le corbusier

Housing (8) Unité d’habitation, Marseille


Too many things have been written about this building, that Le Corbusier presented as a prototype of a happy and modern life. 337 appartments built between 1945 and 1952 as a block on columns in Marseilles. It is as much one of the ancestors of stigmatized neighborhoods of public housing  (that sometimes have even been destroyed by dynamite) as it predates some high luxury condos.

I will only say that maybe the main problem of its universal use as model is when the circulation spaces (inner streets) become spaces in which people stay for long periods (unemployment, marginality, or mere desperation and anguish) architecture can only go to a certain point. I have heard that, on the other side, such models have benefited of some success in countries such as Brasil, as they allow to use with some ease services into different parts of the building, as day care, without going through dangerous streets; this happens when the building is used by high revenue populations. So here we also have, to a certain extent, an ancestor of Gated Communities.


The pool atop the building, overlooking the city. The green trees promised in the scheme meant leisure…


The view from the swiming pool, with diverse building shapes.


The inner street on an upper level, by the cafe


The idea: you recover the space occupied by the building by having a green space on top (and cars park under the building)


The space under the building (without cars)


The entrance to the building


A shop on the inner street

Madrid-Buenos Aires (5)

Two urban projects with a story, which shows how complex it is for a city to go from ideas to action.


Secundino Zuazo and Herman Jansen win in 1929 the competition to extend the Castellana, the main north-south axis in Madrid. During the years up to the 1936-1939 civil war the project is not developed, and later the area is developed through partial approaches that no longer have the integral vision, form AZCA (already defined in the 1946 Plan Bidagor) to the leaning towers of Plaza de Castilla. There is a good article by Carlos Sambricio on the Zuazo- Jansen project.

Grain elevators in Puerto Madero

Grain elevators in Puerto Madero

Le Corbusier's project

Le Corbusier’s project

Le Corbusier's night view of Buenos Aires from the Rio de la Plata

Le Corbusier’s night view of Buenos Aires from the Rio de la Plata

Le Corbusier visits Buenos Aires in 1929 and draws the first sketches for an approximation of the city to the Rio de la Plata, transforming Puerto Madero, a string of docks in the central area, in a space marked by its “Cartesian” skyscrapers (reading Le Corbusier’s travels is like remembering Napoleon’s campaigns…). The project is detailed in Paris in 1937-1938, and is even subject to an aborted attempt to develop it by the city government in 1947-1949. The work with a group of Argentine architects (described in « La Red Austral, obras y proyectos de Le Corbusier y sus discípulos en Argentina », by Liernur and Pschepiurca) was essential to the project, even if it was finally not built. Under the presidency of Carlos Menem during the 1990s the idea is reactivated; Puerto Madero has become a new space of centrality, but it is legitimate to think that Le Corbusier would rant, as in New York, agains the small size (in plan ) of the towers. There is an interesting article by Juan Manuel Borthagaray, and the Corporación has a website.

Puerto Madero as built

Puerto Madero as built

Libraries (2). Biblioteca Virgilio Barco, Bogotá

Rogelio Salmona (1927-2007) was a renowned Colombian architect that I had the chance to work with in a project for the Madrid municipal housing agency. As a young professional he worked with Le Corbusier in Paris, and later developped in his works an interesting approach which took into acount local traditions and innovative geometries, becoming one of the leading architects in his country. This library, built during the final 1990s, shows many elements of his architecture: a high quality masonry work, a good relation with public space, and a well designed structure.