I park my car near the Gare de Carnoles, in the Roquebrune neighbourhood where the sun is beating down as if it were a summer's day. I am in the area of southern France favoured by Impressionists and architects, and where the sun never sets. Suddenly, I am blinded by a shapeless blotch on the blue horizon—a mass of people in white t-shirts, black bow ties and round spectacles who have answered a local council appeal to dress like Le Corbusier in support of the Cap-Martin site's UNESCO nomination. Hundreds of Riviera dwellers have thronged to the square beside the sea to take part in celebrations driven by the councillor for culture Jean Louis Dedieu, a local jazz band, all strictly in Le Corbusier dress, and a large, lively group of children making their contribution to the performance.
Gathering on the pier around a poster of LC for an aerial photograph, they are a clear sign of the popular and political desire to become a UNESCO site. My eyes are searching for Robert and Magda—no easy task in a multitude of Le Corbusiers—when a Pompeiian-red jacket appears between two Modulor cut-outs. It is him, Robert Rebutato, the son of the old patron and the owner of the Etoile de Mer, the restaurant where Le Corbusier used to stay. During his childhood Rebutato formed a special relationship with the famous architect and studied under him without ever graduating. Then, when the Master died, he, Alain Tavés and José Oubrerie completed and built the Maison de l'Homme in Zurich, which had only been at the design stage. It was not initially recognised as a Le Corbusier work because, for the first time, it adopted a steel support structure, inspired by the 226x226x226 patent. Only a commission appointed by the Fondation Le Corbusier later endorsed it as his own work.
Le Corbusier spent a great deal of time in Roquebrune, a favourite haven where he could think and come up with new buildings steeped in the calm of seaside life where he painted in the nude and swam in the icy-blue waters of Cap-Martin. His time there revolved around a Mediterranean lifestyle based on his friendship with Rebutato senior, feasting on fish and lapping up the sunshine, all factors that positively conditioned his architecture and the considerations of volumes flooded with light which found expression in his post-war architecture. He lived in the Cabanon, a small prefabricated timber cabin measuring 3.66 x 3.66 x 2.26 (the proportion of the Modulor man) with windows that framed the sea. A simple space for a pensive existence. Le Corbusier knew the place well. His friend Jean Badovici, founder of the L'Architecture Vivante magazine and partner of the architect and designer Eileen Gray often invited him to stay at Maison E 1027. Gray had built the holiday home in 1929 and Le Corbusier took it as an example of his five points of architecture: pilotis, ribbon windows, an open plan, a free facade and a roof garden. He was so pleased with it, but unable to buy it, that he decided, with Badovici's aid, to paint murals on it, something that greatly annoyed Gray.
Maison E 1027 was recently restored by its owners (the Conservatoire du Littoral and the Roquebrune-Cap Martin town council) and local bodies such as the Direction Régional des Affaires Culturelles and the Conseil Général des Alpes-Maritimes, with the consultancy of the direct witnesses: Robert Rebutato and the Fondation Le Corbusier. The restoration, supervised by the chief architect for historic monuments, Pierre Antoine Gatier, fails to meet modern restoration criteria and the finishes of the rendering are highly questionable, the restoration of Le Corbusier's painting work being the only exception. At the same time, Rebutato, along with the architectural historian Tim Benton, decided to reproduce the furniture designed by Eileen Gray and reconstruct the original interior. The project included landscaping the garden and it will be opened to the public in 2012 and also accommodate researchers/writers of the various disciplines. In this way, all the places of interest—Maison E 1027, the Cabanon, the Etoile de Mer (Le Corbusier painted its walls) and the Unités de Camping (minimal timber-clad accommodation with a concrete support structure and also by Le Corbusier)—will be open for those wishing to gain an understanding of how the Mediterranean influenced Le Corbusier.
The Cabanon was the focus of the event backing the UNESCO nomination of Le Corbusier works. The first nomination of these works was presented in 2008 and deferred in June 2009 for lack of substantiation (people talk about Italy and its neglect but sometimes our cousins on the other side of the Alps can be overly superficial). UNESCO states clearly what the dossier must expand on, starting with a better arguing of Le Corbusier's importance and his influence on modern and 20th-century architecture (a serious failing by the Ministry of Culture and the Fondation LC); the introduction of serious organisational plans and better coordination between the players, be they the owners of the properties or local public bodies. Lastly, it encourages cooperation between the participating nations and the Le Corbusier sites, whether or not they are on the UNESCO list.
Only 19 sites have been chosen, with France the most represented with iconic villas such as Savoye, Maison La Roche, Maisons Jaoul, the Unitè in Marseille, Ronchamp, the Cabanon and the educational centre in Firminy, followed by Stuttgart's Weissenhof, the house on Lake Geneva and other Swiss constructions, including his first accomplishments, Villa Curutchet in La Plata and Maison Guiette in Antwerp. Harder to understand is the exclusion of works in India, Russia and USA, not deemed exemplary of Le Corbusier's architecture, which would seem to contradict the statements in the dossier that underline Le Corbusier's role as a global architect who built in 11 different countries.
Thanks to the Mairie de Roquebrune-Cap-Martin e Association pour la sauvegarde du site Eileen Gray et Le Corbusier à Roquebrune-Cap-Martin