The Unité d’Habitation was a landmark in modern architecture and design, and one of the first attempts to create highly designed spaces for low-income families. Along with apartments, the building included a half floor reserved for merchants, a pre-school, and a rooftop playground with wading pool and gymnasium. Le Corbusier was extremely efficient in the use of space, modeling his design on that of cruise ships, particularly focusing on how every need of the passenger was contained within the tight boundaries and small interior spaces of the ship. The kitchen was extremely compact with low countertops and ceilings, but the efficiency of the design allowed the inhabitants to maximize the utility of the available space.
Despite the somewhat standardized design and manufacture of the building and the apartments, there was variation in the color schemes of how each kitchen was painted. Rather than creating a rigid plan, Le Corbuiser created a palette of colors and varnished surfaces for the kitchen, and established guidelines of how these painted and varnished surfaces should interact with one another.
The bar cuisine at the front of the kitchen stood as a permeable half wall between the kitchen and living room, creating a distinct space for the kitchen while contributing to the open plan of the apartment. The sliding panels could be moved to allow food and dishes to be passed to people on the other side, and the low height allowed the hosts to speak to guests in the living room while cooking.
Initially, Le Corbusier was interested in prefabricating the kitchen as a whole. However, this proved not to be cost effective, thus the various elements of the kitchen were contracted out to different manufactures. The bar cuisine was the only part of the final design that was produced as a prefabricated single unit. Another feature that further distinguishes it from the rest of the components of the kitchen is its cast aluminum countertop. The rest of the counters were fabricated from sheet aluminum, bent and welded into shape and separate from the wooden frame they sit on.
There are three embedded ceramic tile countertops in the kitchen, providing several ready spaces for hot pots. These groups had standard configurations in all of the kitchens, except the tile group in the bar cuisine, which varied between two designs depending on whether the kitchen was on your left or right when entering the apartment.
Hallway Access Doors
One of the most iconic design features of the Unité d’Habitation are the three access panels from the interior of the kitchen onto the corridor outside the apartment. One provided access to the back of the ice box, one to the electric panel, and one opened onto a grocery basket installed next the front door. In 1953 it was still common in southern France for homes to have an ice box rather than a refrigerator. These access doors were an incredibly practical design addition for the residents, where often both parents were working. Merchants and the iceman could make deliveries to the apartment from the hallway, which Le Corbusier referred to as the rue interior, without the tenants having to answer the door or even be at home for the delivery.
Le Corbuiser included a unique hanging pot rack over the stove by adding knobs onto the front panel of the stove vent. This allowed for easy storage and access in a space that would otherwise be unusable.