Decor de Fete

The Garden: Décor de Fête

Charles de Beistegui’s roof-top apartment in Paris, 1929

Autumn begins with a doppelgänger in the garden: the walled sun court of the roof-top residence and garden Le Corbusier built for Charles de Beistegui in Paris. With an inventory of 3’800 bricks, the necessary gravel and mortar; a magnolia tree and twenty-four metres of hedge (genus: acer campestre), the studio sets about making their own translation.

Sketch of the roof garden of the Charles de Beistegui apartment, Le Corbusier, 1929, Paris
La Cheminée, Le Corbusier, 1918. Oil on canvas, 60 x 70 cm

On July 16th 1929, the aristocrat Charles de Beistegui commissioned Le Corbusier to build an apartment on top of his grandmother’s “hôtel particulier” at 136 Champs-Élysées. The apartment is, by most accounts, one of Le Corbusier’s most paradoxical and mythical works. While it reflects many of the architect’s well-known concerns (light and circulation) some of its elements are of a purely decorative and surreal character uncommon to his oeuvre. These aspects become especially noticeable in the context of de Beistegui’s taste: an avid collector of surrealist art with a clear penchant for both exaggerated imagery and overstuffed furniture, there remain nevertheless spaces within the apartment whose decided surreality may be called out without necessarily invoking the influence of Le Corbusier’s client.

The apartment is crowned by a singular exterior room that hosts a false fireplace and mantel, a couple of chairs and a mirror. The garden becomes an optical instrument to oversee Paris’ iconic silhouette and its monuments—a mystifying space that insists on a surrealist experience. By introducing an unexpected encounter within the scheme of the apartment, Le Corbusier voluntarily enhances this inexplicable sense of alienation, and in doing so echoes brilliantly the surrealist venture of André Breton’s Nadja (1928).

Peeking at the Arc de Triomphe, 1929, from Charles de Beistegui’s sun court
Assigning roles
Taking decisions two nails at a time
Testing brick rows on site
Fireplace designs
Making ground, pulling out the weeds
Making ground, making new acquaintances
Making ground, getting your feet wet
Making ground, fresh humus for the edges
Levelling, the gravel-bearer arrives
Levelling, gravel travels
Levelling, zen furrows gradually evaporate
Synchronised levelling
Post-levelling, making tracks
Bricklaying, timber spacers
Bricklaying in rows
Minding the gaps
Chimney building, angle-grinding
Chimney building, making concrete
Chimney building, cap casting
Cap casting
Chimney building