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La Unité d´ Habitation. Source: FADU

The housing unit in Marseille (France) is one of the first large-scale projects by the famous architect Le Corbusier. The design and construction of this building is marked by history and reflects the characteristics of the main urban phenomenon of the period.


In this article we talk about the concept of the "Unité d'habitation" (the housing unit or dwelling unit) to learn more about its origin, history and characteristics.

Architectural history of the "Unité d'habitation"

After the Second World War and the destruction caused by this war, the need for housing was unsustainable. Therefore, Le Corbusier, decided to design a multi-family residential housing project in Marseille, free from any regulation with the support of the Minister of Reconstruction and Urban Planning, Raoul Dautry.


The project's idea was to create a communal housing block that would allow inhabitants to live there with better quality of life. Ultimately, the aim of the housing unit was to solve the housing problems of the post-war period.


Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation de Marseille was designed between 1945 and 1946, but construction did not begin until 1951. Le Corbusier considered this work to be experimental, as such a building had never been built before and it was uncertain how it would be accepted.


With this system of collective housing, Le Corbusier sought to oppose de-urbanisation from an urban and integrated point of view. His idea is based in the garden-city concept, where the building is the city and the garden lies at the its feet, materialised in large green spaces.

Housing Unit Principles

Le Corbusier wanted to re-examine people's life conditions of the time in order to create a home that would include everything necessary for living. This is why we can draw some conclusions from "l'Unité d'habitation" which have their origin in the modular proportions or the Modulor system.


The rooms are multifunctional. A bedroom is not only used for sleeping, but also as an office or gym.

Because of this individuality and personal freedom, a single integrated space comprising kitchen, dining room and living room should be considered. Thus, the family can come together to prepare food or have lunch.

Individual freedom does not work without collective order. Generating a vertical community, in addition to providing community facilities and services, frees up useful ground floor space for parks and landscaping, which allows community gathering.

The efficiency of systems and installations is important to make domestic tasks more efficient and to make people's lives easier. We are referring to hot water systems, ventilation systems or lifts.

The standardisation of space and rationalisation of construction means that many people can live in the housing unit at a lower cost.

The roof terrace as a meeting space is one of the most important areas which included an athletics track, an indoor gymnasium, a club, an infirmary and a nursery.


As if can be seen, "l'Unité d'habitation" establishes the basis for the full use of space in a residential building and is a truly innovative concept for the post-war period.

Le Corbusier's Unité d'Habitation de Marseille. Source: Aula de Historia

Structure of the Unité d'habitation

For the design of the living unit, Le Corbusier was inspired by Soviet Communal buildings. One example is the "Narkomfin building" in Moscow. This building was an innovation in the architectural design of buildings intended for residential use. "L'Unité d'habitation" in Marseille has a capacity for 1600 inhabitants in 377 duplex flats distributed along interior streets. More than 26 services are accommodated inside.


This means that the concept is to allocate in the same building all the services that a family might need (school, laundry, shops, even a library). Le Corbusier thought of a "vertical village" or "vertical garden city" to try to make the project self-sufficient.


In terms of its structure, we can distinguish three main elements. Firstly, the foundations of the structure are made of concrete slabs, beams and pillars. On this structure, the flats, which are assembled independently on the basis of construction elements such as carpentry or partition walls, rest. The exterior consists of prefabricated reinforced concrete elements which are connected to the structural frame.


T he entire structure sits on the single block with free-standing pillars, thus leaving space at ground level for gardens and other leisure spaces.


"L'Unité d'Habitation" is Le Corbusier's first large-scale project and was one of the most important and inspiring of its time, being also implemented in other cities, such as Nantes or Berlin.

Master in Collective Housing UPM/ETH

The Master of Advanced Studies in Collective Housing is a professional and international postgraduate programme that is developed on a full-time basis, dealing with advanced architectural design in the city and housing. It is designed and taught jointly by the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH).


The application period for MCH2022 is already opened, and it will remain so till 31.01.2022 or until vacancies are filled. 


For more information, click here!

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