At Utopie Plastic, Futuristic Plastic Homes Make an Appearance at a 19th-Century Metal Factory

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By Kate Reggev
Somewhere in-between the mid-19th century, the 1960s, and the future, lies Utopie Plastic, or Plastic Utopia: an outdoor art exhibit at a new exhibition space in Marseille that's historic, retro, and futuristic all at the same time.

Located in a landmarked former metal factory from the 1800s, Friche de l’Escalette first opened in the summer of 2016 as a private outdoor art space to display sculpture, architecture, and design with a unique setting. After its inaugural exhibition featuring Jean Prouvé’s Habitat Tropical du Cameroun, Friche de l’Escalette has returned this summer with Utopie Plastic, or Plastic Utopia, which features a series of rare plastic model homes from the 1960s and 1970s nestled throughout the historic industrial complex. 

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The exhibit includes three model homes: the Hexacube (1972) by Georges Candilis (1913-1995) and Anja Blomstedt (b. 1937), the Bulle six coques (1968) by French designer Jean-Benjamin Maneval (1923-1986), and Futuro House (1968) by Finnish architect Matti Suuronen (1933-2013). Together, they express the new tectonic abilities of post-war construction materials like plastic, and also showcase the era’s exuberant idealism through the expression of space-inspired, gravity-defying forms and shapes. 

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Despite the use of plastic as the main construction material, each of the three houses is distinct in form and design exploration, as well as its setting within the industrial park.

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The Hexacube, for example, was initially designed as a series of demountable vacation "space cells" that could be combined to create an endless variation of mobiles spaces. The white modules are punctuated by splashes of bright orange and red, perhaps reflective of Candilis’ time working under architect Le Corbusier, a huge proponent of white with specific, carefully executed moments of color. 

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At Friche de l’Escalette, the model home is located on a raised platform in the middle of a sand pit and surrounded by palm trees, as if those visiting were on the beach vacation that Candilis and Blomstedt had envisioned. 

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