Lake Geneva and the Alps: Framing the Panorama

Stanislaus von Moos 

The Bassin Lémanique and its hillsides and mountains were omnipresent in guidebooks and on train-station billboards after World War I, thanks to the area’s thorough transformation into western Switzerland’s foremost tourist resort during the preceding decades. Le Corbusier’s parents were thus naturally drawn to that region when they decided to leave La Chaux-de- Fonds in 1919 for a more benign climate. Their son may well have played a role in selecting the spectacularly sited chalet Les Châbles, near Blonay, a village above Vevey. In September 1922, on one of his visits to his parents, his painterly instincts were triggered by the wide basin of Lake Geneva and the panorama of the Alps that was the raison d’être of their new home. Within days he had produced an impressive series of landscape studies from Blonay and its environs.

Decades later, in Une Petite Maison (1954), Le Corbusier described those early visits and studies as part of his search for a site for the Villa Le Lac, the little house that he subsequently built for his parents in nearby Corseaux: “1922, 1923, I repeatedly take the rapid Paris-Milan or the Orient Express (Paris-Ankara). I carry in my pocket a plan for a house. The plan before the site? The plan for a house in order to find it a site? Yes.”

A little sketch, also published in that book, identifies the location of the site that was finally chosen. It was close to international rail lines so that, as might be expected from the salesman-architect Le Corbusier, the great cities of Europe (Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Munich, Zurich, Vienna, Milan, and Marseille) would be practically at the doorstep of the Villa Le Lac, also called the Petite Maison, thanks to the excellent connections between Lausanne and the rest of the world. Then the book presents the result of the undertaking: the house itself, shown in plan, as it was allegedly designed in advance, along with a panorama of the lake it faces. The transportation map and the Alpine panorama are featured on a double-page spread, as if in a travel brochure...

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