Holidays for those in the know: on the trail of Charlotte Perriand at Les Arcs

Les Arcs ski resort, with 260 miles of piste and views of Mont Blanc, is celebrating its 50th birthday, much to the delight of aficionados of board sports, hiking… and architecture! Charlotte Perriand, a visionary designer, dedicated 20 years to coordinating the development of this ski resort that is in a class of its own. Her daughter, Pernette Perriand-Barsac, and her son-in-law, Jacques Barsac, take us to the heart of the Alps for a little lesson in architecture.

It was in 1967 that Charlotte Perriand and Roger Godino, founder of Les Arcs, worked hand in hand to develop this temple to winter sports. They did so according to a humanist approach to mountain holidays. Free from cars, the resort's philosophy is diametrically opposed to that of a city, with architecture that is at one with the landscape.

Opened in the Haute-Tarentaise in 1968, Les Arcs is celebrating its 50th birthday. While Arc 1600 was built with private residences in mind, Arc 1800 has always been about the rental market, with smaller apartments.

Charlotte Perriand was in love with the mountains, and the architecture of Les Arcs is a feat of design, an act of precision mechanics! She really had a gift for small spaces.

Charlotte Perriand always designed her buildings from the inside, in contrast with the standards of academic architecture which favour beautiful facades. A wide bay window separates the living space from the mountain, also providing its connection to the surrounding landscape. People often say that they feel good in these apartments, without really knowing why.

Charlotte Perriand never did adornments, a concept that she deeply despised. Everything was designed according to needs and practicalities. Nothing was overlooked in her designs, right down to the height of a stack of plates or a carafe... The last time she visited Les Arcs, she noted that the cupboards needed to be raised because ski boots were higher than they used to be.c

On the walls, the white rendering isn't an aesthetic choice. It fulfils a very specific role for the room's acoustics, as does the flooring. Charlotte Perriand left nothing to chance.

To meet the extremely tight project deadlines, Charlotte Perriand made use of prefabricated polyester bathrooms for Les Arcs. As avant-garde as they are timeless, today museums acquire these bathrooms for their collections.

In what was a revolution at the time, a serving hatch makes the kitchen both open to and separate from the living room. All of her touches seem normal today, but she was a true visionary.

Ramps replace lifts for getting around the building. It is one of the many working principles she adopted for apartment buildings and leisure architecture as early as the 1930s. Les Arcs is the perfect culmination of all of her ideas, her dreams made real. It is her biggest project, and she dedicated 20 years of her life to it, until the ripe old age of 86.

The buildings are offset so that they never overlook each other, getting the most from the mountain setting. Les Arcs is an outstanding and unique resort, and even once Charlotte Perriand had left the project, development continued without its guardian.

Charlotte Perriand was and still remains the benchmark for public leisure accommodation. As the only town in the world where a woman has been in charge of everything, from the town planning to the cutlery, Les Arcs is a fantastic lesson in architecture.

Getting to Les Arcs