Marseilles: Through the eyes of a native – 1. Unite d’Habitation

We were so very lucky to be introduced to Marseille by our new friends Carole and Daniel.  Daniel grew up in Marseille and graciously showed us his favorite places in this French city by the sea.

It was an especially exciting time to visit Marseille because France was playing Portugal in the finals for the Europe Cup that day.  Fans started celebrating early, carrying drums, wearing blue jerseys and filling restaurants up and down the sparkling beaches.  Flags flew from balconies in every direction I looked.  Excitement was electric in the air!  Here’s a very short video of fans gathering to watch the game on big screen TVs.

The football stadium. The Europe Cup game was not held here but the stadium is loved by soccer fans. Marseille, France
Jean-Pierre Buffi designed the Strade Velodrome, the football stadium that was completed in 1998. The Europe Cup game was not held here in France’s second largest stadium, but the stadium is loved by soccer fans. Marseille  fans viewed the Europe Cup match at large venues throughout Marseille that featured huge screen TV’s. Marseille France

I was tickled to see David standing in a traffic circle in downtown Marseille.

David in the center of a traffic circle. Marseille, France
David in the center of a traffi circle. Marseille, France

Daniel first took us to see the sea.  We enjoyed the wind that wasn’t quite Mistral strength, but gusty winds blew steadily on us from the water and cooled us a bit on a hot and sunny day.  Lots of people were strolling next to the sea on a Sunday morning so we had to wait for a break in the “traffic” to get a photo.

Daniel, Sher, Denise, Carole. Marseille, France
Daniel, Sher, Denise, Carole overlooking the sea in Marseille, France

Daniel then took us to a huge housing tower that we never would have seen on any packaged tour of Marseille.  The building is a self-sufficient city within a city with housing, shopping, a school, recreation, restaurants, and a hotel.  The hallways are called streets and resident committees create a rich social life.

One of the "streets" in the Unite d'Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
One of the “streets” in the Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
The French are so stylish! Here's the lobby of the Unite d'Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
The French are so stylish! Here’s the lobby of the Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France

Swiss-French Architect Le Corbusier designed several of these all-inclusive habitats around 1950 but Marseille’s is the most famous.  He strived to build modern living quarters for people in crowded cities; these were buildings where residents would never have to leave the building unless they wanted to.

Information about the history of Unite d'Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
Information about the history of Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
An office in the Unite d'Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
An office in the Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
Lots of Realestate for sale. Unite d'Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
Lots of realestate for sale. Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
Hotel located right in the high rise. Unite d'Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
Hotel located right in the high rise. Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
There's even a school "Ecole" in this self-contained city. Unite d'Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
There’s even a school “Ecole” listed on the elevator panel in this self-contained city. Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
Unite d'Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
Postal service at Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France

I was thrilled to meet the artist Felice Varini as he finished his dizzying graphic in the building’s gym.  The design offers a different perspective if you move even a few inches forward or backward, left or right.  The Swiss-born artist lives in Paris and is known for his urban paintings on buildings, walls and streets.

The gymnasium of the Unite d'Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France.
The gymnasium of the Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France.

On his website, Varini writes, “My field of action is architectural space and everything that constitutes such space.  These spaces are and remain the original media for my painting. I work “on site” each time in a different space and my work develops itself in relation to the spaces I encounter.”

The rooftop of Unite d'Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
I don’t know if this is Varini’s work on the rooftop of Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier, but something was certainly going on! Marseille, France
View of Marseille from Unite d'Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
The rooftop view of Marseille from Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France

The designer of the building itself is LeCorbusier.  He, perhaps, launched the Brutalist movement in architecture which used “raw” (brutal) materials such as unfinished concrete. (Some folks say the huge buildings are just brutally ugly but I like them.)  In the photo below, the 66-year-old building is getting a bit of a face lift but the redesign still incorporates raw materials.

Unite d'Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France

Brutalist buildings often incorporate repeated modular units and exposed building functions.  You may have lived in a brutalist building while a university student. I can think of a couple twin towers at The Ohio State University when I was there (known facetiously by students and parents as Sodom & Gamorrah in the age of free love).

Unite d'Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France
The massive concrete staircases are exposed throughout the exterior of the building at Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France

I kept thinking that this building reminded me a lot of the Habitat 67 at the World’s Fair in Montreal.  Then I realized, this building was a bit of a deconstruction of Unite d’Habitation.

e6509bd8-2da6-4b8f-8860-5e175ecb7592-1020x612
Designed for Montreal’s 1967 Expo, Habitat 67 was an attempt to balance cold geometry against living, breathing nature. Photograph: Landscape borrowed from the website theguardian.com

I’m no architect or even a critic.  But I do find it fascinating that minds sharper than mine are working to explore new and better ways to live.  I am thankful to Daniel and Carole for giving me the chance to tour Unite d’Habitation.

NOTE:  We saw so much that I’ve split Marseille into three separate blog entries.

1.   This is the first entry, Unite d’Habitation Le Corbusier. Marseille, France.  

2.  The second entry is Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde. Marseille, France.  

3.  The third entry is the waterfront and a typical French lunch.  Marseille, France.

 

Author: barbgrano1

Just let me see the world! I’m currently focusing on the US and Europe and invite you to share my travels. I teach ethics and political science at St. Petersburg College part time; I retired as a college administrator in Ohio. I am a total geek about government with huge wishes for continued freedom and respect for the individual. We must each do our part.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.