Preservation as Taxidermy
Completed in the early 1930s, the Villa Savoye was uninhabitable, according to Mme. Savoye, due to leaks and an inadequate heating system. During World War II the house was occupied first by the Germans and then by allied forces when it was indeed rendered uninhabitable through the destruction of its plumbing and enclosure. Years after the war, Mme. Savoye used the building as a hay barn and it was then sold to the city of Poissy. By the early 1960s, the building had sat as a ruin for decades and was at risk of being demolished. Led by the architect Jean Dubuisson, the first round of restoration began in 1963, while Le Corbusier was still alive. After Le Corbusier’s death the building was classified as a historical monument, the first twentieth-century building in France to be designated as such. Dubuisson was not a conservationist per se. He was an architect and his restoration upgraded windows (to aluminum), changed paint colors, modernized plumbing, and added furniture, all of which was distinct from the original. Since that time, the building has undergone a series of further conservation efforts, and each has sought to undo Dubuisson’s previous “mistakes.” Other issues have made the conservation difficult: the landscape is now more mature and therefore views are different; a high school occupies more than half of the original site; period-specific lighting fixtures are no longer available; and general maintenance is required to prevent the building from further aging. Ironically, the Villa Savoye performs better now than it did when it was first built. Given all of the retrofitting and replacements, it is fair to ask—as did Theseus—if the current preserved building can be considered the same building as built in 1930.