Historic French villa plagued by design problems

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Among architects, the Villa Savoye is one of the most famous houses in the world. Though not familiar to the average American, everyone who ever sat through lectures on modernism, including this columnist, knows this icon like the back of her hand. Designed by the Swiss-born Le Corbusier in 1928, the house is located in the Paris suburb of Poissy. Last month, I finally saw it, and it was a revelation. As a student I had studied the floor plans and photographs endlessly, but there's no substitute for seeing the real thing. What makes this house so special? It is provocative. Best described as a box on stilts, the Villa Savoye is utterly unlike any house I have ever seen. Its unusual plan and circulation flow force a visitor to rethink the very idea of "house." For example, should a house have an obvious front and back? In this case, all four sides are the same. Though the Villa Savoye itself never became a trendsetter, some features are definitely part of the architectural mainstr...