I have written about Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in Marseille many times before on the blog. It is one of the most influential multi-unit buildings of the 20th century. For better and for worse, it inspired a generation of architects. But up until this afternoon, I had yet to actually see it in person. Now that I have, here are 3 takeaways.
The corridors throughout the building were thought of as “streets” in a vertical village. Because of this, each street had a mailbox and each front door came equipped with an elaborate delivery system. The large curvy thing pictured above was for general deliveries (mostly food I’m guessing). And the smaller door below was for ice block deliveries (i.e. refrigeration). In both cases, these doors could be accessed from inside the kitchen.
The two “streets” in the middle of the building were dedicated to commercial uses. And by being in the middle of the building, they were equidistant from residents living either above or below. I was told that when the building first opened in the 1950s, these streets were actually quite successful — filled with everything from bakeries to grocery stores. So you can imagine people running deliveries up and down to the other streets. But that quickly fell off as the retailing landscape developed in Marseille and in France. Today, this portion of the building houses mostly offices, art galleries, and specialty boutiques. Though there remains a widely-used 21-room hotel (pictured above).
To fully appreciate what the Cité Radieuse meant for housing in France, you kind of have to imagine what the rest of its stock was like at that time. The introduction of duplex and dual aspect units with modern kitchens and bathrooms and with views of the sea, represented meaningful progress at the time. But it is interesting to see how much ceiling heights have changed over the years. They’re really low here — well under 8 feet. And that is probably its greatest Achilles’ heel today.
If ever you happen to find yourself in Marseille, I would encourage a visit to the Cité Radieuse. Many of the things we do today started in this building. And there are some other ideas here that might also be worth bringing back.
Enjoy your take of Corbu. Have you had a chance to visit his La Tourette gorgeous heap of concrete and sculpture.
You’ll find that the residents are quit rabid of the place (this is first-hand knowledge), in spite of its flaws. Low ceilings are quite common in apartment buildings in France and make up for it with perhaps slightly more expansive floor plans, at least compared to diminutive Canadian condos. If I’m not mistaken, the living spaces have double-height, which would be a clever way to make up for the low ceilings in the more private rooms.
I think the ceiling height is definitely a cultural issue and not such a big deal in france. I’ve lived in and been to many places where one could easily touch the ceiling, even in fairly recent constructions. Perhaps that’s one of the secret to gentle density? 🤓
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