Friday, June 20, 2014

Marseille; La Cité Radieuse

As a future urban planner, I try to visit every city's important urban landmark or project. Marseille is known for being the home of Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse, an important housing project that was, unfortunately (or maybe it's a good thing) rejected by the population. This project is known by architecture and urban planning students because of its key concepts and mostly because Le Corbusier is the father of modernism. Today a lot of people still live in it, but most apartments have been converted to offices. Marie-Eve and I went to take a look on the second day, but we discovered we needed to make a reservation on the tourism office website and pay 10€ for the visit, so we decided to come back another day.

As you can see the building is elevated above the ground, because the idea was to free the most ground area possible for circulation and to have more green space for the inhabitants.

One of the sides was under maintenance because of a fire incident that happened about two years ago. Actually about half of the building has been damaged. Sucks eh? A lot of people lost their homes because of it.

I knew the Cité Radieuse was big ... but seeing it in real life is impressive. Not the biggest thing I have ever seen (I live in Montreal and I've been to Toronto and New York many times) but because it's made of concrete and the ground is pretty much cleared off of anything, it just seems even more imposing. What's that called again? Oh yeah, brutalism. But hey, look at the balconies and their colors. That's actually cute.

Some interesting concrete window, with normal transparent glass and colored glass.

We already knew Le Corbusier was obsessed with functionalism and circulation flows but he thought it to the littlest details : even the doors make sure there is no problem with people coming in and out. Half of the doors open from the outside while the other half open from the inside. Interesting, right? But confusing at first when you try to open a door that doesn't have a handle ...

The day we had to leave, we came back for our visit but totally forgot to make a reservation through the tourism office website. Fortunately for us we were lucky enough to meet people that work in the building (the security guy at the reception office and the restaurant owner) who introduced us to a lovely lady who lives there and, well, made us visit her apartment and taught us SO MUCH about the building's story and the design.

Every door is painted a different color and the red boxes were used to stock ice for refrigeration (a cooler is integrated in the kitchen's design because, back in the days, fridges didn't exist).

I didn't take pictures of the lady's apartment for, well, respect of her privacy. Still, it was very interesting to see the way her apartment evolved as she, her husband and her son evolved as well. Not only could she talk about her day-to-day experience (she's been living there for, well, forever) but she also retrieved a lot of information from a designer. I swear, though I always thought Le Corbusier was totally nuts and had crazy unsustainable ideas, the interior design was thought to the littlest of details and, well, it was simply genius. Now I can't say anything because it would take too long (and we actually stayed about an hour and a half with the lady).

After that long chat with the lady, we went on the roof and saw the kid's pool, the elementary school, and even the projection screen used for movies or plays.

The whole thing was designed to be like ... a boat. The interior of the apartments were like boat cabins and even the roof really made us feel like we were on a gigantic boat looking over the city. I wish there was some green on the roof though.

This is one of the offices galleries. That's also where we opened the wrong door and ended up having to leave the building by taking the weird ass scary concrete stairs outside.

So that's it for today guys! If you ever go to Marseille and are interested in architecture and urban planning I highly suggest you pay a visit to the Cité Radieuse. If you want to, you can make a reservation right here or go to the restaurant, talk to the manager and tell her you'd like to visit. I can't give out the name of the lady who's making people visit her apartment because I don't know if she might get into trouble for that ...

Until next time!

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