Normal Studio at appartement 50 / 2018

15 July to 15 August 2018
Unité d’Habitation Le Corbusier, Appartement 50, 5ème rue.
280, boulevard Michelet - 13008 Marseille.

An apartment classed as a “historic monument” is an unusual place for an exhibition. And it is a unique encounter that has taken place every other summer since 2008 at the Cité Radieuse in Marseille, between a modernist architect, Le Corbusier, who designed the legendary building, and a contemporary designer. The event takes place at Appartement 50, which gained its special status in 1995, and where its owners have got into the habit of inviting the cream of contemporary designers to fill the 98m² space with their work. And so, following in the footsteps of Jasper Morrison, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Konstantin Grcic, Pierre Charpin and Alessandro Mendini, this year it is the turn of Éloi Chafaï and Jean-François Dingjian, aka Normal Studio, to take up residence. It is an interesting invitation: it involves arranging pieces in a place that is a living space, and will remain so, in fact, throughout the exhibition. However, it is up to the guest designers to fill it as they wish.
Normal Studio has kept some pieces of furniture in situ and removed others, then positioned 30 of its designs around the apartment, setting up a dialogue with the modernist environment. “We’re used to seeing our pieces in large spaces such as our studio, or a factory,” say the designers. “So this is one of the rare times we can see a large group of our projects brought together in a domestic setting.” There are mass-produced pieces including some never seen in France before, like the Tresse chair and armchair. There are prototypes, unique pieces like the Ready Made lamp, and more experimental objects. All date from the past decade. Also on display for the first time is a series of lights designed at CIRVA (the International Centre of Glass and Plastic Arts) in Marseille.
“At first sight, the apartment can seem physically closed, when in reality it’s closely connected to the exterior landscape and very open to the sky.” On the terrace, one of the objects displayed is a Mimic mirror, nestled in a small sienna-coloured niche, echoing this observation. “The Cité Radieuse is an experimental building, and this experimental dimension is important to our studio.” So there are also several research projects on display, particularly relating to concrete. “For Le Corbusier, this material was an essential theme. While he worked with it on an architectural scale, in a more brutalist manner, we’re using it in a more domestic sphere, moulded in paper or textile, which makes it look lighter.” The Strat tables are an example of this, as is the Delicate panel with its subtle patterning. There is a wide variety of pieces on display, but one aspect dominates. “Once we’d finished the installation, we realised that there were in fact many lights, meaning that the exhibition creates two very different atmospheres: one when the apartment is bathed in natural light, and another at nightfall when the many light sources take over.” In either case, the visitor will be rewarded.
Christian Simenc