Walking tour guided by the senses: Analysis of the single-family housing project by Le Cobusier in the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart

In the 3rd semester, we were given the task by our professor, Peter-Aribert Herms, to analyse a building of the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart. The task was to convey its main features and structure in a presentation without being allowed to use views, floor plans, models or sections. In plain language, the task was to describe an icon of 20th century architecture without using the language of architecture. We were allowed to work in groups of two.

My project partner and I decided to research Le Corbusier’s single-family house. At the beginning of the research, it became clear that every wall inside the house has a different colour. The resulting idea was simple – its implementation extremely complex, time-consuming and educational. We decided to take a virtual tour of the house. Our approach was to trust in the instinctive behaviour of humans and that you turn your head to where sounds and noises come from. If you turn your head towards it, you see the colour of the wall you are standing in front of. The temporal interval was determined by the distance to be covered between the individual rooms of the house. Four empty, white partition walls served as the presentation space. Each wall was equipped with a loudspeaker and a device for coloured transparencies, as used in theatre and opera. At the same time, my project partner was employed as a professional lighting technician at the Stuttgart Opera, which allowed us to borrow support and access to the coloured transparencies.

As I had just returned from a four-week trip to the very colour-intense Mexico at the start of the project, I was seized with joy and enthusiasm about the variety of colours and set off on a pigment journey in my study city of Stuttgart. On this trip, I came into contact with Le Corbusier’s “Polychromie Architecturale” for the first time, met various painting companies and mixed all the colours from real pigments in the artist’s workshop of the Academy of Fine Arts under the guidance of our workshop director. Mixing, painting on, blow-drying, finding gradations and further mixing – it was a really exciting and fascinating process. In parallel, I read everything I could find on Le Corbusier and his colours.

To find the appropriate tones and sounds that we felt best represented each room and corridor, we made elaborate recordings of sounds such as a washing machine spinning, stairs climbing, cars passing by and cutlery being used while eating.

During the presentation, our professor as well as our fellow students were invited to enter our “room” made of white movable screens – without any knowledge of what we were doing. At the first sound, all heads turned to the loudspeaker from which the sound came. The colour of the wall was faded in and already one of the other four speakers demanded attention and turning of heads. This way, everyone walked through the house and got a good impression of its size, structure and room arrangement. It was also possible to convey the corresponding feeling, as our tour was an experience for the senses – because each participant reacted intuitively, although controlled by us. Our project received the highest grade because the task was completely fulfilled. Since then, I myself have been researching on the understanding of colours, because I was fascinated by their complexity and effect, both in the streets of Mexico and in Le Corbusier’s work at the Weissenhof, and it was clear that this intensity of the interaction between sensation and feeling cannot be a coincidence.