Modernist living: visiting the visionary block of apartments in Marseille by the renowned architect Le Corbusier.
Cité Radieuse de Marseille - Immeuble Le Corbusier
Visiting the famous block of apartments in Marseille by the renowned architect Le Corbusier. When built, the block was somewhat outside of the main town of Marseille on one of the boulevards laid out by Haussmann. Set in its own small park, the Immeuble Le Corbusier is still in slightly clearer air than much of modern Marseille. The population density on the site is much lower than most of Marseille, there are 331 apartments over eight floors although at least one floor is partly the “village street” that was a feature of the design. There used to be a gym on the ninth floor as well as a rooftop solarium. My photos are all places you can see as general public if you ask to go and have a look around, a hotel room and a couple of offices plus stairs and corridors etc.
I’ve been sceptical of Le Corbusier’s work. When I first started working on the South Bank of London the brutalist style of architecture was falling out of fashion but had not yet been rehabilitated. But blocks claiming to be inspired by Corbusier’s ideas were springing up everywhere but at much greater population densities and without the moderating features and design style of the prototypes.
It doesn’t help my appreciation of these villages in the sky (or rabbit boxes, depending on your point of view) that the architect chose for his own living spaces locations and buildings quite different from those his style inflicted on millions of ordinary people; I’m thinking of Le Cobusier’s hideaway on Mont Sainte-Baume and his beach hut between Menton and Monaco. Quite different from the cold and soulless cityscape around Lille Europe railway station which he designed.
So I approached Cité Radieuse with some scepticism. It’s pretty enough and distinctive from the outside. Almost every decorative trick you can do with concrete is featured somewhere. But a lot of the concrete is now showing deterioration due to its age.
Inside, and somewhat surprisingly, the building feels an oasis. The natural ventilation through those weird chimneys on the roof gives it a clean smell. The internal corridors are wide, as are the doors, and the views to either sea or mountain are dramatic. I did think it would feel good to live here, which the car and bike parking show that many do. But maybe not comfortable, the Bauhaus furniture, Mondrian colours and Corbusier concrete aren’t warm and homely in the way that Arts and Crafts design can be.
But the Immeuble Le Corbusier is a period piece, visionary when it was completed in 1951, now a listed historical monument. You can eat in a restaurant on the third floor and stay in a hotel room on the fourth. Chatting with various francophone people, nobody wants to live there. It's too expensive for what you get, the fabric is decaying (balconies etc) and you can get the views from other places. Car parking is rubbish. So it's a historic monument, time has moved on and this castle in the sky is fine to visit but not to stay. Back to the modern-day bustle of Marseille outside.