La Maison au Bord de l'Eau, a Project for the Right to Leisure
Charlotte Perriand left her mark on modern architecture. Although she was erased from history, her activism for the recognition of women in society or her projects claiming the right to leisure and rest, make her a key figure of the 20th century.
A resolutely modern architect
Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) was a French architect and designer who was extremely influential within the modern movement. Between 1927 and 1937 she was responsible for the furniture and equipment in the projects of Pierre Janneret and Le Corbusier. She worked notably on the villa La Roche and its chaise longue LC4 (deckchair) or on La Maison du Jeune Homme (Home of a young Man) at the 1935 Universal Exhibition in Brussels. In this period preceding the Second World War, Charlotte Perriand was already a reference, although she was only one of the few women in the field of architecture. At the beginning of the war she left France for Japan to become advisor for industrial art. She knew how to combine mass production, innovative design, and Japanese traditionalism. These two years in Japan were followed by another trip in 1955. The influence of her work on Japanese modernist design is just as important as the influence of Japanese art on her creations.
Between 1967 and 1986 she completed her biggest architectural project, the Les Arcs mountain resort in Savoie. There, she designed buildings that were integrated into the alpine landscape, consisting of pre-manufactured modules for kitchens and bathrooms. The position of the buildings on the slope also gives the apartments privileged views of the mountain. She designed both the architecture of the site and the interior layout, and the Les Arcs project is still today an absolute reference in mountain architecture.
Modern ideas in a retrograde world
Throughout the 20th century, she was a major figure in the transmission of modern advances in Japan, Brazil, and more broadly in Europe. Strong activist in various fields, she refused to submit to a world where her place as a woman architect was considered an anomaly. She therefore suffered much more for her condition as a woman than for her resolutely modern architectural ideas (which sometimes went hand in hand). For example, Le Corbusier undertook to conceal the work she did in his projects. And she was also unable to open her own studio, a signature of her husband being necessary administratively. Resolutely avant-garde and committed, she spreaded her activism in her creations. She reinvented the domestic space, bringing women mentally and spatially out of the kitchen. Also convinced that it was better to live in a functional space, she advocated a new art of living influenced by the mechanical age. In 1947, she created an utopian government, exclusively made up of women, where she took the position of Minister of Reconstruction. Earlier, in the pre-war period, she militated for access to paid vacations and housing accessible to everyone.
The leisure architecture
In 1934, a competition for a “weekend house” was organized by the magazine L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui. Charlotte Perriand, already claiming the right to leisure for all, designed a simple beach vacations house which won 2nd prize. La Maison au Bord de l’Eau (The Waterfront House) was designed to be easily mass-produced using the industrial techniques of the time, easily installed because it required no foundation, and also intended for a typical family with common needs. The space is limited but all are related to outdoor spaces that participate in the dimension of the spaces.
The project is designed as a house for all, with a popular budget. It is built in wood, on stilts forming two symmetrical volumes facing each other, with a wooden terrace in between. The volume on the left is intended for night spaces, the volume on the right for day spaces. The spaces are designed in a very rational manner, dimensioned with great intelligence around the furniture. Their layout can be modulated by a system of sliding walls or furniture. The space is not fixed and really adapted to a diversity of uses. The storage space can accommodate additional beds. The central terrace is covered with a canvas designed to receive rainwater. It’s a simple project, combining practicality and esthetics, yet always contemporary. A reproduction of the house, according to the plans, has been built built 80 years later by Louis Vuitton.
The Maison au Bord de l’Eau is a clear example of the leisure architecture dear to Charlotte Perriand. Indeed, she advocated access to paid vacations for all, claiming a right to rest and pleasure and a vacation home for everyone. This militancy in favor of paid vacations culminated 2 years later with the accession to power of the Front Populaire in France.