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Unite Habitation Marseilles By Le Corbusier

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2730 words Published: 31st Jul 2018

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Unité D’Habitation Marseilles by Le Corbusier was actually the starting point of all basic theories regarding town planning and dwellings that we have today. The giant, twelve-storey apartment block can fit 1 600 people is cast to solve a severe post Second World War housing shortage. It is specially build up to human scale and also emphasize the beauty of using bare concrete (J.R Curtis, 1996). Le Corbusier compare the bare concrete of the Unité to human skin, which shows it age and character it flaws.which. The building is situated on a nine acre site on the outskirts of Marseille, has an east-west orientation. It is 450 feet long, 80 feet wide and 185 high (Birkhauser, 1995). The apartments, all built on two levels, are conceived as individual bottlerack. The northern façade is empty, while the other facades are filled by the glass walls and sunbreak loggias of the living area (Choay F, 1960). The design of this Unité is according to solar shading, ventilation, and also passive heating due to the position of the façade.

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Unité D’Habitation Marseilles consists of 377 different apartments. It includes 23 discrete types of apartments ranging for single occupants as well for big families (Choay F,1960). Basically, the structure of this building is simple; a rectilinear building which has different precast individual units slotted into it. Le Corbusier intends to make it that way, so it looks like ‘bottles into a wine rack; because that is how he derives the idea of this Unité D’Habitation. 15 measures of the Modulor are also used to dimension the Unité (Birkhauser, 1995).

Right after the Second World War, as what had been expected from the static surrounding of the France government, Le Corbusier’s promotion of his urban dwelling proposals were quite complex to be realized due to some of the political issues that is happening by that time. (Choay F, 1960). However, Le Corbusier’s resolution to this historical conflict of individuals and collective was the Unité D’Habitation. This so called ‘vertical garden city’ of the Unité D’Habitation assured that this Unité can bring phenomenal changes to the whole situation of the post-war. Le Corbusier classified this unit as ‘the extended dwelling’, due to the services and facilities provided to the individual home through collective (Choay F, 1960). To intensify the idea of Unité D’Habitation as a collective housing prototype, he eventually filled it with with various professional offices, shops and services.

These apartments are made distinctive to each other by having two’s and overlap head to foot along the inside corridors named ‘interior streets’. These streets were placed on every two floors giving passage to apartments that is paired at the level of the living room (in the lower apartments). Le Corbusier also deliberated all the corridors as instruments of the collective. He even made these interior streets in his urban theory as the sixth in a hierarchy of seven ways of urban circulation (Choay F, 1960).

Besides that, level 7 and 8 of the Unité was bringing together commercial stores such as food, apparel, pharmacy and even hairdresser. On the other hand which is the 18th level, the terrace roof was accommodating with a number of facilities for collective use: day nursery, kindergarten, gymnasium for adults, open-air theater and even a 300 meter race track (J.R Curtis, 1996).


Biography and Influences

Le Corbusier’s real name is Charles-Edouard Jeanneret. He was born on 6 October 1887 in La Chaux-de-Fonds Switzerlands. He was the second son of Georges-Edouard Jeanneret, a dial-painter in watch industry and and Madame Marie-Charlotte-Amelie Jeanneret-Perret, a musician and piano teacher (Deborah G, 2006). His family’s Calvanism, very enthusiastic for the Jura Mountains, love the arts and Charles L’Eplattenier, a teacher at a local art school were all formative influences on the young Le Corbusier. In particular, L’Eplattenier played important roles in his artistic development were also very active in searching for a new kind of aesthetics, that could represent the Jura Landscape and could be used by local craft industry. Le Corbusier became an apprentice to a watch engraver; however he had to give it up later on due to his poor eyesight. He began to study decorative art with an aim to become a painter but he also studied architecture on the advice of L’Eplattenier whom he called “My Master” (Deborah G, 2006). Le Corbusier travelled to many countries as a way to improve himself. After completing his first house, Villa Pallet, in 1907, in 1908 to 1912, he had travelled to Vienna, Paris, Munich, Italy, Eastern Europe and also Acropolis. Due to travelling, he became more familiar with the latest architectural movements such as the structural rationalism of Auguste Perret, a pioneer of reinforced concrete construction, and the Werkbund perspective of Peter Behrens which were total different from the L’Eplattenier’s theories (Deborah G, 2006).

