Completed in 1952, the huge concrete building—it is 440 feet long, 79 feet wide, and 170 feet high (136 by 24 by 52 meters)—stands on massive 23-foot-high (7-meter) pilotis. It houses 1,600 people in 337 apartments; Le Corbusier called them “superimposed villas.” There are twenty-three apartment types, varying from single-person studios to those for families of ten people; almost all have two-story living rooms. The Unité was designed as a concrete-and-steel frame into which the precast concrete apartment units were inserted; as the architect put it, it was “a wine rack into which the living spaces [were] inserted as bottles.” The units have a mezzanine level and double-height living spaces that open through glazed walls into deep balconies that create the building’s interesting facades by forming a sunscreen, the brise-soleil that Le Corbusier and others would employ elsewhere. The sides of the balconies are painted in bright primary colors. The offset units form a series of interlocking L shapes, with a corridor at every third floor. Because there are windows at both ends of each unit, there is good natural light and ventilation. Lead sheets in the party walls provide sound insulation.

Le Corbusier believed that collective organization, while protecting the individuality of the family unit, would also integrate that unit into the Unité’s society: Therefore, on the seventh and eighth floors he created a shopping and service mall, with food stores, a bookshop, a laundry, a café, a post office, and even hotel rooms, expecting that the services provided would identify his building as a neighborhood. He also included a “roof garden” to serve as a community center. The large, barren space, admittedly with spectacular views but anything but a garden, is dominated by two colossal concrete ventilation shafts. There is a children’s playground full of rather forbidding concrete forms and space for a swimming pool, a nursery and a gymnasium.

Le Corbusier built’ several versions of the Unité d’Habitation; all are isolated buildings and not part of a group. The same building was reproduced at Nantes-Reze (1952–1957) and Briey-en-Foret in the département of Meurthe and Moselle (1963). An unrealized development plan for Meaux (1957–1959) in the département of Seine and Marne proposed five Unités. The Berlin Unité (1956–1959), built on a hilltop at Reichssportfeldstrasse, has 530 larger apartments on 17 floors, but no communal amenities and oppressive dark corridors. The last Unité was built with André Wogenscky at Firminy-Vert in the département of Loire in 1964–1967. It has 414 apartments but was never fully occupied. Renovation work was undertaken by the architect Henri Ciriani in 1995, and the roof was restored by Jean-François Grange-Chavanis in 1995–1996.

The Unité d’Habitation at Marseilles was seized upon as a prototype for collective housing and was frequently copied (largely without much attention to its underlying sociopolitical reasons for being). Le Corbusier’s sublime idea, his ideal, whether right or wrong, was reduced to Unité clones, inexpensive high-density housing like London County Council’s Alton West estate at Roehampton (1952–1959) and the Bijlmermeer (1966–1969), a complex of high-rise apartments southeast of Amsterdam. Others appeared further afield, including in the new city of Brasília. Almost everywhere, they are associated with social problems, and many became multistory versions of the slums they were built to replace.

See also

Brasília; CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture); Garden city idea

Further reading

Futagawa, Yukio. 1972. Le Corbusier, L’Unité d’Habitation, Marseilles, France, and L’Unité d’Habitation, Berlin, West Germany. Tokyo: A.D.A. Edita.

Jenkins, David, and Peter Cook. 1993. Unité d’Habitation Marseilles—Le Corbusier. London: Phaidon.

U.S. interstate highway system

The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways, inaugurated in June 1956 by the Federal-Aid Highway Act, is a 41,000-mile (66,000-kilometer) network linking 90 percent of the major cities whose population exceeds 50,000 and many other urban centers in the mainland United States. The bill earmarked $25 billion to be spent between 1957 and 1969, and the system was to be completed by 1972. Sinclair Weeks, then secretary of commerce, somewhat extravagantly claimed it to be “the greatest public works project in history.” In 1994 the