Contemporary Architecture in the South of France
Provence is rich in history. Visitors to the region are often interested in seeing ancient Roman ruins like those in St-Remy-de-Provence. But there are many places where you can find contemporary architecture in the south of France. Read below as we highlight some locations where you can find the works of Modernist architects in the region.
Art and Creativity
LUMA Arles and the Parc des Ateliers
The contemporary architecture of LUMA Arles is a stark contrast to traditional architecture in the Camargue area. However, this gem should be on the list of anyone interested in art and creativity. Commissioned by the LUMA Foundation, LUMA Arles showcases the human right to a healthy environment through the work of art, architecture, and artists.
LUMA Arles and the Parc des Ateliers was a derelict railway factory. The designers salvaged the neglected buildings and repurposed them into workshops, exhibition spaces, an auditorium, and a library. The wonderfully landscaped Parc des Ateliers connects the buildings. The Camargue region inspired the design of the park gardens and artificial biospheres reflecting the area’s diversity.
The base of the LUMA Tower and The Drum Café is styled after the Roman Amphitheatre in Arles. The artistic design of the building incorporates pieces of art within the structure itself, creating a unique atmosphere.
The tower portion of the building was created by placing sheets of stainless steel at irregular angles. The shape echoes the natural weathering of the rocky hillsides of Les Alpilles in the distance. According to the architect Frank Gehry, the idea to use polished stainless steel was inspired by the painting Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh.
Opening Hours: The Tower, the buildings and exhibition areas are open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The park is open every day from 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Admission: Admission is free, but you must reserve tickets in advance. However, there may be fees for guided tours, exhibitions, and events.
Address: The entry for The Tower: 35 Avenue Victor Hugo, 13200 Arles. You can access the Parc des Ateliers through the gate at 33 avenue Victor Hugo or via 45 Chemin des Minimes.
Free Parking 24/7: 24 Route de Crau, 13200 Arles. From the car park, you can walk (10 minutes) or take a shuttle bus to the Parc des Ateliers.
MuCEM in Marseille
The MuCEM (Museum of Civilisations from Europe and the Mediterranean) in Marseille is one of the top 50 visited museums in the world and the first museum dedicated explicitly to Mediterranean cultures. The museum building is on the site of a 2600-year-old harbour at the ferry port known as J4. Its modern design is a stunning example of contemporary architecture in southern France.
The MuCEM is a large square (each side measures 72 metres), and the glass walls are surrounded by concrete lattice. Architect Rudy Ricciotti, in collaboration with Roland Carta, designed the lattice, which is constructed from fibre-reinforced ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC). Whether you believe the lattice represents a bridal veil or the fishing nets used by peoples in the region, the lattice acts as a windbreak while still allowing light to pass through. The unique structure of the MuCEM puts it into the class of internationally recognizable buildings.
There are no admission fees to the ground floor of the MuCEM, and visitors can then take the external ramps and walk around the building. They will enjoy beautiful views of the sea, the city, and Fort Saint-Jean through the concrete web that encompasses the building. From the rooftop terrace, visitors have an unobstructed 360º view. Then, they can take the suspension footbridge over the port channel waters to Fort Saint-Jean, a fully restored military fortress built in 1660 during the reign of Louis XIV.
Modern art and architecture enthusiasts will marvel at the design and engineering involved in creating this structural masterpiece. And if you have the chance to view the museum at night, you will see the true beauty of the lattice as light shines from the inside.
Opening Hours: Open Wednesdays through Monday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Closed every Tuesday and the bank holidays on May 1st and December 25th. Open until 8:00 p.m. in the summer months.
Admission: Access to the exterior spaces and gardens of the MuCEM is free during the opening hours. You must purchase tickets to access the exhibitions. Tickets are valid on the day of purchase.
Address: 7 promenade Robert Laffont (esplanade du J4), 13002 Marseille.
Parking: There are several parking lots in the area. Consult the MuCEM website for up-to-date information.
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, one of the oldest medieval towns in Provence, is home to The Maeght Foundation. This private institution opened in 1964 and is now home to one of Europe’s largest collections of modern art. Envisioned as a place for experimentation and sharing ideas, the Foundation was created for and with artists.
Renowned architect Josep Lluís Sert designed the building as a fusion of contemporary architecture, modern art, and nature. It is not only beautiful but also functional – and in many ways, ahead of its time. The design considered the local climate and energy conservation. The elegant sails on the roof add architectural interest and shade the building from the hot summer sun. They also channel rainwater to the shallow pools in the Labyrinth of Miró, a pathway around the site featuring works of Catalan contemporary artist Joan Miró.
The interior of the building has windows, doors, and walls in strategic locations to use as much natural light as possible. As a result, there is a relaxing flow through the gallery, and the natural ventilation improves the air quality for the exhibits.