He went back to La Chaux-de-Fonds in 1912 and started to teach along with L’Eplattenier and started his own independent architectural studio. Before the First World War, Le Corbusier spent few months in Germany where he is still frequented Behren’s studio and by that time he is acquainted with the Werkbund. However, the war intteruptes his career and he spent for years as a teacher at his old school in La-Chaux-de-Fonds (Deborah G, 2006).

During the war, Le Corbusier conducted a research on the Modulor, a rule of proportion that is based on quadrature and Golden Section to measure the human body. Later in Unite D’Habitation, he applied the Modulor system and extended it to both large and small dimensions. This was a great tradition as a continuation to the Renaissance anthropometries, to Vitruvius and even Pythagoras (Deborah G, 2006).

Immediately after the war, Le Corbusier returned to Paris. He met Amédée Ozenfant, a Cubist painter and both of them together publish their manifesto, Après le cubisme and established a new artistic movement, Purism, which is called for the restoration of the integrity of the object in art in 1918 (Choay F, 1960). They also published a journal named L’Espirit Nouveau. Le Corbusier piled up essays from the journal in a book “Vers Une Architecture”. In the essays, he came up with a proposal that architecture by that time should satisfy both the demands from the industry and the perpetual architectural form as defined in antiquity (Deborah G, 2006).

Influenced by problems that he saw in industrial cities at the turning of the century which is between the 19th and 20th century, Le Corbusier eventually become the pioneer of the modernist movement. He planned and thought of a way to create a better society and living conditions by creating a new housing concept since industrial housing techniques led to overcrowding, dirty and lack of moral landscape. By that time, he was also heavily influenced by Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of Tomorrow (Birkhauser, 1995).

In 1922, Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret formed an architect partnership. They placed their office in the corridor of a former Jesuit Monastery at 35, Rue de Sevres. It eventually remained forever as Le Corbusier’s office for the rest of his life. Le Corbusier died while swimming in the Mediterranean due to heart attack (Choay F, 1960).


Le Corbusier’s Philosophy & Impact

Modulor System


Le Corbusier was famous for his use of mathematics in his architecture. By that, he eventually develops a system called ‘Modulor System’ which is a rule of proportion that pertains the geometric proportion of Quadrature and Golden Section the measure of human body (Deborah G, 2006). It is very interesting to see how he sees the Golden Section (the use of geometry of phi), Ancient Egyptian’s pyramid and Greek’s Phytogoras as an inspiration for him to developed this modulor system. It is quite obvious that Le Corbusier was admiring Classicism. This can be seen as he was referring to Vitruvius, Leonardo and Alberti by the time he develops this Modulor System based on the human body’s proportions. And actually that was how the modulor system came up in his own unique modernization of those classical ideas; proportion, harmony and balance (Judi Loach, 1998)

The Golden Section and quadrature were parts of the classical methods that had been before until the Renaissance. However, Le Corbusier wanted to do something with it and thus he developed an ideal proportion that would help the designer in integrating human scale in mind while designing. He eventually make the Modulor system to become an international methodology that could be a guideline in the design process. In addition to that, he also translated it to inches so that everyone including the non-metric countries could use the system (Judi Loach, 1998). According to him, the idea for this Modulor system was from a vision of hypothetical man inscribed with three overlapping but contiguous squares. However, there was also a few problems with that earlier Modulor system.

Figure 2 The images shows the Red and Blue series of Modulor (Judi Loach, 1998) Nevertheless, after a few experimentation, Le Corbusier came up to a settlement on a six foot tall (1.828m) English, male, body with an upraised arm (Judi Loach, 1998). The man was placed in a box that was subdivided correspond to the Golden Section. It was then further divided using a variation of the Fibonacci series, with two scales that ended up establishing a double-helix, which Le Corbusier mentioned them as the Red and the Blue series.

Basically, this Unite D’Habitation was the first experimental site for the application of modulor (Deborah G, 2006). Every element in the building can be illustrated by usng the fifteen Modulor units. Those fifteen Modulor units are described in the steel of measure, the first stone and the human figures inscribed in the building.

”A polychromy so dazzling that the mind was forcibly detached from the dissonances, carried away in the irresistible torrent of major color sensations” (Deborah G, 2006).

