Designer Pierre Charpin commandeers L'Appartement 50 in Marseille's Cité Radieuse

In the living room of Apartment 50, visitors will find Charpin's 'Credscendo' table (left) for Galerie Kreo, 'Lisses' vases for Cirva, 'Mobidec' footstool for Ligne Roset and a selection of his prints.
In the living room of Apartment 50, visitors will find Charpin's 'Credscendo' table (left) for Galerie Kreo, 'Lisses' vases for Cirva, 'Mobidec' footstool for Ligne Roset and a selection of his prints.
(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

Le Corbusier's Cité Radieuse in Marseille (opens in new tab) might be best known for MAMO, the building's one-time rooftop gym that was transformed into a contemporary art space (opens in new tab) 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) (opens in new tab) 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.

Left: A glimpse of the iconic facade of Cité Radieuse, designed by Le Corbusier in Marseille. Right: A colourful assortment of ceramics prototype near the new shapes by Charpin for Manufacture Nationale de Sévres.

Left: A glimpse of the iconic facade of Cité Radieuse, designed by Le Corbusier in Marseille. Right: A colourful assortment of ceramics prototype near the new shapes by Charpin for Manufacture Nationale de Sévres. 

(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

A close-up of Ligne Roset's 'Mobidec' footstool and Galerie Kreo's 'Crescendo' coffee table.

A close-up of Ligne Roset's 'Mobidec' footstool and Galerie Kreo's 'Crescendo' coffee table.

(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

Left: A glimpse of the iconic facade of Cité Radieuse, designed by Le Corbusier in Marseille. Right: A colourful assortment of ceramics prototype near the new shapes by Charpin for Manufacture Nationale de Sévres.

Left: A glimpse of the iconic facade of Cité Radieuse, designed by Le Corbusier in Marseille. Right: A colourful assortment of ceramics prototype near the new shapes by Charpin for Manufacture Nationale de Sévres. 

(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

A wall adorned with Pierre Charpin's signature prints.

A wall adorned with Pierre Charpin's signature prints.

(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

Charpin's 'Lina Mosta Di Mobile' table for Post Design is a worthy complement to the apartment's original cabinetry.

Charpin's 'Lina Mosta Di Mobile' table for Post Design is a worthy complement to the apartment's original cabinetry.

(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

Charpin arranged pieces in response to specific characteristics of the apartment. Here, an assortment of ceramics and vases bring a colourful touch to the iconic mid-century modern space.

Charpin arranged pieces in response to specific characteristics of the apartment. Here, an assortment of ceramics and vases bring a colourful touch to the iconic mid-century modern space.

(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

Left: Charpin's 'Zana' side table for Ligne Roset. Right: The designer's 'Mini Eclipse' standing lamp for Galerie Kreo.

Left: Charpin's 'Zana' side table for Ligne Roset. Right: The designer's 'Mini Eclipse' standing lamp for Galerie Kreo.

(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

'Ecrans' and 'Lisses' vases for Cirva.

'Ecrans' and 'Lisses' vases for Cirva. 

(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

The bedroom features original prints by the designer, his table lamp for Galerie Kreo and a porcelain cup for Manufacture Nationale de Sévres.

The bedroom features original prints by the designer, his table lamp for Galerie Kreo and a porcelain cup for Manufacture Nationale de Sévres.

(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

Charpin's installation is not simply for the purposes of an exhibition - the apartment's owner, Jean-Marc Drut, and his husband will live in the apartment for the show's duration

Charpin's installation is not simply for the purposes of an exhibition - the apartment's owner, Jean-Marc Drut, and his husband will live in the apartment for the show's duration

(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

The designer's provocative 'Ceram-X' vases for Craft.

The designer's provocative 'Ceram-X' vases for Craft.

(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

Appartement N°50 is the subject of the book, 'La Cellule Le Corbusier', published in 2013.

Appartement N°50 is the subject of the book, 'La Cellule Le Corbusier', published in 2013.

(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

Pages from 'La Cellule Le Corbusier', initiated by Drut, featuring many photographs of the fully restored apartment.

Pages from 'La Cellule Le Corbusier', initiated by Drut, featuring many photographs of the fully restored apartment.

(Image credit: Philip Savoir)

Address 

Unité d'Habitation
280 Boulevard Michelet
Marseille

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Pei-Ru Keh is the US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru has held various titles at Wallpaper* since she joined in 2007. She currently reports on design, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru has taken a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars and actively seeks out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.