Artists also contributed to the décor and design of the building. Alberto and Diego Giacometti created the light fixtures, bronze furniture, and door handles. Braque designed mosaic fish in the courtyard pool, Chagall did the mosaic on the wall of the bookshop, and Braque and Ubac created the stained-glass windows.
This unique gallery, located between the Mediterranean and the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps, highlights the vision for new Mediterranean architecture where nothing is symmetrical – built with balance and harmony.
Opening Hours: Monday through Sunday 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., July – August open until 7:00 p.m., December 24th and 31st 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Admission: 16€ for adults, 11€ for children 10-18, students with ID, press, unemployed, Free for children under 10 years old and disabled visitors.
Address: 623 Chemin des Gardettes, 06570 Saint-Paul de Vence
Parking: Free onsite.
Funky Residential Contemporary Architecture
Contemporary architecture in the south of France is not reserved for museums and galleries; several residential buildings reflect modern design.
Swiss architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier) was a trailblazer in what is now known as Modern Architecture. One of Le Corbusier’s famous works is Cité Radieuse (Radiant City) in Marseille. It is a large apartment complex with 337 units designed for urban living. This impressive 18-storey building (165m long and 24m wide) rests on large concrete pillars.
Le Corbusier began developing his ideas about an urban living village in the 1920s and was able to bring his ideas to fruition with the construction of the Unité d’Habitation. His design includes a rooftop terrace for the apartment community to use as a place to gather and socialize high above the city noise. In addition, he designed the apartment units to maximize usable space and natural lighting while considering energy efficiency.
The building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to residential occupants and several businesses, including the 21-room Hôtel Le Corbusier, the restaurant Le Ventre L’Architectecte (the Belly of the Architect), and the MAMO modern art centre.
Book a tour of Cité Radieuse at Marseille Tourism and visit the private apartment containing original fixtures and period pieces (classified as a historical monument), the rooftop terrace, the surrounding park, and other public areas.
Hours: Monday through Saturday. You must book tours online. English tours are only available Saturdays at 10:00 a.m. Note: They do not permit strollers and pets (except guide dogs).
Admission: 15€ for adults, 7€ for children 6-11.
Address: 280 Boulevard Michelet, Marseille
Parking: None. Access by public transit: Métro 2 direction “Dromel” stop at “Rond Point du Prado”+ bus 21/21S/22/22S stop “Le Corbusier.”
You will find Cap Moderne across the Baie de Roquebrune from Monaco. At one time, it was an exclusive vacation retreat for architects Eileen Gray, Le Corbusier, and Thomas Egildo Rebutato. Unfortunately, for many, many years, these properties were neglected and fell into disrepair. Finally, in 2014, the Cap Moderne Association acquired the properties and restored them to their former glory.
Villa E-1027 was designed and built by Irish architect Eileen Gray. Tim Benton, a trustee of Cap Moderne, describes Ville E-1027 “As …one of 100 important houses of the late Modern period. But the interior is one of [the] four most important modern interiors in the world.”
Thomas Rebutato, a plumber from Nice, initially built the Etoile de Mer cabin to store his family’s fishing and picnic paraphernalia. It was a simple, prefabricated design – a tribute to modernist, minimalist living. In 1949 when he retired from plumbing, he turned the cabin into a small snack bar. One of his first clients was Le Corbusier. They became friends, and the latter painted murals on the walls. The restaurant continued until Thomas’ wife, Marguerite, died in 1984. In 2000, the Rebutato family donated the property to the Conservatoire du Littoral.
Although a native of Switzerland, Le Corbusier loved the Mediterranean. He built his small “Cabanon” (cabin) in harmony with nature for contemplation and inspiration. The cabin’s aesthetics and functionalism are representative of the modernist movement. The structure and interior wood elements were prefabricated in Corsica and assembled onsite. Portable partitions divide the interior uniquely to create different functional living areas.
Cap Moderne is worth visiting if you are a fan of homes and gardens or décor and design.
Hours: Daily guided visits (10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.) from April 1st to October 31st. Cap Moderne is closed on Mondays starting in October.
Admission: 18€ for adults, 10€ for youth 7-17, architecture students, veterans, unemployed. It is not ideal for children under 7 years old. Ticket reservations through the National Monuments website are required as places are limited and show your entry ticket. People with reduced mobility may have difficulty because of uneven surfaces and stairs. They do not permit strollers or pets.
Address: 06190 Roquebrune Cap-Martin
Parking: The private parking lot (GPS coordinates: latitude 43.760223 – longitude 7.456758) has limited spaces. They recommend that you travel by public transit. By rail: TER PACA / Nice –Ventimiglia line /station stop Cap-Martin Roquebrune. By bus: Lignd’Azurzur / Nice – Menton line/bus stop Quatre Chemins at Roquebrune Cap-Martin (allow 20 minutes to walk from the bus stop).
Just outside Arles, you will find Villa Benkemoun, the dream home of Simone and Pierre Benkemoun. About ten years after moving to Arles from Algeria, the couple engaged their friend Émile Sala to design the estate. Rather than starting with blueprints, Sala took the form serves function approach. First, he asked the family to describe their lifestyle and recount their day-to-day routines. Then, he designed the home to fit their needs.
