My favourite modernist building … Villa Savoye

Modern Memories by MM

United Planets Cruiser C57-D - Forbidden Planet

My earliest memory of modern architecture was watching a reel-to-reel movie in an old pre-fab at intermediate. It was a documentary centred on Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye and for a rural New Zealand boy it was a moment of revelation discovering buildings like the Villa existed outside my diet of mid-century science fiction.

The Krell Machine - Forbidden Planet

What I remember most was the prophecy one day all housing would be like the Villa and they would become machines for living in. Other things have stayed in my memory; the strict lines of the façades, the ubiquitous grid ordering the spaces, and the curvaceous reclining bed at the end of the bath implying there is more to bathing than washing.

TRW - Star Trek Operation Anilhilate

Fast forward 10 years to the start of Architecture School and I find myself reclining on a couch in the Gordon Wilson Flats where some friends had managed to score a tenancy. The flats were equally as curious to me as the Villa was and it was only my friends’ excitement over their accommodation that I understood the connections. I spent a few days dossing on the floor while I looked for my own flat and now claim to have helped fulfil Corb’s prophecy, albeit one that was not quite realised to the extent he wanted.

TRW Space Campus - Star Trek Anihilate

Today the Villa remains as seductive as it was when I first saw it and like an Aldo Rossi architype it occupies a part of my mind that manifests every time I pick up a pencil. The social constructs in Corb’s vision have long gone but the aesthetic remains. My initial doodles invariable include a long strip window, some skinny columns, and a curvy something to satisfy the non-machine aesthetic.

Villa Savoye - Photographer Darren Bradley

The Villa is a built structure, but belongs in a fictitious realm. The Gordon Wilson Flats are here, present and in danger. They represent an important part of New Zealand’s social history and I hope the struggle to keep them has the same result as Wellington’s beloved Futuna.


Michael Melville

The “My favourite modernist building …” series is in support of Gordon Wilson Flats which is facing threat of demolition.


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