How Can You Live in the Curutchet House?
“La Curutchet habitada” is the title of a forthcoming book that records research developed by the Department of Interior Architecture and Furniture of the Instituto de Proyecto de FADU-Udelar, Uruguay, of which we share a small preview originally published in the magazine Summa+ 189 in December 2021.
For our discipline, the delight of the architectural experience is quite often linked in the first instance to abstract qualities of space that often do not even take into account the architectural programme. In this sense, “La Curutchet”, rather than as a dwelling, is often appreciated as a phenomenological experience – perceptive, spatial and temporal – that verges on perfection.
This tendency is also stimulated by some particular circumstances. The first is that the house was inhabited by the Curutchet family for a very short period of time. Therefore, strictly speaking, its real and effective recognition as a dwelling, as a domestic space, was equally brief. The second is that the few known images of its equipped interiors have not been widely disseminated. The third is that since it has been open to the public, the building has been almost always empty. Empty of almost all signs of everyday life. Inside, there are no pieces of furniture, curtains or objects, just the inescapable presence of some fixed equipment such as sanitary fittings, kitchen countertops and storage spaces, integrated into the architectural envelope.
In 2009, the premiere of Cohn and Duprat’s The Man Next Door provided architects with a gentle reminder, or perhaps even a revelation: the existence of “another Curutchet”, inhabited and unknown. In 2012, on the walls of the Curutchet, a series of framed period photographs appeared, the origin of which at the time had not yet been identified, showing its furnished interiors, with beds, armchairs, chairs and tables browsing its premises. With dividing furniture, light fittings, curtains, plants, everyday objects and works of art revealing the use of the different corners of the house. The initial precarious record of period photographs became both a key trigger and one of the main sources of information for the research work to be carried out.
All the information gathered made it possible to draw up the script for a visual discourse materialised in a set of 45 unpublished plates. The resulting laminary combines the use of pre-existing surveys of the envelope with indirect surveys of everything that inhabits its interior. Under a strictly technical and linear graphic expression, the wall envelope, the pieces of furniture and the main ornamental objects that the photographs documents are reproduced under common codes.
In this way, a tomography of the house was generated, made up of an extensive series of integral cuts that recreate the domestic atmosphere of the rooms for which information was available, a first series of zooms on each of the most significant rooms of the house and a second series on some key pieces of furniture belonging to the rooms described above.
The empty space that the visitor encounters today may mistakenly lead them to imagine a way of furnishing rooms in which the pieces of furniture navigate the space with absolute freedom, creating changing and flexible furnished corners. Although this idea may nestle in certain imaginaries of modernity, we can affirm that in the case of Le Corbusier, as in that of many other modern masters, it is far from corresponding to reality.
Although much of the bibliography reports the contrary, the most important furniture designed by Le Corbusier and his team is probably the fixed or permanently installed furniture present in his works and not the Tilting Back Chair, the Petit and Grand Confort armchairs or even the very famous adjustable Chaise Longue.
The living and dining area is served by a series of fundamental fixed fittings: the fulcrum of the wood-burning cooker, the dihedral of shelves and storage space that houses the music system, and the double-sided diaphragm-shutter that divides the dining space and the conversation corner of the Safari armchairs by Amancio Williams on the façade towards the front terrace.
The bedroom level defines its circulatory dynamics through the positioning of the nuclei of the two main bathrooms, the presence of a very long linear cupboard that extends over the north wall and another one that regulates the relationship with the bedroom balcony open to the double height.
In the centerline in direct contact with the street, the surgery – located on the first level above the entrance to the dwelling – incorporates in its internal enclosures shelving and storage spaces that extend from floor to ceiling. In front of it is a grid that filters the sunlight and the visual link to and from the city, which extends upwards in front of the great terrace like an immense permeable screen-diaphragm.
Nor should we forget the omnipresence of the big tree that crosses all the levels and filters the sunlight into the house. This is also, to a large extent, a fixed feature designed from the outset and gradually materialised over time.
Conditioned by this general map of fixed equipment, other “species” of furniture populate the space. Among them: an upright piano, the Safari armchairs by Amancio Williams, the W chairs by César Janello, a dining set and a pair of coffee tables of different formats designed by Gerardo Clusellas, an example of the already famous chaise longue by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, a three-legged stool in curved wood by Alvar Aalto, floor lamps and lamps whose articulated arms are projected onto the space from the white walls.
The result of the meticulous process of collecting, recording and documenting information allows us to imagine future actions aimed at the material reconstruction of the original atmosphere of the equipped interiors of the house. And perhaps, in the not too distant future, to be able to finally socialise the integral living experience of the inhabited Curutchet.