The Unité d'Habitation in Marseilles was the first large-scale housing block that Le Corbusier was given the chance to build. Its conception was a long time in the making, and can be traced back at least to the blocks of apartments he developed for his housing schemes of the 1930s, including those for Algiers and Nemours, Algeria. It was conceived to be built in multiple iterations, as part of a much larger urban redevelopment, such as those Le Corbusier hoped would be built for entirely devastated areas such as Saint-Die and La Rochelle after World War II. The single Unité, however, was the only piece of this vision that he would manage to carry out - though in several different locations in Europe.
The Unité represents the most complete realization we have of Le Corbusier's idea of communal housing, often described as a "city within a city." The 337 apartment units in the building are divided into 23 types in order to accommodate different family arrangements - from a bachelor to a family with eight children. Most of the apartments are duplex and include a living room with a double-height ceiling and large windows that allow for a full view of the surrounding landscape. Halfway up the building, along the interior road of floors seven and eight, essential services are provided such as a bakery, butcher, dairy, seafood shop, fruit and vegetable shop, liquor store, drugstore, laundry and cleaning service, barbershop, post office, as well as a hotel and a restaurant. In addition, on the 17th floor inhabitants can find a kindergarten and a nursery. There, a ramp leads to the rooftop, which contains a swimming pool, indoor and outdoor athletic facilities, and a snack bar.
The Unité also shows the evolution of Le Corbusier's work with béton brut (rough concrete), wherein he left the material unfinished, with the imprint of the wood used to cast it clearly visible in its surface. This facet of the building's skin not only connects it to the natural park-like surroundings littered with trees, but it gives the building an arguably more robust character, much like the hulk of a sailing ocean liner, to which it has often been compared (appropriate for Marseilles, France's gateway port to the Mediterranean). Le Corbusier's work with concrete here would influence many architects in the coming decades, culminating in the strand of design with the material called Brutalism, which coalesced in the 1970s.
Concrete, glass, steel - Marseilles, France