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Eileen Gray, Le Corbusier and E.1027 - the troubled times of an Architectural Gem on the Côte d'Azur

Fans of modern architecture should soon be able to visit a unique experiment in design, Eileen Gray's E.1027 villa in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, considered a real landmark piece of modernist architecture and classified as a French National Cultural Monument in 2000. The unusual seaside house has been the object of a huge restoration project over the last decade under the auspices of Pierre-Antoine Gatier, Architecte en Chef et Inspecteur Général des Monuments Historiques, thanks to the combined effort of the Friends of E.1027, the French government and the township of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. As of now, the estimated date for completion of the project is December 2010.

Irish architect Eileen Gray (1878-1976), who is best known for her furniture design, built the house as a summer vacation residence in the late 1920s for her lover, Romanian critic, Jean Badovici. The name of the house which may sound impersonal, is in fact a code for their intertwined initials: E standing for Eileen, 10 for J - "Jean" (10th letter of the alphabet), 2 for B - "Badovici", and 7 for G - "Gray".

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The villa is located on an isolated stretch of land on the western side of Cap Martin overlooking the Bay of Monaco. It was conceived as a "maison minimum" with built-in furniture and no wasted space. The villa, garden, and interior were all designed as one coherent work. Grey herself described the house as a living organism, stating that "it is not a matter of simply constructing beautiful ensembles of lines, but above all, dwellings for people."

Gray's main goal was to build a simple and efficient structure that would interact with the elements (the sun, the wind, and the sea) and would allow the inside and outside to flow together. For instance, the villa is L-shaped and flat-roofed. It has walls of glass, which look out towards the sea and each room gives out onto a balcony. Viewed from the sea, it looks like a ship at anchor.

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Gray moved out of E.1027 for good in 1932, after she and Badovici broke up, leaving the house to her former lover. In the late 1930's, with the encouragement of Badovici, modernistic architect Le Corbusier painted a series of eight sexual murals on E.1027's walls, much to the displeasure of Grey, who saw this as an ‘act of vandalism'. It is still unclear today whether Le Corbusier painted the murals out of admiration for her work or jealousy of her accomplishments. Gray, however, got some kind of revenge a few years later when she learned that the German soldiers, who occupied the villa during World War II, used the murals for target practice.

After the death of its last owner (who was actually murdered in the house), the villa E.1027 deteriorated quickly and was even vandalized by squatters in June 1998. The fact that it will soon get a second life is great news for all art lovers.

Photograph credits - lead image courtesy of Friends of E-1027, Le Corbusier mural courtesy of Daniel Ryan, remaining pictures courtesy of Ouno Design Blog


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