It may sound a bit weird to visit a residential building and maybe even weirder to talk about it on a travel blog! But the Cité Radieuse designed by Le Corbusier is not your average residential building. It is a city, a community, an architecture masterpiece and a UNESCO World Heritage site!
This Housing Unit is called in French La Cité Radieuse (the Radiant City) and sometimes La Maison du Fada ( which translate into something like the “Nutter’s House”). Since La Cité Radieuse is truly a prefect name, we’ll continue calling it this way!
A few words about Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier was a self-taught Architect and urban planner. Born in Switzerland in 1887 (died in 1965), he became French later in his life. Le Corbusier’s influence on contemporary architecture is immeasurable. Adored by some and hated by others, his creations leave no one indifferent.
Dedicated to providing better living conditions for the residents of crowded cities, Le Corbusier designed controversial buildings all over the World. La Cité Radieuse, his Housing Unit in Marseille is one of them.
Le Corbusier live through 2 World Wars, the invention of planes, the mass production of cars, the invention of ice cream ;-), the television, plethora of home appliances, color photography and so many other things… Despite the wars, the first half of the 20th century was a time of profound changes in the way people lived and Le Corbusier shook things up!
The entrance hall
La Cité Radieuse: A city like no others
La Cité Radieuse was designed as a place where residents would have everything they need on site. There were therefore all types of commerce and services located within the building: a supermarket, a butcher, a bakery of course, a library, a theater, doctors and even a school.
A few years back the butcher closed his doors and as people stopped shopping within the buildings, other shops closed one by one. The supermarket was transformed into a conference room for the hotel. A lot of the other shops remained closed. There are still some designer stores, at least one architect and the bakery is currently for sale although still opened.
But the residents of the Cité Radieuse are not like others. No only are they exceptionally joyful and polite, saying hello to every tourist that pass by, they are also extremely involved in keeping their little town alive. They have always run their own library, organise their own concerts and parties (who wouldn’t with such a rooftop!!), They have faced many challenges over the years but the sense of community that they have displayed has been stronger and continues. No doubt they will find solutions to these problems.
A light Master
You can hate Le Corbusier style, but if there is one thing that you have to admit is that he was a Light Master!
It is well know that Le Corbusier developed his architecture around the “Modulor”, a new scale he invented which is based on the height of a man with his arm raised, which he described himself as a “range of harmonious measurements to suit the human scale, universally applicable to architecture and to mechanical things“.
And indeed, without really knowing how he applied this “Modulor” to the Cite Radieuse, one can only admit the volumes and proportions of the inside spaces are pleasant. Even those long corridors. Somehow, and despite the fact that they may look like hospital corridors, they are not daunting, to the contrary, they feel inviting. And it has to be because of the light! At least that’s what I felt.
A Street in the Cité Radieuse
Le Corbusier must have carefully planned the facade, the spaces and all the windows to create such an atmosphere. Parts of the common areas are in the shadow but as you reach the big open spaces they lead to, you are suddenly bathed in light. Sometimes it is almost blinding. Sometimes such light comes in through stained glasses and like in a cathedral, it gives splashes of colors to the surrounding walls and floors. And sometimes such light is deemed by shutters and gives this glow so specific to the South of France.
The effect is striking. It is a bit like when you are walking in a forest and the sun shimmers through the trees. The thought that Le Corbusier was able to reproduce this in a concrete building is fascinating!
As indicated the visit is limited to 2 floors and the rooftop. Now the excellent news is that you can still fully experience the Cité Radieuse without moving in! You can stay at Le Corbusier hotel. You can check it out on the official website : www.hotellecorbusier.com or on Booking. Some apartments are also available on Airbnb. The hotel provides beautifully designed rooms, some even have a balcony and you will get access to the private part of the rooftop which has the small swimming pool.
Although the rooms have been modernized, you are not staying in such a hotel for the love of comfort but for the love of architecture!
Le Corbusier UNESCO List
In 2016, 17 of Le Corbusier’s creations were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It’s not a piece of cake to visit them all, since they are spread in 7 different countries and 3 continents!
Here is the list:
- Petite maison au bord du lac Léman, Corseaux, Switzerland
- Immeuble locatif à la porte Molitor, Paris, France, 1931 – 1934
- Cabanon de Le Corbusier, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, 1951
- Cité Frugès, Pessac, France, 1924
- Couvent Sainte-Marie de la Tourette, Eveux-sur-l’Arbresle, France, 1953
- Immeuble Clarté, Geneva, Switzerland, 1930
- Maisons La Roche-Jeanneret, Paris, France, 1923 – 1925
- Musée National des Beaux-Arts de l’Occident, Taito-Ku, Tokyo, Japan, 1955
- Chapelle Notre Dame du Haut, Ronchamp, France, 1950 – 1955
Maison de la Culture, Firminy, France, 1953
Unité d’habitation, Marseille, France, 1945
Manufacture, Saint-Dié, France, 1946
Maison du Docteur Curutchet, La Plata, Argentina, 1949
Maisons de la Weissenhof-Siedlung, Stuttgart, Germany, 1927
Villa Savoye et loge du jardinier, Poissy, France, 1928
Complexe du Capitole, Chandigarh, Inde, 1952
Maison Guiette, Antwerp, Belgium, 1926
The Technical Bits:
The visit of the Cité Radieuse is free! I was very surprised actually about this.
You get to freely visit the 3rd, 4th and roof top. If it doesn’t feel like enough, do consider a guided tour which will take you inside one of the apartments.
Didn’t get to do a guided tour? Go to Paris, more precisely to The Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine in the Trocadéro (www.citedelarchitecture.fr only in French?! Why?!) where you will be able to admire one.
The official website for Le Corbusier Fondation: www.fondationlecorbusier.fr On this site you will find links and information on how to visit all the listed buildings and lots of pictures and information.
Talking about pictures, I’d better find my pictures of the Ronchamp Chapel. I visited before it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016 and I must show you because it is widely considered as one of Le Corbusier masterpiece. And the light there is perfectly amazing!
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