and Marescotti; and the habitat marocain in Casablanca by Georges Candilis/AtBat Afrique are three modernist references examined by Giorgio Peghin as a typology still of interest tod
The detached house typically found in cities with expansive residential neighbourhoods is the diffuse expression of the type of home living to which we aspire. Despite the negative effects on land consumption, it is our ideal model. The search for an alternative, the idea of combining the detached house with collective living, is the theme that unites the following three projects: the unbuilt immeublevillas (1922) by Le Corbusier; studies for stacked villas (1930s) by Irenio Diotallevi and Franco Marescotti; and the habitat du plus grand nombre
(1950s) by Georges Candilis for AtBat Afrique in Morocco. Before them, the idea was ridiculed. In 1909, Life magazine published a full-page cartoon by A.B Walker showing conventional houses stacked on an open skyscraper frame.
The “stacked house” has been experiencing a comeback. We see it in the utopian project Highrise of Homes (1981) by James Wines, a founding member in 1970 of the SITE architectural group; in work by Junya Ishigami; and in an indirect way and for its media success, the Bosco Verticale residential towers (2014) in Milan by Stefano Boeri.
Le Corbusier’s immeuble-villas
started this typological category by aggregating single-family houses in collective units as an alternative to urban sprawl and the garden city. Both his Diorama d’une Ville Contemporaine de 3.000.000 d’habitants and the immeublevillas project were presented at the 1922 Salon d’Automne in Paris. Le Corbusier was publicising the immeuble-villas idea for the real-estate developer Groupe de l’Habitation Franco-Américaine. He hoped the group would invest in such a building, where the autonomy of the apartments was integrated with collective services and communal spaces organised along the lines of socialist-utopian thinking by the likes of Henri de Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier, whom Le Corbusier admired. Specifically, he designed two parallel wings, 150 metres long, composed of 120 standardised villas enclosing a large court, a permeable garden open to the sky.
This was a far cry from the closed, inaccessible 19th-century housing block. The standard villas are stacked and juxtaposed duplex apartments, each laid out around an open, doubleheight loggia (jardin suspendu). In 1925, Le Corbusier prototyped the design for the Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau, an advanced form of his idea of the machine-à-habiter.
The standardised villas and their aggregation in plan are inspired by the cell unit and spatial organisation of the Florence Charterhouse, a Carthusian monastery outside Florence, but purified of all stylistic references. Le Corbusier recognised in its structure the solution he was looking for. His eye for the past informs a different side of modernity. Published for the first time in 1923 in his book Vers une architecture, the project was proposed in variations and adaptations other times: in his lotissement à alvéoles pour citésjardins; the city block for Le Bon Marché department store in Paris; and the city quarter he designed for Geneva.
Le Corbusier’s idea is reflected in the work of Irenio Diotallevi and Franco Marescotti, who in the first half of the 20th century developed one of the most substantial and in-depth studies of modern housing in Italy. Their designs for stacked villas (19341937) are an alternative to spreading garden cities and large urban apartment buildings. The standard
apartment is conceived for four or five people, and features a big outdoor space, a roof terrace and a solarium. In a 1937 issue of Casabella
magazine, Diotallevi and Marescotti write: “Le Corbusier proposed two solutions: in 1922, the immeublevillas (120 houses stacked on five double-height storeys), and in 1925, an analogous grouping but with only three storeys, called alvéoles.
In these projects, the organism so brilliantly created betrays it origins: the dwellings are laid out on two levels and the gardens are recessed between one villa and the next. “The system we studied in the project illustrated here creates – by alternating the layouts on each storey – garden terraces in front of the dwellings with a free height of two storeys, meaning that they do not subtract light from the interiors. The terraces themselves have a feeling of spaciousness compared to human dimensions, and it is obtained without sacrificing any of the useful volumes.” Franco Marescotti continued research on this typology in several projects for aligned housing with stacked duplex apartments in 1942, but they were never built. The subject of stacked housing has seen other experiments in Italy in less radical forms. From 1933 to 1934, Luigi Figini and Gino Pollini built the
Casa a ville sovrapposte in Milan. For the Esposizione Universale Roma planned for 1942, Mario Ridolfi designed a house made up of stacked villas for the Mostra dell’Abitazione section.
In 1943, Luigi Piccinato designed studio houses for artists, taking inspiration from the compositional principle of the immeuble-villas.
However, none was as clear an example as Diotallevi and Marescotti’s embodiment of the stacking principle as a compositional procedure for detached single-family houses. The stacked house is also seen in social housing programmes promoted in the French colonies in North Africa. The French city planner Michel Écochard, the coordinator of the habitat marocain project, based the design of the Carrières Centrales quarter in Casablanca on modern variations of traditional Moroccan houses. An eight-by-eightmetre house with a patio allowed for a balanced relation between solids and voids. Écochard involved the architects Georges Candilis, Shadrach Woods, Henry Piot and Vladimir Bodiansky in the project. They were members of AtBat Afrique (the African branch of AtBat, Atelier des bâtisseurs, founded in 1947 by Le Corbusier and others). Between 1951 and 1954, they built a residential complex referred to as Nid d’abeilles (honeycomb). It was formed by stacking patio houses. The “suspended enclosures” are laid out so as to support one another structurally. Their sequence generates a windowless façade textured by the rhythm of solids and voids repeated in a geometric pattern. The composition is complemented by a polychrome similar to the one used for the Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, but there are differences, as remarked in 1955 by Alison and Peter Smithson in Architectural Design magazine: “The polychromy of this blind façade is outstandingly successful. Why this colour should be here so vitaI and at the Unité so irrelevant, it is interesting to speculate. At Casablanca the colours are not all primaries and they are organised in a fairly comprehensible rhythmic system on a façade where no windows or people are visible.”
The stacked houses are the result of the skilled ability to compose materials from the past and inaugurate a typology that lies outside the dogmatic application of standards. The comparison of these projects leads to several observations on the relation between architecture, history and form. Le Corbusier looked to history to discover certain formal structures. The Florence Charterhouse interested him for its typological reason. The organisational layout and design of the Unité d’Habitation have no direct reference. The projects by Diotallevi and Marescotti are a continuation of vertical cities by Le Corbusier, Ludwig Hilberseimer, and the visionary city by Leonardo da Vinci for Ludovico Sforza. All share the aim of an architectural and urbanistic alternative indicating a new formal intention. The buildings by Candilis and Woods are a reference to a type of house that cannot be fixed to a determined moment in history, but that belongs to the continuity of the historical phenomenon, and as such it can only be perceived in its formal and typological essence.
Ties to history, including the indirect, make clear how modern thought sometimes elaborates material from the past, imagining and carrying out rational studies that no longer refer to a specific place and are without technical limits. The distance from the historical material, in this sense, is absolute.
Top: Highrise of Homes (1981) by James Wines/SITE, a plan for a building frame containing distinct village-like communities on each floor; above: anonymous drawing dated 1920 in which a collection of recent and ancient architecture is stacked together (from Soline Nivet, Le Corbusier et
l’immeuble-villas, Éditions Mardaga, Wavre 2011)
Top and centre: cover and illustrated page showing Le Corbusier’s idea for the immeuble-villas in Vers une architecture, 23rd edition, Éditions G. Crès et Cie, Paris 1923; above: cover and page of L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, issue 57, 1954, illustrating the AtBat Afrique project for a habitat marocain in Casablanca, 1965-1954