However, the brise-soleils framed was misproportioned by mistake. To deal with that, Le Corbusier paint the bare exterior with polychromy colours, which consist of different fascinating colours to attract the user’s mind rather than realizing the misproportioned of the brise-soleils framed. He also acknowledged that the human error was one of the way to get an inspiration. (Judi Loach, 1998).

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It is very interesting to see how Le Corbusier used mathematics to solve his design on each space. His use of mathematics through Modulor system while designing the Unité D’Habitation Marseilles seems to be contrasting to him as an artist. In addition, it also shows that he really use human proportion while designing which shows a good thing which every architect should really done that, considering human proportions.


It is very clear how he used the figure of the man to eventually show the proportion of the space that he is creating. That is very interesting because even though a person has never been to that place, he/she can still imagine the space at the building through this image.

Five Points of Architecture


“So we designed a structural system, a frame, completely independent of the functions of the plan of the house: this frame simply supports the flooring and the staircase…” Le Corbusier, 1914.

Le Corbusier developed his “Five Points of Architecture” based on his Dom-ino housing scheme that he was working on during 1914. Thus, he came to a solution where he labeled the scheme as a quick and inexpensive way of reconstructing the city. In the end, he came out with above statement to solve the housing shortage by that time (Judi Loach, 1998). It was also the pioneering moment when the use of reinforced concrete starts to get around.

From his attempt to bring up the standardized house, he eventually made up his ‘Five Points of Architecture’. Le Corbusier put on his own theory of this “Five Points of Architecture” in his book titled “Towards A New Architecture”, that later on become a guideline for his own building design and it become a trend for other architects too.

His five points or architecture consists of the pilotis, roof gardens, free plan, vertical façade, and long horizontal windows. For the first point, the columns are lift up from the ground to allow lights to penetrate through it. It also saves the ground space for parking and garden. It obviously creates a circulation space under the building.The second point is the roof garden, where the roof space is being benefited to something else. In Unite D’Habitation Marseilles, the roof terrace on the top is said to be replacing the lost land under the building that was supposedly meant for recreation. The third one is the free plan. This free plan means it is free from any column support. Instead, it was supported by skeleton structure and thus helping it to be free from any interior partitions. However, since the partition walls among the apartments are load-bearing, it makes the facades to become free and thus enabling sound-proofing in between those apartments. It can be said as part of the building success to combine both privacy and communal living. However, the free plan has become the ‘free volume’ instead since the two-story apartments were integrated to each other and the entrance corridor and elevator were only needed at the third level. (Simon Glynn, 2001).

The fourth point is the vertical façade that supports the building. The free facades is said to be so due to the exterior walls that are not using the load bearing walls anymore, thus creating a free structural sense due to the skeleton structure. And for the fifth point is the long horizontal windows, which are the ribbon windows that can eventually helps in better ventilation and lighting (Simon Glynn, 2001). To sum up, using this ‘ Five Points of Architecture’, Le Corbusier was actually creating a new possibilities for interior and exterior connection and the interior connection itself. (J.R Curtis, 1996).

Purism to Brutalism

Le Corbusier has built many villas and small apartment and even office building during his early years. However, Le Corbusier recognized his own style ‘pure prisms’. It was basically consists of rectangular concrete blocks, glass and steel, building lift up from the ground and even roof gardens. It also used very pure colour, as the principle that they were using by that time is that colour was associated with purity, simplicity and health (Birkhauser, 1995). Purism combined both Le Corbusier and Amédée Ozenfan (Choay F, 1960). They declared their own manifesto titled ‘Après le Cubisme’ highlighting that a design approach should have give more attention to the main and simple one, which is the more important form of the objects. They did not agree and criticized the heir of Cubism which has been bringing up an art that is totally decorative and ornamental because they made up a point that fantasy and individuality would never be in modern art (Choay F, 1960).

Le Corbusier shifted from purism towards another movement after the World War 11. He pioneered a movement so called ‘Brutalism’ in the 1960s and 1970s (Frampton, 1992). Brutal, as dull as it is was showing the truth of the materials. However, Le Corbusier believes that it was more truthful to Modernism’s basic principle (Birkhauser, 1995).

For Unite D’Habitation Marseilles, Le Corbusier was exploring the use of ‘breton brut’ (raw concrete) for the buiding itself. A pebbled effect of concrete was brought to the buildings by bush-hammering (Birkhauser, 1995).


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