La Grande Motte: exploring the concrete holiday haven

Up close and personal with the Modernist landmark

Modernist holiday resort La Grande Motte has divided critics ever since its completion in the 1970s.

For some, it is a bright white blight on France’s Languedoc coastline. For others, including This Brutal House’s Peter Chadwick, it is an ambitious and exhilarating work of Modernist architecture.

Photography: Peter Chadwick
Photography: Peter Chadwick

‘I remember it from my childhood,’ says Chadwick, who photographed the resort for The Spaces. ‘I was sent a postcard from a relative who went to La Grande Motte on holiday and the futuristic pyramids on the card caught my imagination. It looked like a set from Logan’s Run. I was captivated.’

Constructed between 1960 and 1975 by the French government, La Grand Motte was built to lure holidaymakers away from the old glamour of the French Riviera and newer Spanish resorts, and entice them to the Languedoc region in between.

However in 1960 the Languedoc-Roussillon coast was a mosquito-infested wilderness, attractive only to the most intrepid vacationer. The government poured millions into ridding the shoreline of insects and commissioned architect Jean Balladur to build the 400 hectare complex.

Balladur dedicated 30 years of his life to La Grande Motte, taking inspiration from Oscar Niemeyer and Brazilian Modernism along with ancient Mexican pyramids to create his vision of ‘the ideal city’. Chadwick says: ‘He conceived every element, from the width of the streets and the height of the pavements to the urban furniture and street signs. He planted trees throughout the complex to slow the powerful winds.’

Photography: Peter Chadwick
Photography: Peter Chadwick

The result, Chadwick says, ‘is like walking through a wonderful Modernist time capsule.’

His images celebrate the facades, grid-like patterns and the fenestration of the grand pyramids around the main marina, and pick out the concrete textures, patterns and sculptures that are a counterpoint to the gleaming white modern pyramids.

‘Whilst some of the structures are showing signs of the intense summer heat, most are in pristine condition,’ he says.

Photography: Peter Chadwick
Photography: Peter Chadwick

La Grande Motte still attracts some two million visitors a year who come for the white beaches, golf course, sailing and the surrounding countryside. Chadwick’s visit realised a childhood dream: ’Ever since seeing that postcard, I’ve wanted to visit. It did not disappoint.’

Read next: The Brutalist holiday: 6 concrete resorts for architecture enthusiasts

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