Tuesday, October 25, 2011


The Unités d'habitation are among the most famous works of Le Corbusier. As part of a larger and more radical approach, these huge housing units have influenced the development of residential projects around the world in the decades after their construction.

Of the 5 units built, the one in Berlin has sui generis characteristics, since Le Corbusier had to adapt the design of the building to the German modulated regulatory requirements. This post will explore some of the most important features of the unité in Berlin, and will take a closer look to some details Berlin building and the surprising change in the composition of its inhabitants today.


In 1922 Le Corbusier presented a radical urban plan: the Ville Contemporaine, which was a criticism of the European city at that time: overcrowded, unhealthy, bleak. Le Corbusier proposed to demolish everything and build large residential blocks surrounded by parks and arranged so that they do not shade each other.

Le Corbusier compared the gloomy and unhealthy character of many areas in European cities with its proposal to the contemporary city. The picture, taken at the Unité in Berlin contrasts two situations: Le Soleil et l'Ombre (sun and shade).

His ideas were never fully implemented, despite the famed Swiss architect spent his life planner offering their services in many parts of the world, from Buenos Aires to Berlin. Only succeeded in Chandigarh, India.


However, only 5 residential units were built around the world. The most famous of the units is that of Marseilles, in France, called the Cité Radieuse or Radiant City (1945). Others are located in Nantes-Rezé (1952), Berlin (1956), Briey-en-Forêt (1957) and Firminy (1960).

Garden Terrace Radieuse Cité, the Unité d'Habitation in Marseille.

The idea was to build these large units as independent small towns, each with many different housing types, from apartments for singles to family residences for up to 10 people. Also, public facilities were to be included that allow these units to operate autonomously ,such as shops, sports areas medical and educational facilities within the building. It must be said, however, that after some time, the Unités began to deteriorate and they just never worked as independent "small cities", as Le Corbusier had envisioned.

The Unité in Berlin

The volumes are essentially elongated boxes, supported on pilotis in order to achieve better spatial integration with its pedestrian environment. The terrace was used as a garden to compensate the occupied area to nature (the 5 principles above explained corbuserianos in its design Curutchet House in La Plata, Argentina).

Unité Briey-en-Forêt.
Inside the residential unit in Marseille.

A fundamental aspect of these houses was the economy, both in the materials used and in the modulation of the different elements of housing, for which Le Corbusier developed a system of proportions which he called Modulor.

The Modulor

In an attempt to find an independent measurement system to the inch and the meter, and that would be more reklated to the proportions of the human body, Le Corbusier developed the Modulor, based on the Fibonacci series and the golden section. For him, it meant a "set of harmonic measures appropriate to the human scale, universally applicable to mechanical things."

Many of the compositional elements of the buildings of Le Corbusier, in particular the housing units, were designed based on the proportions of the modulor, both in plan and section, from the general dimensions to the small details.

The exteriors of the Unité de Berlin are decorated with depictions of the Modulor.


After the devastation of Berlin by the Allies at the end of World War II, hundreds of thousands of Berliners were left homeless. During the reconstruction the authorities prioritized the construction of affordable housing complexes.
In 1956 the Berlin Planning Committee received a proposal from Le Corbusier to build one of his unités. The committee wanted to capitalize on the fame of Swiss architect and found him a location for his building on the Charlottenburg hil , with superb views of the city (this is very unusual, as noted by Living Numbers magazine, as an architect is usually told a location for a project, not a project is set somewhere in the city after it is designed).

View of Berlin from the Unité.

The implementation of the Berlin unité took place between 1956-59, when the city was not yet divided by the wall.


The multifamily unit is very close to the monumental Olympic Stadium built by the architect Werner March for the Berlin Olympics in 1936 during the Third Reich.

See location on Google Maps
Views of Berlin's Olympic Stadium, built by the Nazis between 1934-36. Hitler favored a simple but monumental neoclassical architecture.

The unit is located on a small hill, in the middle of a vast park.

Unlike the pompous megalomaniac prelude to the stadium, the access to the unité is indirect, through a winding road that approaches from the northwest and allows a general visual perception of the block, a resource also used by Le Corbusier in his approach to other works, such as the church at Ronchamp, for example.


Le Corbusier's proposal for Berlin includes 530 apartments distributed in 17 levels. However, they are accessed only through 9 "streets" which are actually quite wide corridors, much wider than those of a common residential building, where residents would supposedly enjoy social interaction.

Section and typical plant of the building.

This is because the homes are duplex, that is to say, a two-story apartment, and have internal stairs, enjoying more spaciousness than many of the apartments today.

Some views of the original apartments, expressing comfort and modernity

Each house also has separate balconies, forming a grid than can be seen from the exterior. This allows light to enter, but protects the inside of excessive solar radiation.

Le Corbusier intended to express the individuality of each department through series of color tones applied in the large white canvas which is the building's facade.

The idea of using color to give some character to the repetitive facade has been used in subsequent residential buildings throughout the world, such as the recent Shinonome Canal Court in Tokyo Bay, by Toyo Ito, Riken Yamamoto and others .

One of the "internal streets", unusually wide for this type of building. However, they evoked me a hospital.

The finishing, as this light, is pretty simple.

Details of the inner circulations. Unlike the large windows within the apartments, these public spaces are more introverted and have small windows.

Unlike other unités, like Marseille, Berlin has little additional facilities. At the beginning a children's nursery, a post office, a small supermarket and a bank were added, but they do not work anymore.


The Unit was created as a economic multifamily housing complex. Here poor families settled, and there are some media compared the housing units with a honeycomb. Over time the building was sold to the private company Präzisa, and many of its original occupants 50 years ago have moved or have simply died.

"Happiness in a honeycomb cells" criticized the German newspapers.

Despite criticism, the Unité was massively occupied due to the shortage of housing.

However, despite what you might expect, we find the building in good condition and very well maintained by its residents. This is because in addition to some of their original occupants, most people are architects, artists and intellectuals who are proud to live in a very prestigious building by Le Corbusier.

The "open plan" designed by Le Corbusier as a spatial relationship with the environment is today a public parking lot.

Although the building has lost its original social role for which it was designed and has become a sort of elitist habitat, on the other hand this situation has allowed the unité (now called Corbusierhaus) to endure more than 50 years in very good condition.


- Other works of Le Corbusier.

- Multifamily Housing

An excellent host, the architect Marco Ramos, who has visited several works of Le Corbusier, led me to the Unité in Berlin showing me many details that I have shared in this post.


  1. Hello Carlos,

    I am an architecture student looing to get hold of plans for the Corbusierhaus, either in CAD or PDF format.

    I need the plans in order to 3D model the apartment block so we can 3D print it.

    Have you got any plans or do you know who might have some?



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