Since 1924 Switzerland took the decision to build a pavilion at the Cité internationale. The Fondation suisse was realised thanks to the mathematician Rudolf Fueter, chancellor of the University of Zurich. The latter constituted a consortium representing the Swiss university in order to create a house at the Cité internationale. The residence was intended to welcome about forty deserving Swiss students. Private funds and a federal grant allowed construction to go ahead.
Rudolf Fueter requested the visionary architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, more commonly known as Le Corbusier. The architect hesitated, still bearing the blow of his failure in the 1927 competition for the Palais de la Société des Nations, but he ended up accepting a collaboration with his cousin Pierre Jeanneret. “Switzerland had to appear in Paris other than through the rustic faces of the poet: a chalet and some cows”.
After long and fastidious negotiations, the first stone was finally laid on the 14th of November 1931. The house was inaugurated in July 1933.
The house holds the status of a foundation and is recognised as a public utility of which the board of directors is chaired by the Swiss ambassador in France.
Four projects for the Pavillon suisse followed between December 1930 and July 1931. Two years of work were necessary for the build. It was nicknamed after its designers, Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, who gave a leading role to architecture, supported by new functionalist values. It was the prototype of the Cités radieuses that would be constructed in Marseille, Nantes, Briey, Firminy and Berlin after the war. There you can see the “five points of new architecture” that were coined by Le Corbusier in 1927: pilotis to clear the ground floor, a roof terrace connected to the living area, an open plan ground floor, long windows and a free curtain-wall façade. It’s the first modern building constructed at the Cité internationale, a true “machine for living” according to Le Corbusier. Recognised as “one of Le Corbusier’s freest and most imaginative creations” (Siegfried Giedion), the building was the starting point for Le Corbusier’s subsequent development as a plastic artist and for the “new brutalism” of the 1950s.
Particular attention was paid to the interiors. The communal spaces were grouped together on the ground floor according to the original concept which favoured spatial fluidity and plastic unit. The rooms were designed by Charlotte Perriand as well as certain pieces of furniture such as the very comfortable armchairs, tilted armchairs, which she designed in collaboration with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret as well as the marble table in the lounge.
Its creators made the Pavillon suisse a privileged laboratory for the implementation of their vision of collective living and their theories on contemporary builders: power of the lower structure of reinforced concrete, industrial prefabrication of floors, extensive research on soundproofing and carefully designed rooms.
Since 1945 the Pavillon suisse has been the object of several interventions from Le Corbusier: the mural in the lounge in 1948, the repair of the southern elevation in 1953 and a series of benches decorated with enamel and a new polychromy of the rooms in 1957.
Damaged by strong exposure to the sun, the building was partially renovated in 1957 and 1958 by the architect Moreillon, under the guidance of Le Corbusier. The last interventions on the structural work (1991-1993), under the direction of Hervé Baptiste, the chief architect of historical monuments, and Jacques Chopinet, consulting architect of the Fondation suisse, led the waterproofing of the terraces and replaced the reconstituted stone cladding.
The original furniture, designed by Charlotte Perriand, is kept in a showroom that is open to visitors.
In July 2000, the restoration of Le Corbusier’s mural in the lounge was entrusted to Madeleine Hanaire with the aid of the Council of the Maison suisse and the Conservation régionale des Monuments historiques. An identical repair of the Nevada glass wall was carried out in 2007. Finally, in 2016, the waterproofing on the roof was repaired as well as the development project concerning private bathrooms in the rooms and the enlargement of communal kitchens, under the direction of M. Alexandre Kabok, the consulting architect of the Fondation suisse, was realised in 2018. The Fondation suisse now has 46 rooms.
The Pavillon suisse was listed in the supplementary inventory of historic monuments on the 8th of September 1965 then classified as a historical monument on the 16th of December 1986.