Two lockdown days at the Housing Unit by Kolektiv 318

Visual essay "Two lockdown days at the Housing Unit", Kolektiv 318 (Laura Serra, Maxime Forest), March 2020.


When we were asked to introduce ourselves in March as a hosting partner of this project, Europe was on the brink of the pandemic outbreak. This is why, rather than presenting ourselves, we rather introduced the “Machine for living” where we live and work and how it resonates in these extraordinary times. Designed by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand, Jean Prouvé and Iannis Xenakis in Marseille from 1946 to 1952, it was the first of the five Housing Units projected by Le Corbusier across France and in Berlin, and arguably the one that best embodies the principles of the “Ville Radieuse.”

The video pictures spots of the traditional social life inside this vertical village, closed during the quarantine: a movie theatre, the public school, the library, the hotel and restaurant, the ping pong hall… But it also highlights signs of resilience: André (78), the pastry chef established in the third “street” of the Housing Unit in 1968, still baking cakes at night for the inhabitants; people exercising on the roof terrace, where spring vegetation reminds of the surrounding hills and seagulls find a nice observatory above the Mediterranean, books left over for new readers outside the library or the hygiene prescriptions and messages posted on the elevators, where younger residents offer elderly ones or those working in health services to shop for them.

It also shows how the interior design of the flats – democratically open and luminous – helped insiders to cope with the unusual lockdown conditions, while the garden offered a welcomed getaway to the children of the Radiant City, also pointing out the direction of the “new normal”… As Melvyn Douglas tells to Greta Garbo in Ninotchka: “this house is not about the structure, but about the spirit that dwells in it”.

Kolektiv 318
Laura Serra, Maxime Forest