Beware of Flat Roofs

I’ve been enjoying The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton. It’s an excellent book that has already taught me a lot about architecture, and why I like some so much more than others. I was thinking of a particular story this morning, and how it sometimes reminds me of projects that I work on.

It’s the story of Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret’s Double-house in Stuttgart, Germany, dating from 1927. It’s a beautiful building, and a striking example of Modern architecture.

But it was not without some issues.

By Modernism’s own standards, the roof of the villa was equally, and yet more ruinously, dishonest. In spite of initial protests from the Savoyes, Le Corbusier insisted – supposedly on technical and economic grounds alone – that a flat roof would be preferable to a pitched one. It would, he assured his clients, be cheaper to construct, easier to maintain and cooler in summer, and Madame Savoye would be able to do her gymnastic exercises on it without being bothered by damp vapours emanating from the ground floor. But only a week after the family moved in, the roof sprang a leak over Roger’s bedroom, letting in so much water that the boy contracted a chest infection, which turned into pneumonia, which eventually required him to spend a year recuperating in a sanatorium in Chamonix.

Letters were exchanged over the next decade or so between the designer and client, with Le Corbusier reminding her that the design received enthusiastically by architectural critics worldwide. Legal action was threatened by the client, and the designer was only saved by the outbreak of the Second World War.

Not a good experience.

The lesson for me, then, is that you must first and foremost take your client’s needs into account. It’s easy to get obsessed with perfection (particularly if you’re a Modernist, I suppose), but a website is something like a house, in that our clients have to live with it for a long time.

Raymond Brigleb

Creative Director, dreamer, partner, father, musician, photographer. Has been known to ride the rails. Pulls one heck of a shot.