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October 2022

La Cité Radieuse à Marseille : 70 ans

  • A modernist icon
  • The Unité d’habitation by Le Corbusier captivates lovers of architecture and wows visitors with its astonishing concept. On its seventieth anniversary, we get a feel for the spirit of the place, which is always inspirational.

The jury of the ArchiCOTE competition organized by COTE Magazine, the regional Syndicat des Architectes and the Société des Architectes met in Marseille on 7 July to choose the winners of this first Provence edition.

Une Cité fervente, bouillonnante, cultivée... En façades, un puzzle de loggias cadencées de tonalités primaires, prolongent la vie au-dehors des appartements-duplex. : © Pierre Quintrand
Le Corbusier, à l'échelle du Modulor, système de mesure inventé par l'architecte, sur la façade de l'Unité. Marseille, France, 1952. / © Lucien Hervé -FLC-ADAGP / J.Paul Getty Trust, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles Lucien Hervé

Seventy years old and not a wrinkle in sight! Standing firm in its concrete structure punctuated by loggias in primary colours, the building embraces Marseille from its rooftop terrace offering 360° views. Beyond the brutalist shell, its dual-aspect habitat, conjuring shadows and light, delights its fans; its acoustics dampen external noise; its materials – wood, concrete, glass and ceramics – never cease to amaze our sense of sight and touch. The Unité d’Habitation was designed in the post-war period by Charles-Edouard Jeanneret – known as Le Corbusier – and inaugurated in 1952. The visionary reconstruction project, which was commissioned from the architect by the French government, became a key building of the modernist movement, and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016

A city within a city
The Cité Radieuse continues to reinvent itself with new uses. Offering cohabitation, shared spaces, intergenerational diversity, a starred hotel, dining, a kindergarten, a shopping “street”, local services and mutual assistance, everything here takes root, infuses and conveys an innovative lifestyle. The Cité Radieuse is never what you expect it to be, and this is what makes it so charming, along with its undeniable strength of character. Featuring 320 “cell” apartments, a range of facilities arranged over eight floors like a vertical village, and a ninth floor with an open-air swimming pool, the Unité d’Habitation is always one step ahead. Within its walls the Cité Radieuse is home to hotel rooms, gourmet dining overseen by the indomitable Girardin couple, a tea room and patisserie, offices, studios, galleries and showrooms exuding spirit and talent (including Maison Mirbel, Atelier Stéphanie Sériès and Galerie 313-318). Not to mentioned Imbernon bookshop and gallery, renamed Rupture & Imbernon by the new owner Alexandre Sap.

Art under the sky
Ever surprising, the Cité Radieuse lends itself to meetings and multidisciplinary events. Every wall or surrounding space can become a picture rail. Architecture and contemporary art blend with vintage favourites, exclusive collections and meaningful collaborations: Art-O-Rama this summer, Architecture de Collection estate agency (specialising in remarkable 20th- and 21st-century architecture) and Ecole Camondo-Méditerranée this autumn. Up on the roof, the former gym has become MAMO managed by Ora-Ito, an indoor-outdoor art space with a packed calendar of events ranging from exhibition openings to concerts, film screenings and residents’ parties. The residents’ association is very active, and energetically supports the library, film club and communal gardens. “The spirit of the place is strong and permeates everything, making constant connections,” says Benjamin Vincent, director of Zad Agence.

A unique place
“The Cité Radieuse functions on a social and democratic level,” points out architect Rudy Ricciotti, an aesthete who is committed to concrete like his illustrious predecessor. “Those who live there never do so with impunity – they have chosen it out of love.” So yes! You must come and rediscover this radiant eminence; treat yourself to the extended pleasure of total immersion, without ever forgetting the delicate balance that exists within this infrastructure, and hope that the immediate surroundings undergo a transformation. The “garden-city” always sleeps with one eye open…


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