Flirting with Surrealism: Le Corbusier's Maison de Beistegui Apartment Roof Garden

Flirting with Surrealism: Le Corbusier's Maison de Beistegui Apartment Roof Garden
by Victoria Shingleton

The Beistegui Apartment designed by Le Corbusier stands out as an outlier in his work.  While it exemplifies one of his principles with the roof garden, many fixtures are more decorative and ornate than his typical clean Modern lines, flirting with Surrealism.

The Parisian apartment was commissioned by a wealthy client named Charles de Beistegui who was a collector of surrealist art and liked exaggerated imagery and overstuffed furniture.  However, there are some spaces of the apartment which are surreal without necessarily being influenced by Beistegui, such as the roof garden.  While a roof garden does follow Le Corbusier's five principles of modern architecture, the fanciful furniture, fireplace, and grass "carpet" suggest a surrealist experience.

The purpose of the project was to create a penthouse, not necessarily for living, but for hosting parties.  While the garden was located on a rooftop with wonderful views of well-known Parisian monuments, Le Corbusier designed the garden wall so that it would actually restrict the views from the garden, turning the great monuments into tiny pieces of art sitting on the shelves of his outdoor living room.

The roof garden was comparable in size to a living room, and the walls were approximately five feet tall.

While the apartment itself was lit by candlelight, the backyard was very advanced.  All of the hedges on the rooftop were controlled by hydraulics and could be raised up and down to control the view.

The rooftop garden was also detached from the house and required a separate stair to reach.

The apartment was located in such a central location.  Above, I diagrammed the views from each facade and how the roof garden manipulates the vision of different points.  Each wall has a different monument visible beyond.  Yet, only the tops of each are visible, as if they are trinkets sitting on top of living room shelves.

I cut out just the roof garden which sat on top of the apartment.  Without the fireplace and decorative furniture, the structure appears very modern and fits in well with the rest of Le Corbusier's work.

I found the Beistegui Apartment very interesting in how it differed from Le Corbusier's typical style of architecture, and I wish there was more information available about this design.  However, this is typically omitted from collections of Le Corbusier's works.  Unfortunately, the apartment has since been destroyed, and there are many missing documents, so the most we have to remember Le Corbusier's experiment with surrealism are the black and white photos.

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