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Maison Blanche

An exemplary book tells the story of one of Corb’s early works, says Andrew Mead

Before Charles-Edouard Jeanneret decided to become Le Corbusier, he designed several buildings in his home town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, but only the last of these – Villa Schwob (1917) – regularly appears in books on him. The large blank panel on its entrance facade preoccupied the critic Colin Rowe, who, in his essay on the monastery of La Tourette, saw it as anticipating the severe bare wall of the chapel there. But if you continue up the hillside past Villa Schwob you come to an earlier work of Corb’s: the Villa Jeanneret- Perret of 1912, nicknamed Maison Blanche for its whitewashed roughcast walls. Its significance lies less in the clues it gives to Corb’s future than in its diverse sources. Empty for many years, it has now been restored and is open to the public (www.maisonblanche.ch). It’s also the subject of an exemplary new book: Maison Blanche (Birkhäuser, £29.50).

An imposing cubic building, with largely symmetrical facades and a hipped roof, Maison Blanche owes much to Corb’s spell in Germany working for Peter Behrens and to his travels in Greece and Italy. Commissioned by his parents, it was always a work in progress, being modified continually until they left in 1919. As well as disentangling the influences on the house, the book describes the restoration in great detail, and as a bonus is visually very rich. Maison Blanche is not a neglected masterpiece, but it certainly merits the care that’s gone into its rescue – and the care too that’s gone into this book.

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