A Morning with Le Corbusier

Architecture in the Style of Brutal…

We started our day by having breakfast on the balcony, looking over the city and out towards the Frioul peninsular and, of course, the Chateua d’If. The Chateau what? Y’know the island fortress-prison of Alexander Dumas’s Count of Monte Christo.

After breakfast we explored the Radiant City, on the roof there’s a wading pool and running track along with concrete curves simulating the waves on the not so distant beaches of the Mediterranean.

And a view of the wading pool, a big point with Corbusier was to compensate for the green space taken up by the building’s footprint by providing a roof garden or similar. You can see the hills encircling the city in the background.

Walking out of the building you enter the landscaped park that surround the radiant city. Apparently the workers of post war Marseille, for whom this block was built, took one look and refused to stay in what they called the ‘lunatic’s house’, the intelligentsia of course took one look and moved in so now a building intended for workers and tradesmen is firmly occupied by lawyers, doctors and, god forbid, even architects…

Corbusier believed that a building could be an entire city within itself. The problem was that the architects and planners of the 50’s and 60’s kept the high density but none of Corbusier’s imagined amenities. Within this architecture can be seen both the reality of conurbation in the 50s as well as the seeds of future dystopian stratoscrapers. Life, follows dreams and begets nightmares I guess.

Corbusier laid out the building with corridors on every third floor of the building and each apartment lying on two levels, and stretching from one side of the building to the other, with each having a distinctive deep balcony. Because of this, the natural ventilation flow keeps the apartments cool without air conditioning.

The building proudly standing erect and of the earth, of but not in it. Corbusier’s first and primate principal of design which allowed him to then achieve a free facade and an open floor plan.

At any second, one half expects the building to come to life and waddle off across the countryside at a dignified gate. Although perhaps that’s just the legacy of one too many Monty Python film, or Dali exhibition…hmmm.

And of course, there’s Corbusier’s Modulor, his attempt to codify human dimensions into a set of harmonious scales. The building is laid out using the Modulor’s dimensions in plan, section, elevations, brise-soleil, roof, supporting columns and the plan and section of the apartments.

If you look closely at the figure on the left you’ll note his open hand, ‘La Main Ouverte’ which symbolises peace and reconciliation and that one should be open to both give and to receive.

The hotel lobby, we were just across the ‘street’.

Again the split level construction within the hotel foyer and restaurant.

From within the town square, Corbusier’s concept was for all these rooms to be offices and shops serving the needs of the citizens of the building.

The hotel staff very kindly organised a look around one of the occupied apartments for us to complete our tour. One thing that impressed me was the attention to detail that Corbusier put into the design of these apartments. With that attention you get a liveable space, without it, a concrete box.

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