Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse in Marseille might be best known for MAMO, the building's one-time rooftop gym that was transformed into a contemporary art space by designer Ora Ito last year (W* 169), but several years before its 2013 opening, the iconic apartment complex began playing host to an equally inspired creative endeavour in Appartement N°50.
Privately owned and inhabited by Jean-Marc Drut, the impeccably preserved N°50 is opened to the public biennially when it hosts summer exhibitions from some of the design world's biggest names. These have seen Jasper Morrison (2008), the Bouroullec Brothers (2010), and Konstantin Grcic (2012) pitch up within the original 1952 environs to stage an unconventional installation of their works.
Pierre Charpin is the latest designer to join the ranks. Opening on 15 July, his spatial intervention showcases his past works for Ligne Rosset, Galerie Kreo, Cirva and Post Design, alongside his sketches and drawings. The designer's installation pays special attention to Appartement N°50's architecture, inhabitants and its true to life setting.
Charpin selected pieces - not just his own, but from his predecessors as well - in response to specific characteristics of the apartment. The striking shapes of his 'Mini Eclipse' lamps for Galerie Kreo and saturated hues of glass works for Venini are particularly poetic against original fixtures, such as cabinets and window frames, by Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier. Charpin has also carefully referenced the architect's Modular measure system when resizing his linear drawings to fit the space, especially for the occasion.
The exhibition draws people into the heart of the building and adds another layer to the architecture. Drut, a contemporary design fan and also head of European production at Comme des Garçons, put it plainly: 'Real architecture has to be experienced from the inside, in my opinion. The Cité Radieuse is an iconic building, but the complex layout of the apartments is unknown to many visitors. The apartment is in such perfect condition that I wanted to share it with people interested in Le Corbusier architecture.'
Using the apartment to stage exhibitions was also a natural idea for Drut, who visited all of Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation in order to purchase an apartment in one of these iconic buildings. 'Such a place could be frozen like a museum-display, but I felt it would be more interesting to re-activate it with contemporary design,' he explained. 'Opening my door to visitors was going to be an interesting experience for me, so the idea of changing settings came along.'
Since the first exposition in 2008 when Drut invited Jasper Morrison to take over the space, the exhibition series has developed freely with each participating designer inviting his successor. There are only two things for designers to bear in mind: no alterations can be made to the space, and that Drut and his husband live in the apartment and hence, the installation, during its duration.
It was this last consideration that particularly attracted Pierre Charpin. 'I liked the idea that the apartment should still be lived in and that the installation was not just an exhibition. To formulate the concept, I decided to go there and spend four days. Because the couple spend the summer in this space, I wanted to created a colourful and pleasant ambience for them.'
The result is an inspired mix of objects and drawings that mix the iconic and the contemporary. The exhibition activates the space, throwing new light on the apartment's spatial complexity and making the experience of visiting this classified historic monument all the more immersive.