Anja-Karina Nydal on Beatriz Colomina’s obsession with the house that Corb broke
A House of Ill Repute by Beatriz Colomina. 10 March, Kent School of Architecture, University of Kent, Canterbury, CT2 7NR
‘A House of Ill Repute’ is the story of an obsession about an obsession. More precisely, it is the story of Le Corbusier’s obsession with a house called E.1027. As architecture historian Beatriz Colomina said in her recent lecture at the Kent School of Architecture, a day before her lecture on the same subject at the RIBA in London, it is also a story of her obsession with his obsession.
E.1027 was built in 1929 by Irish architect and furniture designer Eileen Gray, on a seaside spot, inaccessible and not overlooked from anywhere, in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France. In 1938, without asking permission from anyone, Le Corbusier painted the house with murals, defacing Gray’s architecture in the process. As Gray said, it was an act of vandalism. But why did he vandalise the house that he loved so much?
Colomina’s theory is that it was through an urgent need to tell a story – but what was this story that he so urgently needed to tell? After the death of the house’s owner, Romanian architect Jean Badovici, in 1956, it was found riddled with bullet holes from the Second World War. But what kind of violence took place in this house before the war, asks Colomina. And what was Le Corbusier doing when he went to this isolated spot?
Colomina uncovers a remarkable story of a man whose relationship with E.1027 was one of love, obsession and control. In his archives, she discovered sketches of Algerian women that were in fact preparatory studies for a figure composition, which preoccupied Le Corbusier for most of his life and later found its way into the murals at E.1027. His murals suggest stories about his political position, as well as a quest to control a threatening femininity. Le Corbusier’s complex relationship with E.1027 ended in 1965, when he went down to the sea and swam to his death, but the story continues through Colomina’s obsessive attempt to piece together the fragments of Le Corbusier’s story – especially around his suggestion that E.1027 was a bordello, the ‘house of ill repute’ of the title. Colomina argues that Corb’s endless drawing and re-drawing of the images was his way of conquering sexuality and the threatening femininity of the material world. Le Corbusier obsessively tried to control the destiny of the house until the day he died.
Anja-Karina Nydal is a PhD candidate at the Kent School of Architecture
Resume: What happened in E.1027 stays in E.1027. But what did happen?