Exploring Maison La Roche in Paris.
His sense of humor masked by a French facade, the museum curator handed me a pair of blue booties for my tour of the stair- and ramp-laden architecture of Maison La Roche in Paris. Designed in 1923 by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, this house with art gallery was commissioned by Swiss banker Raoul La Roche.
LC3 Chair by Corbu Group in the art gallery. Photo: Gwendolyn Horton
La Roche’s art collection was removed long ago, leaving only a “spatial experience, designed to be full of movement,” as described by Corbu, to admire as you explore a succession of expanding and contracting corridors, stairs, ramps, balconies and rooms. Wearing slippery booties enhances the drama, and I imagine the reveal of cubist paintings, sculptures and drawings around each corner would have been stunning, indeed.
To solve the problem of a north-facing lot and zoning restrictions against windows overlooking neighbors’ gardens, the architects positioned long strips of windows high on walls and Where’s Waldo? skylights that fill rooms with mysterious light from unseen sources. “Today I am accused of being a revolutionary,” wrote Le Corbusier. “Yet I confess to having had only one master – the past; and only one discipline – the study of the past.”
Corbu and Jeanneret were fascinated with the relationship of color and form, and in this house you can clearly see how they used color to explore the “fundamental elements in the architectural perception.” Contrasting the white exterior, a polychromatic scheme was used for most of the interior, with colors that are identical to Corbu’s palette for easel painting: grey, blue, green, burnt umber, light red ochre, yellow ochre, pink, ivory and black. As you explore the house, with its ever-changing point of view, you experience what Corbu called the “promenade architecturale,” by which he meant, “It is as we walk, as we move along that we see the architectural layout unfolding.”
Although the home was completed in 1925, La Roche didn’t commission furniture until 1927 – one has to wonder what he was sitting on for two years – which is when Charlotte Perriand became part of the story. Corbu, who had just hired the young French designer, assigned her to furnish Maison La Roche. “What a shock that experience was,” wrote Perriand, “almost an overwhelming sensation of bliss. I humbly took in the ensemble. A white space punctuated by colored walls.”
In addition to furnishing the space, Perriand improved the lighting in the gallery, replaced the parquet flooring with black tiles, removed cabinets and added glass and metal shelving. Like many Corbu projects, Maison La Roche was the work of a team, an experience enriched by the collaborative efforts of Corbu, Perriand and Jeanneret.
Today Maison La Roche houses the Foundation Le Corbusier, to whom Raoul La Roche donated the property before his death in 1965. Weekly tours are available to the public. When you go, be sure to also explore Rue Mallet-Stevens, just two blocks away.
Corbu your house with paints from the Swiss company KT Color.