Today we're going to talk about one of the greats of modern architecture, Le Corbusier. Specifically, we're going to talk about the Swiss-French architect's role in the controversy in Eileen Gray's E. 1027 House. Who was Eileen Gray? Eileen Gray (188-1976) was a mostly neglected, now highly regarded furniture designer and architect. The late Ms. Gray, who met Le Corbusier in Paris, France, was influenced by the Swiss architects rectilinear style of modernism and would later go on to develop her distinctive method of combining architecture and furniture design but in a softer manner. This was brought to full fruition in a house she designed on the Mediterranean coast in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin she dubbed E. 1027. An article in the Wall Street Journal, titled "Le Corbusier's Role in the Controversy Over Eileen Gray's E. 1027, published on August 19, 2013, explains how this historic home with murals by Le Corbusier was nearly destroyed.
|Plan for E. 1027|
Despite its auspicious beginning as an example of one of the most important examples of domestic architecture in the twentieth century, the house is wrapped in an enigma that one associates with fog shrouded castles not sunny villas in the south of France. I believe it was W. Somerset Maugham that once said, "Monte Carlo was a sunny place for shady people." Maybe it's the history of the house that gives it a dubious reputation. During World War II German soldiers used for target practice. Peter Kägi, a morphine addled gynecologist ( I'd hate to go to this guy for an exam) who bought the house in 1974, was murdered there in 1996. How about the homeless drug addicts who squatted in the abandoned house, covering the walls with cult-like graffiti. Could it be the fact that the coastal railway cuts too close to the property line or Ms. Gray's break up with her lover. A house with mystery and intrigue, I love it.
|Eileen Gray with Jean Badovici (r) and Le Corbusier (l)|
|Mural by Le Corbusier|
The irony of the situation, is that after years of obscurity, Eileen Gray is more famous than she was in life. The price for her furniture at auction has reached stratospheric heights. The Centre Pompidou recently mounted a well received retrospective of her work, featuring a partial reproduction of the E. 1027's living room. If that wasn't enough, there's even a movie in the works on her life. I'm wondering who the producers would get to play Jean Badovici and Le Corbusier? Regardless of this late blooming fame, the house still remains in limbo.
Even restoration of the house has be fraught with twists and turns, behooving the house's history. The restoration process has been painfully dragging out for decades. French architect Renaurd Barrés, who supervised previous restoration efforts, referred to the agonizingly slow process, "This is a real scandel, but no one dares talk about it." Mr. Barrés, calls the current campaign a "massacre." Pierre-Antoine Gatier, the official architect in charge of historic buildings for the Alpes-Martimes region, took charge of the project in 2003. No wonder, the restoration process has been dragging on so slowly, look at all the layers of French bureaucracy a person has to go through. Mr. Gatier's restoration efforts on the house went horribly wrong. The housing for the distinctive skylights was improperly replicated, according to Mr. Barrés, who along with architectural historian Burkhardt Rukschcio, assembled a twenty-two page report outlining the problem of the Gatier restoration. Some of the problems include: original 1920s electric switches were replaced with modern day switches; new mass-produced glass where original mottled glass was still intact; the porch railings, a key element in the overall design, were not reproduced to original size. This highlights the difficulty in finding contractors and workers who specialize in historic preservation work. The problems outlined here, are not unique to this house but representative of the problems facing historic building rehabilitation and restoration the world over.
|Rendering of E. 1027|
New York University Institute of Fine Arts and Twentieth European modernism professor Jean-Louis Cohen observes the situation with a certain amount detachment, referring to the multiple restoration phases of Le Corbusier's landmark house Villa Savoye in Poissy. According to Professor Cohen, "the current state of E. 1027 bothers me, but mistakes can be fixed...There is nothing easier than replacing an electric fixture..The process is stuck but the solution is very clear." This may be true but finding the right fixture and the right person to do the job is another matter. In the meantime the battle for E. 1027 rages on, bound up in the battle for Eileen Gray's legacy, overshadowed by Le Corbusier. Eileen Gray outlived Le Corbusier by eleven years. Le Corbusier met an ignoble end, death by drowning, a possible suicide. A mystery wrapped in an enigma.
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