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Modern Sleep: Hotel Le Corbusier in Marseille

Hotel le Corbusier. Photo Paul Clemence.

By Paul Clemence

High design hotels are not hard to find these days, but to sleep at a veritable architectural landmark is pretty special.  It’s also possible at At Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitacion in Marseille, France. Also known as “Cité radieuse” and conceived as “city within a city”, the building, which is celebrating its 70tth anniversary October 14th, is a considered a benchmark of Modern architecture and a Unesco World Heritage site.

Guestroom. Photo Paul Clemence.

Tucked inside the visionary project is the Hotel le Corbusier. It began as a series of small rooms intended for families and guests of the building’s inhabitants to stay when visiting, but was later transformed into a hotel for easier administration. Throughout the years, the hotel fell into disarray. A few years ago Dominique Gérardin and her husband Alban decided to take over the hotel and give it new life.


Dominique Gérardin. Photo Paul Clemence.

“Right at the first visit we were seduced by the place, in spite of the deplorable state it was at the time”, says Gérardin. “We could see the hidden rough diamond.”

Guestroom. Photo Paul Clemence.

The couple already had experience dealing with historic properties, having just restored an Art Deco building they owned, so they were willing and ready to tackle a new project. They slowly renovated the units, keeping and restoring as much as possible of the original furnishings and details, and when that was not possible, they were careful to makew changes in the spirit of the original design. The room are small in scale, but comfortable and very much in line with Corbusier’s spartan idea of modern living. Special highlights are the interior furnishings by Charlotte Perriand, Corbusier’s longtime partner, who was responsible for many designs usually credited to him.

Room key. Photo Paul Clemence.

Another great rescue Gérardin managed was to renovate and re-open the restaurant, now aptly named “Le Ventre de l’Architecte” ( “The Belly of the Architect”). The restaurant features a limited but exquisite gourmet menu and it’s a favorite with locals, quite the lunch destination. The ship deck-like terrace, with views towards the Mediterranean and the Frioul archipelago, is perfect for a sunset time cocktail.

Hotel with a view. Photo Paul Clemence.

It is a simple hotel, but with absolutely unique amenities, like access to “the” rooftop, the one that literally defined rooftops for the Modern age. Up there, guests and residents can do yoga, enjoy the contemporary art offerings of the Modulor Marseille/MaMo ( an art center established by French designer Ora Ïto) , or simply soak up the sprawling modern setting while enjoying the beautiful 360 degree Marseille views.

Photo Paul Clemence.
Photo Paul Clemence.
Photo Paul Clemence.

If in the beginning the hotel attracted mostly architecture students and professionals, today with the rise of archi-tourism, the hotel attracts a more diverse crowd, looking for a hospitality experience outside the box, or in this case, inside the ultimate Modern box.


Paul Clemence is an award-winning photographer and writer exploring the cross-section of design, art and architecture. A published author, his volume Mies van der Rohe’s FARNSWORTH HOUSE remains to this day the most complete photo documentation of that iconic modern residential design, and a selection of these photos is part of the Mies van der Rohe Archives housed by MoMa, New York. He is widely published in arts, architecture and lifestyle magazines like Metropolis, ArchDaily, Architizer, Modern, Casa Vogue Brasil and others. Archi-Photo, aka Architecture Photography, his Facebook photo blog quickly became a photography and architecture community, with over 970,000 followers worldwide. An architect by training, Clemence is originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and now lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

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