Architectural Promenade

In 1942, Le Corbusier was the first to define the concept of architectural promenade:

Architecture is experienced as one roams about in it and walks through it….so true is this that architectural works can be divided into dead and living ones depending on whether the law of ‘roaming through’ has not been observed or whether on the contrary it has been brilliantly obeyed. The observer’s path through the built space is a central element of Le Corbusier’s architectural and city planning designs.
— LeCorbusier

Although being first to verbalize the concept, Le Corbusier did not fully invent the idea. We know that the layout of the Athens Acropolis follows a sequence of spaces with direction of movements similar to Le Corbusier’s concept.


Doxiadis Space, Olympia Altis Floorplan

The Acropolis

Similarly, the designs for English Gardens are constructed around seemingly accidental views, vistas and experiences, all deliberate circulation systems associated with spatial experience.

A few years ago, I visited Le Corbusier's iconicVilla Savoye near Paris.
When built in 1927, the villa stood alone in a pastoral and bucolic setting in the Paris suburbs. This is a perfect example of his early residential projects that pre-dates the writing on the architectural promenade, yet is designed with that concept in mind. Access to the house is via the carport, located at the back of the house. The living spaces are on the upper levels, only service spaces are on the ground floor. From the entrance vestibule, the grand processional ramp that bisects the house leads to the second floor living rooms and the upper roof terrace. A more expeditious circular stair runs parallel to the ramp. Walking about the house and using either stairs or ramp, the twists and turns create the circulation that re-orient the visitors and enable them to enjoy different experiences about the house.

Villa Savoye in Poissy, a modernist manifesto by Le Corbusier

Villa Savoye

Michel sketching at the Villa

Villa Savoye stair and ramp

Le Corbusier designed many other projects based on this design principal, including his only American project Carpenter Center for Visual Arts at Harvard University (1963). “The five levels of the building function as open and flexible working spaces for painting, drawing and sculpture, and the ramp through the heart of the building encourages public circulation and provides views into the studios, making the creative process visible through the building design. The Sert Gallery, at the top of the ramp, features the work of contemporary artists, and the main gallery at the street level hosts a variety of exhibitions supporting the curriculum of the Department.”

Carpenter Center for Visual Arts at Harvard University

Carpenter Center

Carpenter ramp

Other examples of this concept in action that I have come across in my journeys:

Richard Meier’s Athenaeum in New Harmony, Indiana

Richard Meier’s Atlanta High Museum

 The Helix House designed by Makoto Takei + Chie Nabeshima

 What are your memories of projects that employ the architectural promenades?

Michel Franck, AIA, Partner

Michel Franck, AIA, Partner