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What happened to the future of housing?

Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse in Marseille is one of France’s most iconic buildings. But what happened when an iconoclastic designer got hold of its rooftop?

What happened to the future of housing?

Le Corbusier was the great European visionary architect and planner of the first half of the 20th century. His concept of the Unité d’Habitation (Housing Unit) was intended to revolutionise urban living through the accommodation of an entire community in one, cheap-to-produce, rough-cast concrete building. We all know how well that turned out.

But back in 1952, when the Cité Radieuse (Radiant City) was erected in Marseille, it was something of a modernist marvel. The rectangular 18-storey block filled with 337 airy duplex apartments, plus a rooftop pool, gym and playground, was nothing less than the future.

As it happened, it turned out to be a pretty bleak future and we’ve since turned our backs on concrete-block living. Yet the Cité Radieuse remains one of the most important landmarks of modernist architecture, and one of Marseille’s offbeat attractions.

Now there’s a twist in the story of the Cité Radieuse. In 2010, the building’s rooftop was bought by an iconoclastic designer who made his name creating fake products and advertising campaigns for luxury brands.
Marseille-born Ito Morabito, 35 – also known as Ora-Ïto – part-funded a €7m (NOK53 million) restoration, which has seen more than 50 years of extensions and add-ons removed, and the rooftop restored to its original state. Last month it opened as a public arts space called MAMO (“Marseille Modular”), hosting a series of installations by French artist Xavier Veilhan. It’s the first in a programme of shows that will run every summer, while in winter the rooftop will become a showcase for young artists and designers.

Morabito made his name at 20, when the then-mysterious Ora-Ïto started designing and advertising imaginary high-end products, including Louis Vuitton bags and laptop cases for MacBooks. As people tried to buy the fake goods, the brands themselves cottoned on and started hiring Morabito for real.

These days, Ora-Ïto designs everything from aluminium Heineken bottles through Citroën UFO prototypes to Gorenje gas hobs and space-age mobile home designs. He recently opened the futuristic Hotel O in Paris, where he is also due to launch a new restaurant soon.

He may be the ultimate blue-sky thinker, but is he an unlikely fit for an iconic building that defines a whole genre of architecture? Morabito thinks not. “I don’t care about the future, I’m interested in the timelessness of this building. It’s the first time I’ve done a restoration project and it was a case of just having to do it.” Perhaps surprisingly, Morabito hasn’t changed a thing – there’s not a UFO in sight. “I only understood the building’s perfection when I restored it. As we stripped it back, it just made more sense.”

It also makes sense for him to turn the roof into a public space. “This is my way of giving something back,” he says. “I want to be a kind of godfather to young designers and to help the new wave of creativity in France. We had a burst in the mid-’90s, when France was producing musicians like Daft Punk, Air and Phoenix, and there were a lot of great designers around. We’re getting back to that now. I like the idea of young designers learning and getting their work shown in this perfect building.”
mamo.fr, ora-ito.com

Norwegian flies to Marseille from Copenhagen. Book flights at norwegian.com


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