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

Domus - - CONFETTI - Gior­gio Peghin

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

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