In the middle of the forest suddenly stands a public housing type bar. 110 m long, 19 m wide, 56 m high, 17 floors… and a lot of concrete. From the outset, the Cité radieuse Le Corbusier, in Val de Briey, leaves a strange impression. Before the place, more colorful and whimsical than it seems, reveals all its richness. Here, in Meurthe-et-Moselle, the famous architect inaugurated at the end of his life, in 1961, one of the five examples of his large ideal collective housing complex.
Building here, in the countryside, did not come naturally to him when he was called in 1954 to reproduce his recent examples in Marseille and Rezé, near Nantes (the last two would follow, in Berlin and Firminy, near Saint -Etienne). Briey (the city was thus called at the time) had only 3,500 inhabitants, but had to contribute to the effort to build the sector to house many workers in the steel industry and the mines, which were then flourishing. It is decided to raze part of the national forest. The building will be able to accommodate 2,000 inhabitants.
More than sixty years later, the guiding lines of the place, combining individual and collective, nature, comfort and low budget, are still inspiring, and the bright colors of origin revived. On site, an association, La Première Rue, works to tell this living heritage, the building being fully inhabited. When Véronique Léonard, organizer of the association, welcomes visitors, she stimulates their sense of observation to lead them to find the specificities themselves. Entirely glazed facades, pilings… and this tasty puzzle: how can the 17 floors be served by six corridors?
To benefit from particularly bright through apartments, reproduce the atmosphere of houses and create a village spirit, Le Corbusier found a trick: arrange them in staggered rows, in groups of three floors. On the lower and upper floors: apartments all in width (therefore benefiting from light at all times), duplex with the middle floor. This is where the entrances are located, on either side of an interior “street”: a wide corridor designed to facilitate neighborly relations and which actually serves three floors. A total of 339 apartments (250 today, some having been merged), from studios to eight-room apartments. Born here, Yasmine Kabli, 60, fondly remembers the atmosphere in which she grew up. “There were lots of children. We cycled the “streets” and lived with open doors. »
Inside, economy of means dominates: a small kitchen opens directly onto a small living-dining room… A staircase designed by Jean Prouvé leads to the bedrooms and the bathroom. While the thin wooden partitions of the rooms give them a warm appearance, the low ceilings contribute to the cocoon feeling. The windows occupying all the facades give the feeling of being directly connected to the forest. From the balconies, you can see without being seen, thanks to the perforated concrete railings in an inclined way.
On the ground floor, no apartment, but a space left free and very high, between stilts, offering a natural courtyard for collective activities, and allowing the gaze to extend to the other side, towards the forest.
In Val de Briey, Le Corbusier’s initial project – to build an integral city – did not come to fruition completely, due to costs and local hostilities. “He was rather poorly received in this small middle-class town, and the project will cost the mayor his re-election! All the surrounding developments have not been made either, so that the site has from the start suffered from isolation from the city, at a time when the car was not as developed”, says Véronique Léonard. , generous with anecdotes that say a lot about the challenges of housing policy.
So, when the crisis in the mining industry occurs, then the departure of the American army, the HLM office can no longer keep up. In 1984, the building was emptied and walled up! Luckily, its destruction cost too much, and in 1987, the building was reborn, thanks to the installation of the nursing school and the mobilization of local authorities and an international network of architects, who bought apartments on their own money. The 1990s were those of renovation and strong artistic emulation, with in particular many American and British students coming here for residence, and registration in the additional inventory of historical monuments in 1993.
Today calm has returned, but the future of the Cité radieuse seems assured, thanks to a greater social mix and the now very real awareness of living in housing stamped by Le Corbusier.