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Cité Radieuse Le Corbusier In Pristine State

Marseille is full of surprises, or at least that’s the feeling you get when venturing into the city. This gateway to the Mediterranean has much more to offer than what is apparent at first sight. For starters, it has two harbours – the Vieux Port (Old Port), enclosed and fortified, a vestige of times when the coastline was invaded by pirates and hostile nations. And, the new – and larger – harbour which opens out to the sea and is a symbol of contemporary times. The elegant buildings lining the city’s streets have an unkempt, decadent yet inspiring air, while the fishing quarters smack of new trends in the guise of art galleries and cafés, and avant-garde spaces such as the MuCEM (Museum for the Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean) and the Villa Méditerranée, attesting to Marseille being much more than just a port city. And, in the midst of all this stands the highlight of this article, one of the works which prompts many architects to pilgrimage to Marseille –Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse.

This huge building, recently designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, together with 16 other architectural works by Le Corbusier, is one of the essential icons of modern architecture and one of the artificer’s major achievements. In this massive and equally beautiful colossus in concrete, the precursor of Brutalist art and ideologue behind architecture as we know it today successfully shaped the vertical city he had dreamed of, which he named the Unité d’habitation (Housing Unity). This was the first in a succession of similar residential buildings which were subsequently erected in Nantes-Rezé (1955), Berlin-Westend (1957), Briey (1963) and Firminy (1965).

Cité Radieuse, known locally as La Maison du Fada (The Nutter's House), is a large apartment block located in the south of Marseille on the Boulevard Michelet. It was designed in 1945 and built from 1947 to 1952. It is made up of 337 duplex apartments distributed over twelve storeys. Apart from its residential function, Le Corbusier also incorporated amenities into the design, including a commercial area on the seventh and eighth floors, gardens, a paddling pool, a gym, a theatre and a nursery on the spectacular rooftop. The edifice was built in rough-cast concrete and its standout feature are the supporting pilotis or piers, as well as the polychromed decoration on the balconies which set up a rhythm across the facade.

Most of the apartments are now private property, although sightseers are allowed to visit the common areas of the building. On the seventh and eighth floors you can see how most of the commercial units have been turned into design and architects studios. An exception to this is La Ventre de l’Architecte, a luxury restaurant affording splendid views of Marseille and the coast. The crowning touch is provided by another communal area, the rooftop, an area of surprises where architectural forms have been turned into spectacular sculptures affording views over the city. A pilot apartment can be visited as part of a guided tour, but be sure to book in advance with the Marseille Tourist Office. Those who would like to broaden their experience of the Cité Radieuse can stay overnight at the Hotel Le Corbusier, housed in the building itself.

Don’t miss the chance to visit Marseille and its architectural jewel, the Cité Radieuse. Book your Vueling here!

Text and photos by Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS