When Jean-Marc Drut and Patrick Blauwart bought and restored their apartment in Le Corbusier’s 1952 Cité Radieuse housing complex in Marseilles, France, they felt that it would be selfish not to share the results with the world. As a way of inviting the public in, they came up with the radical idea of inviting a new designer each year to refit the listed space and then showcase the results to the public as a summer exhibiton.
'When I bought this apartment, which is as a listed "historical monument" (all of the apartment's fittings are original and protected), the temptation to turn it into a kind of 1950s museum was very strong,' Drut tells Wallpaper*. 'I thought it would be more interesting to confront this incredible piece of architectural history with today’s most iconic designers; and see if it the apartment's functionality and aesthetics were still relevant in the 21st century.'
It would seem the answer is a resounding 'yes'. The 'Appartement N°50' project began in 2008 christened by star designer Jasper Morrison, and since then, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Konstantin Grcic and, just last year, Pierre Charpin have all taken a turn to style the space to stunning effect. As part and parcel, each designer must nominate a successor, which in the case of Charpin, was a group of ÉCAL students - the first time a group of designers have been tasked with furnishing the Le Corbusier-designed space.
Under the guidance of Thilo Alex Brunner, head of the Master Product Design at ÉCAL, and of ÉCAL professor Augustin Scott de Martinville, a team of the school's Product Design Master students spent three days observing life in the apartment before designing and producing bespoke furnishings over the course of a semester.
Taking care to create pieces that cater to the occupants' everyday needs, the resulting products, realised in a bold palette of bright primaries, include a fan that creates air flow on the mezzanine; a set of large and small rotating lamps positioned so that they can be used to light two areas in the space; and a chair, folding table and picnic set that can be used between the living room and roof terrace.
The exhibition, Drut tells us, is a year-long process: the designers begin work in September, the installation is set up in April and is open to the public throughout July. Then a month after the close of the show the pieces are returned to the designers in September. 'I live in the flat, with the installations, for six or seven months,' says Drut of the experience, 'and after each exhibition I purchase a few pieces, so they become another layer of the history of this apartment.'