"The locals call the Unité d'habitation La Maison du Fada - the crazy guy's house. Photos from the early 50s show a huge, stark concrete building floating like a enormous ocean liner in a sea of French bungalows."
The 6th floor.
We had three full days in the apartment. Time enough to discover for ourselves what life might be like living in a modular designed space; in a "machine for living" Le Corbusier style. The apartment was on the 6th floor of the Unité dʼHabitation in Marseille. We had a view out towards the sea from the living room on one side and a view of the city stretching out to the rugged limestone hills of Marseille from the other.
The locals call the Unité dʼhabitation La Maison du Fada - the crazy guyʼs house. Photos from the early 50s show a huge, stark concrete building floating like a enormous ocean liner in a sea of French bungalows.
It must have been a startling sight.
This was postwar public housing.
It was idealistic modernism.
Perhaps it could only have been built with the tenacity and ego of a man like Le Corbusier. If the building was a little didactic, it was also thoughtful and generous. This was an apartment which remarkably for most of the last 50 years had remained virtually untouched by its original owners.
The current architect owner has modernized around these original fixtures, so that Jean Prouvéʼs oak wooden stairs & window frames and the cast aluminium & tiling of Charlotte Perriandʼs kitchen, remain classic features. The kitchen was cabin like and by our modern standards perhaps too pokey. In fact Le Corbusier wanted the kitchen to be like a cockpit : “to have everything within reach, functional & easy to use”. I did like having everything close at hand. I liked the built in shelf behind the sink for soap and scourers. I liked the pull out wooden chopping board, the serving hatch opening the kitchen out onto the dining room and the cubby hole where your morning baguette & paper could be delivered.
I spent a lot of time pottering around in the apartment : reading, thinking, making cups of tea, watching the changing light, taking photos & resisting any suggestions of venturing out. My mathematician husband raided the supply of childrenʼs drawing paper to work on some computations. It was a good sign. He could concentrate in the space. It was stimulating but at the same time relaxing & intimate.
Le Corbusier was very keen on a metaphor, especially a nautical one.
He said that “life in a building is a journey on a liner”.
Our stay felt a little like being at sea, albeit in a very roomy cabin.
Mary Gaudin is a New Zealand photographer living in Montpellier, France. Currently she divides her time between France and London and as much other travelling as she can do. If you're interested in a Life Book or for any other photography please contact her at ... email@example.com
read a previous YHBHS interview with Mary Gaudin here....
go to l'antipodeuse, her site with many more images..
All text and images courtesy of Mary Gaudin.