When you walk around Cap Martin, that exclusive stretch of land that pokes into the Mediterranean Sea between Monaco and Menton, you'll notice the village of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin high above, the wide-angle views of the Mediterranean Sea below, the elegant villas that dot the cape behind tall fences, the private gardens that brim with the rubbery leaves of century plants, with lemon trees, with olive groves and swimming pools.
What you might not notice is "le cabanon". After all, the "cabanon" cabin is a mere 3.66 square-meter cube tucked under the cape's footpath.
The little house sits behind a carob tree. Dark brown pine logs cover its outside walls and give it the appearance of a mountain shed. Don't let its diminutive looks trick you. This cabin is a castle.
"I have a chateau on the Côte d'Azur, It's for my wife. It's extravagant in comfort and gentleness." -Le Corbusier
The cabin was architect Le Corbusier's holiday hideaway on the Côte d'Azur. The Swiss-born architect, possibly the best-known modern architect of the 20th century, loved the Mediterranean region. He often visited the French Riviera. For a while, he would stay in Eileen Gray's E1027 house on Cap Martin, enjoying the taste of fresh sea urchins at the nearby "Etoile de Mer" restaurant.
"I drew the plans in 45 minutes. They were final. Nothing much changed afterwards." -Le Corbusier
In 1951, on the side of the restaurant's table, Le Corbusier scribbled the plans for a beach-side cottage. They were rough plans, but Le Corbusier liked to say that the core of the cabin's design never changed much from those initial sketches.
“Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.” - Le Corbusier
Behind the chestnut wood door runs a narrow hallway. It leads to a room that to feels large in comparison. All is laid out functionally within the open room: two beds arranged in a T, a hidden toilet, a large closet, storage space tucked in the ceiling, a table made of walnut wood, shiny and checkered like a chess board. A simple pillar separates the main room from the bathroom. Behind the pillar, a sink and a mirror. Three windows open up to three primal materials. Through the back window, set low to the ground, you see the cliff and its rusty rocks. Through the central window, a postcard view of the Mediterranean Sea and of Monaco comes alive. By the bathroom sink, the carob tree hangs its branches in front of the third window.
"The home should be the treasure chest of living." - Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier was also a painter, in addition to architect and urban planner. The cottage's entrance walls and window shutters are painted with rounded human shapes in yellow, red and blue in a style reminiscent of Picasso's and Miro's. A coat of yellow paint covers the floor planks. The Etoile de Mer restaurant, with which the cottage shares a common wall, sports a painted mural signed by Le Corbusier with his hand and foot prints, set alongside those of restaurant owner and friend, Robert Rébutato.
"A house is a machine for living in." -Le Corbusier
The architect enjoyed taking his showers outside the little cabin, under the carob tree. He worked on the slick checkered table or under the shade of the tree. He ate with his wife next door at the Etoile de Mer. He walked the cape. He swam off the Cabbé and Buze beaches below.
"Our own epoch is determining, day by day, its own style. Our eyes, unhappily, are unable yet to discern it." - Le Corbusier
In all of its simplicity, the cottage encompasses most of Corbu's core design principles, his five points of modern architecture:
1. a construction supported by reinforced stilts
2. a façade of non-supporting walls that gave architects more design freedom
3. an open interior floor plan
4. windows that pull the exterior into the living space
5. a roof garden, although this principle wasn't applied in the cabanon given given the lush scenery that surrounds the site
On August 27, 1965 Le Corbusier swam off the coast of Roquebrune as he so enjoyed doing. He was found lifeless later that morning on the beach, likely a victim of a heart attack. He is buried alongside his wife in the village of Roquebrune, in a tomb he designed himself after the death of his wife.
Le Corbusier's Cabanon at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin can only be visited through organized groups visits through the Cap Moderne association. Reservations must be made ahead of time. Contact Cap Moderne by email at [email protected].
See the Roquebrune Cap Marting Tourism Office web site for latest information on Le Corbusier's Cabanon.
In January 2008, a collection of 23 of Le Corbusier's architectural and urban works spanning 7 countries were presented to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee for nomination as a World Heritage Site.
Le Corbusier's Cabanon at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin figures among the 23 works presented as a group for consideration.
Le Corbusier, "Toward an Architecture"
introduction by Jean-Louis Cohen, translated by John Goodman,
Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, 2007, 350 pages.
Roquebrune-Cap-Martin Tourism Office: (Web site in French, English and Italian)
La Fondation Le Corbusier (Web site in French and in English):