A paradoxical project, the rooftop garden of de Beistegui apartment by Le Corbusier contradicts every notion of rationalism of which the Swiss architect was universally considered a fosterer. Conversely, the work appears clearly indebted to surrealist sources. We may not know if the ‘design’ principles were an explicit demand of the client, the flamboyant multi-millionnaire Carlos (Charles) de Beistegui, creator of a festif interior design style and famous for his party hosting skills, or a route the architect intended to follow, but without a doubt the project is open to “unexpected contrast and playful paradoxes” (quote from Rudy/Godinez), entirely foreign to Le Corbu’s later works. Yet, in an oil painting of 1918, that the architect entitled, (not by chance), The Fireplace, “a white cubic volume appears in perspective on an abstracted field of layered colors” (quote from Archpaper), revealing the decisive influence of surrealism in his oeuvre.
High white walls perimeter the roof and are built to such a height that celebrated parisian monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe are forced to poke up as comical characters. On the roof: vegetation sculpted in the Mediterranean Topiary style and a mechanism of hedges on hydraulics that could rise or sink at the touch of a button, to alter the view at Charles’s whim. Carpeted with grass, the sun deck featured a false rococo fireplace and was photographed as furnished with a mirror, garden seating and a parrot on a stand. The irrational living room, featuring indoor furniture in an outdoor settings without ceiling, may summon one of Magritte’s juxtapositions or rather an uncanny scene from Alice in Wonderland.
A portrait of Charles de Beistegui
Le Corbusier’s The Fireplace (1918)
Further reading and image sources:
Diagrams from: STUDIO PROJECT 1- De Beistegui Department
Le Corbusier, Roof Terraces of the Beistegui Apartment, Paris, (1929-1931), on Rudy Godinez
Case Study Apartment de Beistegui, on landscape of desires
Le Corbusier’s Beistegui as Emblem of Surrealist Space, by Samantha Krukowski 1993
Who knew that Le Corbusier was a surrealist, on Mondo Blogo
Le Corbusier: indizi di architetture scomparse, Rosa Tamburino
Appeal of the surreal, by Sarah Wilson
The Law of the Meander, on Arch Paper
I Soba, I Krovni Vrt
The Right Lines: a fashion photoshoot in the style of the de Beistegui Apartment (from Vogue UK, April 2011)