The New York Times — A Le Corbusier Rooftop Gets a New Life as an Arts Space

Presse, Juin 2013
Photos © Stephane Aboudaram

One of the greatest achievements of the pioneering architect and urbanist Le Corbusier is Cité Radieuse, an extensive apartment complex in Marseille, France, which he completed in the early 1950s.

Often described as a “vertical village,” it has 337 apartments, a restaurant, a hotel, a bookstore and a nursery school. France classified it as a historical monument in the 1980s. When the building’s rooftop gym and solarium went up for sale in 2010, the French designer Ito Morabito, who goes by Ora-Ito professionally, purchased it as a collector might. “Like you buy a piece of art, but architecture,” he explained.

Honoring the iconic terrain became Ora-Ito’s self-appointed mission. Although he didn’t intend to turn the space into an art center, he came to feel that he “couldn’t keep this for myself,” he said. “It was a way to give back to the city I came from.” So he transformed the rooftop of Cité Radieuse into MAMO, short for MArseille MOdulor, a site for exhibitions and creative ateliers.

The overhaul was a three-year undertaking that involved a full restoration of the original rooftop structure, including the removal of an unsightly add-on, and the realization of design elements in Le Corbusier’s blueprints that had not been realized when the building was originally constructed. “I can understand Le Corbusier without knowing him or without meeting him,” Ora-Ito declared.

MAMO’s public inauguration this week is a feather in the cap for Marseille, which has been christened the 2013 European Capital of Culture. Ora-Ito’s friend and sometimes collaborator, the French artist Xavier Veilhan, has the first exhibition, a collection of large-scale sculptures created for the space. During warm weather, the rooftop will showcase rotating outdoor exhibitions of established artists’ work; in chillier seasons, MAMO will present smaller shows of up-and-comers in an indoor space.

“Le Corbusier would be proud,” Ora-Ito said. “It’s an homage to a master.”

Le MAMO: Marseille Modulor opens June 8 with the exhibition “Architectones” by Xavier Veilhan; 280 Boulevard Michelet, 13008 Marseille, France, 011-331-4246-0009;

Article by Sarah Moroz