Lowcountry Modern

Iconic Building of the Month | April 2017 | e.1027

Since I missed sending out the newsletter during Women’s History Month, and since I like to take any chance to share some great architecture, the featured iconic building this month was designed by a lesser known, but no less talented, woman architect.

e.1027 is a modernist villa design by Eileen Gray (1878–1976) in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, in the Alpes-Maritimes department of France. The “L”-shaped, flat-roofed villa with floor-to-ceiling windows was designed and built from 1926-29 for herself and her lover Jean Badovici. The unique name of the house is code for something. Can you guess what it is?

She envisioned a white retreat washed in southern French sunlight, cooled by Mediterranean breezes, and furnished with practical minimalist furnishings of leisure. The two-story building was conceived as a simple rectangular box positioned parallel to the hillside and supported by pillars with the partial lower floor being tucked into the hillside. The upper rectangular volume was punctuated by at one end by a simple cube and protruding horizontal strips of dark shuttered windows.

The design of e.1027 is said to have taken shape around the furniture and the way occupants would move in the space. Gray created built-in cabinets and drawers for seasonal clothes. Guest rooms and nooks allowed retreat and privacy from open areas. Windows were positioned to afford carefully chosen views.

At the villa’s entrance, Gray painted the words Entrez lentement—enter slowly—an invitation to guests to relax and leave their worries behind. A small kitchen is located to the left, and to the right, the main living area with bi-folding glass doors that open to the deck and the sea beyond. A foldout dining table was stored in a corner for dining al fresco. A reading nook that doubles as an extra guest bedroom occupied the other corner. Gray deliberately violated Le Corbusier’s tenet of clean, straight lines through slight offsets of stacked shelves and storage spaces.

Demonstrating her obvious obsession with light and air, e.1027 also demonstrates Gray’s interest in privacy. The master bedroom and bathroom suite invites retreat, tucked away on the first floor.

 
 

Not only the designer, Gray carried building materials by wheelbarrow, building the place herself with help from local laborers. Gray and Badovici would part ways shortly after e.1027 was completed.

The architect Le Corbusier was a friend of Badovici, and while staying as a guest in the house in 1938 and 1939, he painted murals on the walls. Gray considered these actions vandalism and an intrusion onto her design. The critic Rowan Moore said that Le Corbusier’s murals were indicative of an offense “that a woman could create such a fine work of modernism” so he “asserted his dominion, like a urinating dog, over [her] territory”.

Though a modernist work, Gray departed from Le Corbusier’s assertion that “the house is a machine to live in.” Instead, she described the house as a living organism, countering that “it is not a matter of simply constructing beautiful ensembles of lines, but above all, dwellings for people.” “Formulas are nothing,” she insisted, “Life is everything.”

Any guesses on the name’s meaning? I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with the names of two people.

 
Unfortunately, Gray was slow at putting her name forward as the architect of e.1027that for many years it was assumed by journalists, and even historians, that Le Corbusier was the designer.

The French government designated it as a national cultural monument and purchased the villa in 1999. After many years of neglect and isolation, restoration work on e.1027started after 2000. The bulk of the restoration took place between 2006 and 2010 with further restoration work done in 2014.So, about the odd name for Gray’s house, any ideas? 

Well, e.1027, is code of Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici, her lover. ‘e’ stands for Eileen, ’10’ for Jean, ‘2’ for Badovici, and ‘7’ for Gray. The encoded name was Gray’s way of showing their relationship at the time the villa was completed!

You can learn more about Eileen Gray and e.1027 at Friends of e.1027.

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