Curvaceous chimney against the mountains of Marseille
On the roof of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseille

After 60 years of existence, Le Corbusier‘s Unité d’Habitation in Marseille remains a pilgrim’s beacon for architects and tourists alike. The hulking concrete block of ‘La Cité Radieuse’  (or ‘La Maison du Fada’ -The Nutter’s House as it is known locally), was a brash modernist statement when completed in 1953 and went on to inspire a generation of brutalist towers throughout Europe.

Originally a bold new vision of social housing, now a luxury residence.
Originally a bold new vision of social housing, now a luxury residence including a 5 star hotel.

Over the years many of these buildings developed a reputation for urban decay and social alienation, but Le Corbusier’s ‘Mad House’- with its self-contained community of spacious apartments, retail, medical and cultural facilities, instead rose to become what is today: one of most the sought-after addresses among Marseille’s upper middle-class. Despite this cachet, parts of the building have recently fallen prey to disuse and corrosion—that is until now, as up on the roof a new cultural transformation is taking place.

Ora Ito, the iconoclastic designer who rose to fame after designing fake but funky products for luxury brands is transforming a derelict gym into an open artists’ space. In June, the first exhibition at the Marseille Modulor (or ‘MaMo’-a playful inversion of New York’s MoMA) will be Architectones, displaying the work of French artist Xavier Veilhan. There will also be a café, art store and bookshop as well as an artists’ residency.

Soon this will be a new cultural rooftop space, providing spectacular views of Marseille.
Soon this will be a new cultural rooftop space, providing artists spectacular views of Marseille.

In keeping with Le Corbusier’s vision, Ora Ito wants the space to be open to human interaction, in his own words “to establish a dialogue…a face to face with the artist in residence”.

A rooftop pool...will this feature in Ora Ito's artistic plans?
A rooftop pool…will this feature in Ora Ito’s artistic plans?

Having heard all about his plans for Le Corbusier’s rooftop, I took to the roof one morning to see what all the fuss was about. Though at first glance there wasn’t much happening, I quickly came to appreciate the extraordinary potential of this place. Stretched out like a ship’s deck, the roof provides panoramic the views of the city—itself ringed by mountains that tumble down spectacularly into the Mediterranean. The unconventional curves of the chimney stacks add an eccentric charm, the architecture making the space unpredictable, playful. It will provide the perfect setting when in June people will ascend skywards to see this special place reborn, giving Marseille a new creative space that will no doubt grab the headlines as much for its art as for its unique setting.

The view out towards the Mediterranean.
The view out towards the Mediterranean.

Get in touch with the author @ManInMarseille and check out his blog, The Man from Mars(eille).