On the other side of the bay from Monaco, there is an outstanding cultural and natural site now known as Cap Moderne and consisting of Eileen Gray’s villa E-1027, Le Corbusier’s Cabanon and Holiday Cabins, and the bar-restaurant Etoile de Mer, all of them mythical architectural icons in surroundings of outstanding natural beauty.
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In the period between the wars, from 1926 to 1929, when, with her partner the architect Jean Badovici (1893-1956), she built Villa E-1027 on a plot of land overlooking the bay of Monaco, Irish designer Eileen Gray (1878-1976) was experimenting with a new kind of architecture. Jean Badovici was to devote an entire issue of his review l’Architecture Vivante to her.
In 1949, Thomas Rebutato (1907-1971), a plumber from Nice, opened the restaurant Etoile de Mer on the adjacent plot and Le Corbusier (1887-1965), a friend of Jean Badovici, immediately became a faithful friend of Thomas’s too. A friendship was immediately struck up between the architect, his wife Yvonne and the Rebutato family.
In 1952, on a plot right next to the restaurant, Le Corbusier built his now famous wooden cabin, the “Cabanon”. Though modest in size (3.66m x 3.66m), the Cabanon is the illustration of a series of research projects on the system of proportions which he called the Modulor. In exchange for the plot of land Thomas Rebutato gave him for the Cabanon, Le Corbusier was to build the holiday cabins for him in 1956/57.
The Etoile de Mer restaurant closed shortly after Thomas Rebutato’s death in 1971. In 2000, in order to preserve the integrity of the site, his son Robert Rebutato and his family gifted the Etoile de Mer and the Holiday Cabins to the Conservatoire du littoral.
The Conservatoire du littoral is now the owner of the whole site. Renamed “Cap Moderne”, this 2970m² site, which is today a protected Historic Monument, comprises a group of buildings of major importance in the history of 20th century architecture.
It should be emphasised that this place preserves some rare examples of murals painted by Le Corbusier whose memory is all the more poignant when one recalls that it was whilst swimming off nearby Cabbé beach that he was to perish on 27 August 1965.
Between Cabbé station and the Cap Martin headland, the complex is sited on the narrow strip of land that separates the sea from the railway line to Italy. The brightly coloured citrus groves that used to cover these terraces have now given way to typical Mediterranean species: pines, eucalyptus, pistachios, euphorbias, yuccas etc.
Though the Cabanon, the Etoile de Mer and the Holiday Cabins have been accessible to visitors since they were taken over by the Conservatoire du Littoral, the same was not true of Villa E-1027. To safeguard its integrity and prepare it for opening to the public, the villa needed to undergo major restoration work under the supervision of Pierre-Antoine Gatier.
It was thus not until 1 May 2015, after the first phase of restoration work had been completed and management of the whole site entrusted with the Cap Moderne Association that Villa E-1027 could at last be opened to the public.
In 2015, the year in which we commemorated the 50th anniversary of the death of Le Corbusier on 27 August 2015 on nearby Cabbé beach, the site was declared open to the public.
Although a major restoration programme has already been carried out, studies and work are continuing and are now maturing into a wide-ranging scientific and cultural project the blueprint for which involves several stages and covers both the site itself and its immediate surroundings. The aim is to welcome visitors, professional architects and research workers in optimum conditions and, using facilities at the nearby Cabbé station, to create an international campus and laboratory of living architecture.
The project enjoys public financial support from the Conservatoire du littoral, the State and the local and regional authorities. It also benefits from private support from the Le Corbusier Foundation and from a group of sponsors who contribute to an Endowment Fund run by Michael Likierman.
To support the association or to join the sponsors’ group, click here.
The Conservatoire du littoral has gradually acquired ownership of the whole complex. After the Cabanon was acquired in 1979, Villa E-1027 was purchased in 1999 with the financial support of the municipal authority of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The Etoile de Mer and the Holiday Cabins were then generously donated by the Rebutato family.
The Ministry of Culture (DRAC PACA / CRM and STAP), Roquebrune-Cap-Martin municpality and the Le Corbusier Foundation support the work being carried out by the Cap Moderne Association which has been entrusted with management and development of the site since September 2014. Cap Moderne also enjoys the support of the Alpes Maritimes department, the region and other partners such as the RFF and the SNCF (French railways).
Cap Moderne is chaired by Michael Likierman, who is also president of the dedicated Endowment Fund. Robert Rebutato, son of the founder of the Etoile de Mer, was its first Vice-president and also chaired the Eileen Gray. Étoile de Mer. Le Corbusier Association until his death in February 2016. His widow, Magda, has now taken over both roles. The Association, since its creation in 2000, has been endeavouring to preserve the site and to make it more widely known. The site is part of the local cultural heritage and bears witness to the history of art and architecture in the 20th century and to three outstanding human and intellectual adventures.