A View with a Room
Record looks at how interiors bring the outside in.
The exhibition Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (through September 23), explores a provocative theme: that the giant of 20th-century architecture is wrongly categorized as an International Style designer whose “machines for living in,” as he termed them, could be plunked down anywhere. Rather, argue the curators Jean-Louis Cohen and Barry Bergdoll, Le Corbusier was a keen observer of nature and landscapes, which informed almost everything he touched, from the master plan for a city to the design of a single room.
And consider just one such single room. In the early 1950s, Le Corbusier built the Cabanon, a tiny summer cabin for himself and his wife, on a spectacular site overlooking the Monte Carlo Bay in the south of France. The Cabanon was sparsely furnished—there was a bed, a table, a sink—and the glorious view was strictly framed by just one narrow vertical slot and a two-and-a-half-foot square window cut into the rustic log exterior. Almost 30 years earlier, the Swiss-born architect had built the Modernist Villa Le Lac for his aging parents, with its pioneering use of a 36-foot-long ribbon of windows that framed the vista as a horizontal panorama. He even created an outdoor “room” in the garden, with a six-foot-high masonry wall facing Lake Geneva, into which he cut a rectangular opening, to crop the view from the terrace to the lake and the mountains beyond. “In order for the landscape to count,” Le Corbusier wrote, “it has to be limited, proportioned through drastic steps: blocking the horizons by raising the walls and only revealing them at strategic locations through breaks.”
In this month's issue of RECORD Interiors, we feature several projects where the view's the thing—though here the architects aren't editing vistas so much as exploiting them. Take the stunning Urca Penthouse in Rio de Janeiro, by Studio Arthur Casas. This triplex—a gut renovation within a 1960s concrete apartment building—looks out on Sugar Loaf Mountain in one direction, the monumental statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain in another, and across Guanabara Bay in yet another. The design is a symphony of sliding glass walls and flowing indoor-outdoor spaces—a minimalist architecture that defers to the drama of its setting. “Invariably, the visitor's gaze is drawn to the views of the sky, water, and iconic mountains that pervade the rooms,” writes RECORD's correspondent Tom Hennigan.
For a new Shanghai restaurant in a colonial-era building on the Bund, Neri&Hu Design and Research Office assembled a mélange of materials—reclaimed-wood flooring, steel framing, and raw concrete—to create the kind of casual “farm chic” interior that's been pervading the global culture of cuisine these days. Yet in counterpoint to the earthy details, the architects used bright-white travertine to clad the original perimeter walls, in order to draw diners' eyes to the design's main event—the view of Shanghai's glittering skyline at night. On the island of Majorca, a high-end jewelry boutique in the Puerto Adriano marina by Madrid-based studio OHLAB subverts the expected: rather than designing the store as a secure opaque vault, the architects played with transparency and reflection, creating glass exterior walls and golden-stainless-steel-clad VIP rooms that offer direct and mirrored views of the yachts in the harbor.
And don't miss the special RECORD Kitchen & Bath section. Nothing says luxury like a tub with a view, such as the his and hers baths that open onto terraces in a house by XTEN Architecture in California or the sky views from the kids' showers in a Long Island house by Bates Masi Architects.
Using elevated terraces and ramps in such famous houses as the Villa Savoye, Le Corbusier fulfilled his idea that “the outside is always an inside.” And though he rigorously negotiated the view of the outside from the inside, he could be expansive. Rio de Janeiro entranced him, too, as is evident from a 1929 sketch for a proposed apartment there—one entire wall is glass, with a man in an easy chair facing it, one leg jauntily across the other, drinking in the view of palm trees, water, and mountains.
Whether a view is magnificent or modest, great interiors look out as well as inward.