A Corbusier-Inspired Parisian Home

An American architect in Paris experiments with Corbusian perceptions of interior and exterior space.
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The Parisian flat that American-born architect Michael Herrman shares with his wife, Cécile, and their 2-year-old daughter, Rose, had been nearly untouched since the 1790s, when it was built. "But I wanted to try and reveal some of its age in a fresh new context," Herrman said.

In his 1,500-square-foot, eighth-arrondissement space, the young architect revisited some of the same ideas Le Corbusier explored in a now-defunct 1930s Champs-Élysées penthouse and rooftop terrace built for eccentric bon vivant Charles de Beistegui. Only photographs of the work remain, but Herrman "had always been captivated by how Le Corbusier balanced the high-tech rigidity and minimalism of modernism there with the playfulness and extravagance of surrealism."

To blur the line between indoors and outdoors, Le Corbusier surrounded the roof terrace with eye-level walls that obscured views of all but the tallest landmarks and then introduced a towering periscope—for guests ensconced in Beistegui’s living room below—to scan wide city vistas. Banks of hedges could be moved up or down electronically to hide or reveal landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, as if—some observers have suggested—they were garniture to be rearranged on a fireplace mantel. To add to the terrace’s room-like illusion, Le Corbusier placed a faux, French baroque fireplace against one wall of the terrace and a replica of a formal wooden commode atop a "carpet" of lawn shared by an exotic parrot on a perch and gilded metal chairs. An oval framed mirror, hung above the fireplace so that it projected above the wall and against the sky, allowed viewers reflected in it to be "inside" and "outside" simultaneously.

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Zahid Sardar
Zahid Sardar is an author specializing in architecture, interiors, and design. He currently writes the Material World column for the San Francisco Chronicle.


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