Marseille, The Radiant City

Yesterday we visited Le Corbusier’s Unite de Habitation.  The original apartment block and prototype for millions of high rise imitations.  Completed in 1952 Unite de Habitation is Le Corbusier’s utopian vision of social housing – individuals and families of all sizes living together.  The complex is actually known as La Cite Radieuse or The Radiant City which I think is wonderful.  Its on stilts (at a guess) three-storeys high in the middle of Marseille which means from the recreational roof top you can see mountains to the east and sea-views to the west.The dream gallery space!  On slits above the paddling pool and changing rooms this awesome glass fronted area was actually a children’s creche.  Below – the totally charming poster on the studio door advertising upcoming art classes. Glorious angles  –Le Corbusier was keen for the 300 families living in La Cite Radieuse to feel connected to the building hence the lush sprawling gardens to the east, the roof top terrace with paddling pool, numerous seating areas, plants, studio, running track and originally a gym.  The most incredible thing however is the amount of art not just dotted around but integrated into the building.  By the front entrance there are concrete mouldings by Picasso set into the doorway.For me the biggest surprise was how visually varied the interiors were.  Matt paint for the walls, high gloss (bright red) paint for the lift surrounds, smooth wooden doors and rough concrete.  The low level lighting in the corridors made it positively spacey!Earlier in the 3rd floor cafe the waiter had told us that if we wished to see an apartment there was a lady on the second floor who would be willing (for a small fee) to show us around hers.  The lady who greeted us was absolutely charming and her apartment …WOW.  It looked so contemporary, despite being 60 years old and still having the original cupboards and kitchen – the majority of which was moulded out of a single sheet of aluminium.  I’m not too sure how to describe the rest, the things that struck me were how solid it felt and light it was.  I loved the boat style storage cabinets with sliding doors and the beautiful double-and-then-some glass doors in her bedroom that opened out on to a balcony.  A totally inspiring morning that I recommend to anyone interested in design.

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