Nearly 50 years after his death, Le Corbusier is the man of the moment. The Swiss-born French multitasker is the subject of an exhibition (on view through September 23) at the Museum of Modern Art and the creator of a lamp that inspired Kanye West‘s latest album, while across the pond, Corbu’s modernist housing complex has been reborn at the hands of a self-described “iconoclastic artist,” aged 36. We sent our man in Marseille Marc Kristal up on the roof.
(Photo: Olivier Amsellem)
It’s been a big year for architecture in Marseille. As part of the city’s designation as 2013’s European Capital of Culture, fifteen major projects, including new construction and renovations, have been created in the city and Provence region—everything from Rudy Ricciotti’s magisterial Museum of the Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean on Marseille’s J4 waterfront esplanade to the resurrection of the Eden Cinéma, the world’s first movie house, in La Ciotat (opening in October) to groundbreaking on Fondation Vasarély, set to open in 2014-15 in Aix-en-Provence.
But while benefiting from le hubbub surrounding the culture capital festivities, one of the year’s most exciting projects is an unaffiliated private undertaking with a major public component: the restoration and reopening of the rooftop gymnasium/solarium of Le Corbusier’s enormously influential 1952 housing complex, Cité Radieuse.
Despite its international reputation, Corbu’s original “Unité d’Habitation” is known locally as “La Maison du Fada”—Provençal for “The Crazy Person’s House”—as the people of Marseille responded less than enthusiastically when the Brutalist “vertical village,” with its 337 cleverly configured apartments, hotel, restaurant, shops, and school, was completed. The roof, which had been altered in ways that contravened Corbu’s intentions and fell into disrepair, was put up for sale in 2010 and quickly snapped up by the polymath French architect/designer Ito Morabito—known commonly by his nom de design Ora-Ïto—who has impeccably restored the interior and exterior spaces and transformed them into an art center he calls Marseille Modulor (in honor of Corbu’s human-scaled system of measurement) or MAMO (a playful tweaking of New York’s MoMA) for short.