The Benkemoun family made several adjustments to the final design by rounding corners and curving straight walls. The result was a bright, open home with an organic feel – typical 1970’s contemporary architecture. In 2017, their daughter Brigitte refurbished the house, which includes most of the original furniture. In addition, they replaced missing pieces with others from the 1970s.
Today, the home hosts art exhibitions and other special events and is occasionally open for tours. Visitors who want a unique “travel back in time” vacation can rent the home by the week.
Hours and Admissions: Tours and Rentals are by special request only. Please consult their website for details on how and when to book.
Address: 915 rue de la Batelle, 13200 Arles
Parking: Information available upon reservation.
Maison Bernard (Théoule-sur-Mer)
Both architect Antti Lovag and his friend and patron, Pierre Bernard, were non-conformists. Thus it is no surprise that the house they built together, Maison Bernard, looks nothing like a typical house. Like many contemporary architects, Antti Lovag took advantage of the natural terrain and the sun’s path and incorporated this into the plans for the structure. Then, by moulding steel rods and spraying them with layers of insulation and concrete, he created large spherical rooms that merged into one another.
This distinctive building was originally the home of the Bernard family. Thanks to an endowment fund, the house hosts an artist-in-residence for a six-month stay to create original artwork related to the house’s contemporary architecture and natural surroundings.
Hours: By appointment only Tuesdays at 10:00 a.m. from April through October. Bi-weekly May, June, and September. Guided tours in English on request for a minimum of 4 people.
Admission: 20€ for adults, 10€ for students with ID and those 15-18 years old. It is not suitable for those under 15 years old.
Address: Maison Bernard, Port-la-Galère, 06590 Théoule-sur-Mer
Parking: Information available upon reservation.
When thinking about wineries, the vision that often comes to mind is a centuries-old chateau with oak barrels and bottles of wine on racks in a stone cellar. However, these wineries defy convention and flaunt contemporary architecture.
Domaines Ott* needed to modernize their Château de Selle wine processing facilities to continue producing high-quality wines. So they commissioned Paris architect Carl Fredik Svenstedt to design a state-of-the-art production and storage facility and visitors’ centre. Svenstedt took advantage of the terrain’s natural slope to facilitate gravity-fed wine-making. Also, by sinking part of the building into the hillside, it is easier to maintain a constant processing temperature improving the final product.
To pay tribute to Roman history in the area, Svenstedt used a building technique to stack one-ton solid stone blocks to construct the ten-metre-high walls. The method of stacking he used creates a pattern of solid and open spaces that let natural light into the interior and soften the building’s exterior features. It is a must-visit site for contemporary architecture enthusiasts and oenophiles.
Hours: October to April Monday to Friday: 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. & 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Closed weekends and bank holidays. May to September & bank holidays: Monday to Saturday: 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. & 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Admission: Information available upon reservation.
Address: Château du Selle, 5093, route de Flayosc, 83460 Taradeau
Parking: Parking lot on site. (GPS: 43°28’58″N – 6°25’56″E)
Château La Coste
Is it a winery or an art centre? At Château La Coste, it’s both! A short 15km drive from Aix-en-Provence through the countryside, you find world-class wine, art, and contemporary architecture. In 2002 Irish business mogul Patrick McKillen bought the La Coste winery and, with the help of French architect Jean Nouvel, created a plan for the site that worked in harmony with the natural surroundings and the existing buildings.
As you stroll through the site, you will find Ando’s, Modernist Chapel. He used glass and steel to build the chapel around a restored 16th-century stone building. You can also visit the exhibition building designed by contemporary architect Renzo Piano. He carved the space for the centre into the hillside to meld with the natural slopes of the vineyard. Even the undulating roof echoes the rows of grape vines in the fields. Besides art exhibitions, the building also houses wine cellars – and because it is partly underground, it is easier to maintain a stable storage temperature.
The newest installation at Château la Coste – Rail Car is a linkage to Bob Dylan’s past with a full-size car set on tracks at the vineyard. Repurposing a freight car from Willamette Industries of Oregon, the boxcar that once hauled industrial paper is now a wrought-iron sculpture. The project began taking shape part way through 2019 in Los Angeles. Once complete, the pieces of the monumental sculpture were shipped to Provence and installed at the vineyard.
Whether you appreciate the works of Calder, Matisse, Othoniel, or Gehry or want to enjoy sampling some wine in a countryside modernist retreat, Château La Coste is the place to go.
Hours: Every day from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The restaurants on site set their hours. Check the website for detailed information.
Admission: Tour fees are 25€ for 10 years old and up, 15€ from 4 to 10 years old, and free for those under 4 years old. You must book in advance on their website.
Address: 2750 Route de la Cride,13610 Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade
Parking: Parking lot on site.