The secret son

ONCE UPON A TIME THE­RE WAS A SA­CRED TREE. LE COR­BU­SIER BUILT A HOUSE AROUND IT. THEN THE TREE DIED. END OF STO­RY. OR MAYBE NOT?

AD (Italy) - - English Texts - words GIO­VAN­NI MON­TA­NA­RO

Bla­me it on the rain. An unu­sual­ly wet spring in Cor­seaux, on the righthand si­de of La­ke Ge­ne­va. But maybe it was ju­st fa­te. No buds on ff­ty Pau­lo­w­nia bran­ches. Lost in that unex­pec­ted mud, dro­w­ned. Even the seeds see­med ex­tinct. Pa­trick Mo­ser, con­ser­va­tor of Vil­la Le Lac, had them plan­ted in Pa­ris, at Boulogne-sur-Mer, Ro­que­bru­ne- Cap-Mar­tin, Brus­sels, four car­di­nal poin­ts, di­fe­rent la­ti­tu­des, di­fe­rent skies. But no­thing grew. You can try eve­ry­thing, so­me­ti­mes, but no­thing works. That tree is unique, no other tree will do. Le Cor­bu­sier was al­rea­dy forty when he de­si­gned the Vil­la. He hadn’t been Le Cor­bu­sier for long, thou­gh. Not ju­st be­cau­se he was star­ting, la­te, to de­si­gn and build, to real­ly be an ar­chi­tect, but al­so un­til re­cen­tly he had cal­led him­self Char­les-Edouard Jean­ne­ret- Gris. He cho­se his alias, “the crow”, in 1920, using it for the fr­st time to si­gn ar­ti­cles in the magazine Esprit Nou­veau. A ga­me, to be mo­re than one person. A ne­ces­si­ty, be­cau­se that pu­bli­ca­tion of pau­pers had to pre­tend to have a bigger staf. Vil­la Le Lac was al­so a wa­ger of sorts. It con­tains al­mo­st all of Le Cor­bu­sier, three of the fve ele­men­ts of his modern ar­chi­tec­tu­re, as ex­pres­sed in Vers une ar­chi­tec­tu­re in 1923: the roof­gar­den, the free plan, the rib­bon win­dow. On­ly the pil­lars and the free fa­ca­de are mis­sing. In the tra­di­tion of his vil­las, at Le Lac Le Cor­bu­sier in­ven­ts not ju­st the walls, but al­so what is abo­ve them, ou­tsi­de

them, ma­king an out­door room, the “sal­le de ver­du­re”. The house never fni­shes, it ex­tends to the shore of the la­ke, in­to the wa­ter, the grass, the hills. White walls on a black ba­se, dark doors, but then he lea­ves one si­de ga­ping, to de­scend to the wa­ter. On one wall that in­ten­tio­nal­ly blocks the view, he opens a win­dow looking to­wards the la­ke; not a con­cep­tual drift, but art and na­tu­re, ga­ze and land­sca­pe are pe­rhaps the sa­me thing. In the middle, in the grass, he de­ci­des to plant a tree that is co­lumn and roof, but al­so a ta­ble­ma­te. Le Cor­bu­sier thinks about cher­ry, pi­ne, aca­cia, po­plar, wil­low. Then he op­ts for Pau­lo­w­nia, tall, ma­je­stic, sprea­ding in all di­rec­tions, clad in li­chen. The tree is the­re th­rou­gh the 1900s, af­ter 1965 when Le Cor­bu­sier pas­ses away. A mo­nu­ment that con­ti­nues to grow, to live, vi­si­ted by ar­chi­tec­ts and stu­den­ts. They are not on­ly looking for Le Cor­bu­sier. They bring their de­si­res, que­stions. That giant Pau­lo­w­nia be­co­mes a pla­ce of pil­gri­ma­ge. But things come to an end. At the start of the new mil­len­nium a fun­gus at­tacks the trunk. A slow, pain­ful, human death, in spi­te of fu­ti­le rescue at­temp­ts. Gar­de­ners bot­ch the job, cut­ting the fo­lia­ge in­stead of wor­king on the trunk. It’s ho­pe­less. The tree is fel­led in 2013. Bran­ches and seeds are con­ser­ved, in the ho­pe of clo­ning or re­pro­duc­tion. Pa­trick Mo­ser, with ECAL, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Art and De­si­gn Lau­san­ne, de­ci­des the trunk must live on. So­meo­ne sug­gests ma­king pen­cils, so the bran­ches can be­co­me words, si­gns, co­lors. But the com­pa­nies con­tac­ted re­fu­se to do a pro­duc­tion run of less than one million. Not the right choi­ce. Cas­si­na un­der­stands, and calls in Jai­me Hayon to ma­ke ob­jec­ts, as long as the wood lasts. Thou­gh the wood is stub­born, hard. Hayon in­ven­ts three ob­jec­ts; The Bird, for letters, The Bird House, for ob­jec­ts, and

The Led­ge, in the form of a swing. They are use­ful in the home, but fy ou­tsi­de. A house doe­sn’t end inside its walls, and looking at tho­se ob­jec­ts is a bit li­ke re­tur­ning to Le Lac, on the shore. Life goes on; ano­ther Pau­lo­w­nia is plan­ted. A di­fe­rent family, but in the end it is a sym­bol. In the spring of 2014 Mo­ser goes out on the vil­la’s ter­ra­ce, on an or­di­na­ry day. Sud­den­ly he no­ti­ces so­me­thing, on the wall to­wards the la­ke. A green tuft, a twig, the­re’s wood, al­mo­st in­vi­si­ble, but too big to be ju­st a weed. Mo­ser runs do­wn­stairs. And he sees it. Ju­st a bran­ch, a small bran­ch, but li­ke any bran­ch it is al­rea­dy a tree, a giant. He ge­ts it ana­ly­zed, thou­gh he is al­rea­dy cer­tain; it is the Pau­lo­w­nia of Le Cor­bu­sier, the tree has been re­born. A seed no­bo­dy plan­ted, no­bo­dy no­ti­ced, drop­ped the­re who kno­ws how, a few me­ters away, pro­tec­ted by the sto­ne. Who kno­ws how it ma­na­ged to put do­wn roo­ts, to gain nou­rish­ment? Life is mar­ve­lous, full of gif­ts. The twig gro­ws, now 50 cm high, plan­ted at Bour­se aux Ar­bres, a near­by nur­se­ry. When it is big enou­gh it will re­turn to the la­ke.

THE TREE IS THE­RE TH­ROU­GH THE 1900S, AF­TER 1965 WHEN LE COR­BU­SIER PAS­SES AWAY. A MO­NU­MENT THAT CON­TI­NUES TO GROW. THAT GIANT PAU­LO­W­NIA BE­CO­MES A PLA­CE OF PIL­GRI­MA­GE.

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