Readers of C20 Magazine may remember the house in Paris which we featured back in 2013 (issue 3). Maison Zilveli, was designed in 1933 by Jean Welz, a friend of both Le Corbusier and Adolf Loos. Our author, Peter Wyeth described his excitement at coming across the house, and his growing fascination with it as he researched its history. It was then in a state of extreme dilapidation, but Wyeth was optimistic that it could be sensitively refurbished and gain the recognition it deserved as a major work of early modernism in the city. He has become an increasingly vocal advocate for it.
Sadly, things have not proceeded as expected and there is now a very real threat that the building will be demolished and a replica constructed in its place. Wyeth describes the proposed replacement as “a cynical pastiche” and points out that it will have almost double the space and leave out key features. He is mounting a campaign against demolition, and calling upon architecture and conservation experts in France and abroad to write to Le Monde and lobby the French Minister of Culture.
We certainly agree that a replica of the house, however carefully constructed, would be an inadequate substitute for the genuine historic artifact, and that the case for demolition has not been justified. Although the house was built on uncompacted land, some of which has been subject to subsidence, a geophysical survey by the nearby Architecture school of Belleville, apparently shows no ‘caves’ under the house, a big advantage compared to a number of the neighbouring houses. Like many buildings of the period, the concrete was built with less cover to the reinforcement within than would be required today. This does mean that some of the reinforcement has corroded, and some elements of the building have sagged. However there is increasing knowledge and expertise to enable a conservation-led solution to address this, and to properly complete the job by reinstating the original elegant balcony.
Over a dozen international conservation architects and historians have written to the French Minister of Culture requesting a year’s stay of execution pending a professional assessment of the condition of the house.
Read Peter Wyeth’s article for Iconic Houses and C20 Magazine here.
Sign the petition to save the house.
Peter Wyeth’s has written a book: The Lost Architecture of Jean Welz, to be published in November by Doppelhouse Books, Los Angeles.