Visiting The Cité Radieuse, A Vertical Utopia

To get to Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse (The Radiant City) in Marseille, you must cross the 4-hectare park that separates it from the Boulevard Michelet. You will first be struck by the vertiginous alley of pilotis topped with stratum of colors and lines that owe everything to early 20th century avant-garde. The “vertical village” awaits you.
By Sarah Carrière-Chardon

Behind the picture windows at the entry, the janitor welcomes you with a ready smile. He knows everything and everybody and is the best source of information with which to start your visit! This hall hosts temporary exhibitions managed by the owner’s association, who also coordinate the guided tours. Built between 1945 and 1952, the Cité Radieuse’s functional and modulable architecture is part of a Post-War quest for renewal. Le Corbusier used the “golden ratio” and Fibonacci numbers in his Modulor system, a method for measuring resident housing. The apartments are split across two levels around the central artery of a corridor. Of the five housing units (Unités d’Habitation) invented by Le Corbusier, only Marseille was designed to function in complete autonomy, like a village. In this way, in the middle of the building, the “Rue Intérieure” (interior street) features stores, a hotel, a restaurant, a grocer, and a baker. Criticized in its time, in 1986 the Cité Radieuse was classified as an historical monument and in 2008 presented to Unesco as a World Heritage site. Today, the Rue Intérieure features above all art and design galleries, and specialist bookshops. It has kept the baker, a tobacconist/newsagent, a cinema and a restaurant; the “Ventre de l’Architecte” has sea views and serves cocktails to match the sunset, and dishes fragrant with the smell of the South.

Like a giant Advent Calendar, the doors hide secrets that are only revealed over time. Many of the apartments have been transformed into architectural offices – like No. 631, belonging to Corinne Vezzoni – artist studios or designer showrooms. No. 104 for example houses mischief by Valérie Ciccarelli, a multi-talented creator of jewelry and glam-rock installations. The hotel includes the model apartment No. 601 which allows you to relive the complete original experience… But there’s another more private apartment that offers famous international designers the opportunity to overhaul the myth.

Here, reverence for the master coexists with the day-to-day life of the residents and passersby. With a view over all Marseille, the surrounding hills and islands, the architectural volumes dialog with nature and light, but it’s from the roof that we use to measure the full dimension of this architectural icon, gigantic, human and poetic. On one side the kindergarten, renovated in 2010, again receives classes of children. And around the pool, the playground on top of the city resounds with their happy noise. On the other side, the gymnasium has been overhauled by Ora-Ito. Currently under renovation, it will abandon sporting activities to install a contemporary art gallery that should open in 2013. With its newly restored façade, the Cité Radieuse must be visited, and visited again, as it only reveals its treasures over time…


Discover

Unité d’habitation Le Corbusier
280 boulevard Michelet
13008 Marseille

www.marseille-citeradieuse.org
Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse
Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse
Marseille
Photography José Nicolas
Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse
Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse
Marseille
Photography José Nicolas

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