May 08, 2003
In the land where architectural modernism makes sense

I am now in the south of France, just outside Perpignan, and it is idyllic. Sunshine. Fluffy clouds. A gentle breeze. A house with a tiled roof and lots of rooms.

For all the Anglo-Saxon complaints about France, there is something very good about the way they do houses. Maybe it’s just in this part of France, but I suspect the principle applies everywhere.

In Britain, houses are built in great clutches, by entrepreneurs. In France, houses are built by householders.

In France, being a medium-sized house building entrepreneur is very, very difficult. Most building enterprises, like most shops, are mom and pop outfits, and the way you buy a house, if no one will sell you an old one of the sort you want, is to buy a new one, from one of these mom and pop outfits. First you buy your plot of land, and then you, and mom and pop, work out what sort of house you’ll have and they build it for you. There are rules about zoning and sight lines and so on, but each house tends to be different and distinct. And my hostess says that it also tends to be very nice. You don’t build a bad house if you yourself are about to live in it. There doesn’t appear to have been this radical discontinuity in building technology and architectural fashion that so afflicted Britain in the years after World War 2. Here, the local traditions of building and house design seem to have just carried on evolving. Even modernism itself seems here like an evolved way of building rather than an alien imposition. All those blank walls of stucco, all the balconies, and all the façade games played with balconies, here make sense, in the bright south of France light.

Come to think of it, Le Corbusier did quite a lot of his work in these parts, did he not? I seem to recall lots of plans for Algiers that he did. Hereabouts, he doesn't seem quite such a lunatic as he does if you are stuck in the pouring rain in some hell of a London housing estate perpetrated by some idiot English accolyte of his.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:42 PM
Category: Architecture