Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation is arguably the most influential Brutalist building of all time. With its human proportions, chunky pilotis and interior "streets", it redefined high-density housing by reimagining a city inside an 18-storey slab block. Completed in 1952, Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseille has been blamed for launching a thousand brutalist concrete apartment blocks around the world. (including the mammoth Kanchenjunga tower in Bombay)
The Unite d’ Habitation was the first of a new housing project series for Le Corbusier that focused on communal living for all the inhabitants to shop, play, live, and come together in a “vertical garden city.” Le Corbusier believed the tower block was the solution for rehousing the masses that had been displaced during the second world war, and that high rise building could be used to create spacious city homes with the same amenities as a typical street.
The 337 residential apartments themselves are all ingeniously arranged to make the most of their high-density consolidation. The block is divided by cross walls into standard compartments 3.66m wide, but this standardisation has been cleverly manipulated to provide 23 apartment types that cater for the spectrum of households, from single students to 10-person families. Inside, narrow flats are mostly arranged as two-storey duplexes with a double-height living room at one end. One level of each apartment stretches the full 21-metre depth of the block, creating a layout where pairs of homes interlock around a central access corridor.
Unlike a typical apartment block, this arrangement meant that these access corridors – known as "streets" – only needed be accommodated on every third floor. There are just five in total.
What is Brutalism?
Brutalism, or New Brutalism as it was sometimes referred to, has its roots in modernism but emerged as a movement against the architectural mainstream. It placed an emphasis on materials, textures and construction as well as functionality and equality.
There has been a shift in attitude towards the architectural style of Brutalism – buildings once dismissed as ugly have now found themselves the objects of new found affection. People are coming out in support for some of the world’s most iconic buildings – voices louder and prouder than ever.
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