It is odd how, many years later, even works of architecture designed to meet the needs of low-cost housing, have turned into exclusive homes, set aside for film, in some cases, or retaining the residential function, but certainly no longer with the low-cost housing feature they originally had.

Photo Uromano, from Wikimedia Commons

It is curious and interesting at the same time, because on one hand it is clear that 70 years ago some social housing projects contained very innovative design elements of a rather high quality, despite the low cost, on the other hand it is also clear that the concept of “industrial design”, conceived to mass produce objects, and therefore make them democratic and affordable for everyone, is now seen in the opposite light, thus giving more importance to the exclusive object, of which at best a few copies are produced, in the name of customization.

Apartment N. 50, Marseille; detail of the project by Konstantin Grcic, 2013.

These thoughts come looking at a beautiful idea in Marseille, where an apartment in a building from the late 1940s has been recognised as a “Landmark”, and, even better, the brilliant owners make it available for visits for one month in the summer (not every year, but almost), thus offering to many people the opportunity to see up close a project of historical architecture (there are many architectures built during the twentieth century which are private residences and cannot be visited, and that’s a pity).

Concrete table, by Normal Studio for Carpenters Workshop Gallery, Apartment 50, Cité Radieuse, 2018. Ph. Morgane Le Gall- FLC- ADAGP

This apartment is the Apartment N. 50 of the Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, the Cité Radieuse, designed by Le Corbusier and built between 1947 and 1952. From 1952 to today, the apartment has changed only two inhabitants; the first, Lilette Ripert, lived there from 1952 to 1993, and afterwards the current owners, Jean-Marc Drut and Patrick Blauwart, took over and bought it when it was already “Classified Monument”, and then restored it preserving all the original equipment, including the kitchen, designed by Charlotte Perriand, which was in perfect condition.

Apartment 50, Citè Radieuse, Marsiglia, furnished by Pierre Charpin, 2014. Ph. Philippe Savoir & Fondation Le Corbusier ADAGP

Over time, the occupants of the Cité Radieuse have obviously changed, and the apartments have undergone many changes and renovations, thus becoming increasingly expensive, but still maintaining the spirit of community with which the complex was built.

Apartment 50, Citè Radieuse, Marsiglia, furnished by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, 2010. Ph. Studio Bouroullec & FLC/ADAGP Paris.

Since 2008, the owners of Apartment 50 had the idea of opening it to the public for limited periods of time, and to make it more interesting, almost every year they invite international designers to furnish it with their pieces, which however have to coexist with the existing furniture, because the owners live in the house during the month of exhibition. Since 2008, the designers who furnished the space have been Jasper Morrison (2008), Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec (2010), Konstantin Grcic (2013), Pierre Charpin (2014), the students at l’ECAL (2015), Alessandro Mendini (2016); for 2018, it is time for Éloi Chafaï and Jean-François Dingjian, aka Normal Studio.

The Apartment N. 50 furnished by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, 2010. Photo Studio Bouroullec & FLC/ADAGP Paris.

The Apartment N. 50 furnished by Konstantin Grcic, 2013. Photo Philippe Savoir & Fondation Le Corbusier/ADAGP.

The Apartment N. 50 furnished by Pierre Charpin, 2014. Photo: Philippe Savoir & Fondation Le Corbusier ADAGP.

The Apartment N. 50 furnished by the ECAL students. Photo: Michel Bonvin.

The Apartment N. 50 furnished by Alessandro Mendini, 2016. Photo: Philippe Savoir & Fondation Le Corbusier ADAGP.

For the July-August 2018 exhibition, Normal Studio selected 30 pieces from their projects and scattered them around the apartment, including the terrace. The projects are both of industrial design, such as the Tresse chair and armchair (Maiori), and unique pieces of design-art, such as the Ready Made lamp, and there are also several lights designed at the CIRVA (International Centre for Glass and Plastic Arts) in Marseille. The presence of many sources of light makes it possible to experience two extremely different atmospheres, one during the day with natural light, the other in the dark with artificial lighting. The overall result is – of course – a beautiful apartment, furnished with a very contemporary blend of design, which nevertheless confirms the perception that contemporary design is a thing for few today. Waiting to see the Hay and Ikea versions, Appartement 50 can be visited from July 15 to August 15, 2018, at the Citè Radieuse. (Roberta Mutti)