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Eileen Gray During The Modernism Movement

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Autor:  anton  16 November 2010
Tags:  Eileen,  During,  Modernism,  Movement
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Well known designer and architect Eileen Gray's nonconformist and brilliant mind led her to a uniquely creative life at the turn of the century in Paris. Born to an aristocratic family in Ireland, she first studied at the Slade School for Fine Arts in London and then settled in Paris in 1907 where she developed her talents as a painter and ultimately as a great designer. Gray was first to become known for the lacquer technique she developed, a technique that combined the Asian lacquer tradition and its motifs with a contemporary modernist aesthetic. By 1912-1913 she was already becoming a name, and her luxurious screens, tables, and door panels sold well and were exhibited. Throughout this time she was also designing striking rugs decorated with geometric shapes and patterns. Like her early lacquer work, these rugs, and later her famous chairs - particularly the Transat chair, the Lota sofa, and the Bibendum - secured Eileen Gray's place as one of the most influential designers of the 20th century (www.e1027.com).

In 1922 Gray opened her own shop, Jean DГ©sert, where she exhibited her furniture and designs as well as those of her contemporaries. At around the same time she met Jean Badovici, a Romanian architect and editor of the influential journal L'Architecture Vivante, with whom she formed a very close personal and professional relationship. Her friendship with Badovici dramatically affected the course her artistic practice, as it was he who suggested to Gray that she try her hand at architecture. It was also for him that she built her first house and one of her most enduring achievements, the villa E.1027.

E.1027 was built by Gray between 1926 and 1929 as a summer vacation residence for her and Badovici. The name of the house was a code for their intertwined initials: E stands for Eileen, and 10 for J, the10th letter of the alphabet and first initial of Badovici's name. Following this logic, 2 stands for B, and 7 for G. Though the house was in one sense a collaborative effort, in reality Gray was entirely responsible for its design and for overseeing its construction. Badovici mainly assisted in technical matters when needed (Rowlands 14).

Gray built the house on an isolated stretch of the French Riviera, on the western side of Cap Martin overlooking the Bay of Monaco. She chose this sight for the beauty of its view and built the house directly into the terrain. Wishing to build a house that interacted with the natural elements surrounding it, she carefully studied the wind and the angles of the sun at different times of the day and year and in this way was able to build a structure with a constant, evolving relationship with the sun, the wind, and the sea (Constant and Wang).

With E.1027, Gray made explicit reference to Le Corbusier's Five Points of a New Architecture by including a roof garden, pilotis, free plan, strip windows, and a free façade (Constant and Wang 92). Incorporating many prefabricated elements, the reinforced concrete residence was everything Le Corbusier said a modern house should be. Reliance on these Corbusian formulas served as a corollary to Gray's own creative act. Adopting and working within the framework of this particular Modern device, she sought to transcend the dehumanizing qualities associated with it. In contrast to the urban preoccupations that informed Le Corbusier's early purist villas, Gray generated her domestic architecture from within the private domain of dwelling. She conceived of the house from the interior outward, from a consideration of the modern individual's need for an interior life and place of retreat, a direction seemingly at odds with the modern movement (Constant and Wang 94).

Gray created a villa with an open and flexible design in E.1027 which allowed the user to experience the space of living as an organic whole comprising the self, the house, and the outside environment. At the same time her designs allowed the user to maintain a feeling of intimacy and privacy. She also designed the house so that the interior and exterior flow together to make a cohesive whole (www.e.1027.com). The house stands on stilts and has a roof that is accessible by an exterior staircase. And not only does every room give out onto a balcony, but the shutters, screens, and windows are all movable, allowing the resident to harmoniously engage with the sea and the hills surrounding the villa.

The house was designed as a maison minimum - simple and efficient, with areas of built-in furniture and no wasted space (Adam 58). The main level of the house consists of a large open living room, a study/bedroom, a kitchen, and a bath. The lower level consists of a large covered sitting area, a guest bedroom, maid's quarters, and a bath. On the roof she built a garden which included an outdoor kitchen connected to the interior kitchen, and a small area for sunbathing.

The spacious living room, measuring 21'x46', is conceived for maximum flexibility (Adam 211). It fulfills multiple purposes: eating, resting, reading, and relaxing. The architecture and furniture compliment each other perfectly, interacting and enhancing each other. Screens and built-in furniture facilitate multiple uses for the room. A partition incorporating a coat rack and umbrella stand blocks any immediate view of the space upon entry, while a sleeping alcove and adjoining dressing room is in the far corner and a dining alcove near the stair contribute to the room's plurality of use (Constant and Wang 102). Along the full wall is a large divan, which can be converted into a bed. The cushion supports can be placed on the floor to extend the divan to a total of 13'.

As the living room overlooks the harbor of Monte Carlo, Gray includes a nautical chart of the Caribbean in her design to emphasize the remote location of the home. Affixed to the wall by a light fixture and folding shelves, this collage exemplifies as important principle for Gray: the inseparability of painting and architecture. Overlaid with the inscriptions "invitation au voyage," "Beaux temps," and "vas-y-totor", the mural lures the imagination by drawing upon the limited temporality of modern conditions of dwelling (Constant and Wang 102). She treated the floors in a manner consistent with the interrelationship of furniture and walls, layering overlapping rugs upon a carpet like pattern of floor tiles. In contrast, the ceilings remain clean and untouched, except where Gray suspended reflective light fixtures to draw daylight into the interior.

During her lifetime E.1027 received little official praise, but for Gray it was always simply a house she had built that in a very deep sense, corresponded to her character (Adam 220). Gray's own personal needs for isolation, protection, and her strong desire for freedom are underlying principles to the humanistic and personal sense of E.1027. She did not consider E.1027 "a perfect house," able to solve all the problems which preoccupied her, but as a prototype or research project on modern living. Today, it seems still unbelievable that an untrained person could almost single handedly build a house which has become s classic of modern architecture.


Adam, Peter. Eileen Gray: Architect and Designer. New York: Harry Abrams, Inc, 1987.

Constant, Caroline and Wilfried Wang. Eileen Gray: An Architecture For All Senses.

London: Wasmuth, 1996.

E1027.com. Website. "Friends of E.1027." http://www.e1027.com May 20, 2005.

Finessi, Bebbe. Eileen Gray: E.1027, Maison en Bord de Mer. Abitare 2003. July-Aug.

No. 430, pgs. 62-67.

Rowlands, Penelope. Eileen Gray. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002.

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