Jean Nouvel delivers local colour to Marseille’s waterfront
‘La Marseillaise’, Jean Nouvel’s latest office tower, has joined the architectural parade at the vast Euroméditerranée site in Marseille. The building’s colourful, concrete brise-soleils capture the reflective light from the waterfront like a piece of op art.
Writer: Amy Serafin
Video: Stéphane Aboudaram | WE ARE CONTENT(S)
Located at the heart of the Euroméditerranée site, the biggest urban renovation project in Southern Europe that covers 480 hectares, La Marseillaise is a new office skyscraper for the city of Marseille designed by Jean Nouvel.
The 31-floor building is cheekily named La Marseillaise, also the title of France’s national anthem – a name Nouvel came up with himself. It’s been a 16-year adventure in the making, for Nouvel and developer Constructa, costing close to €200m and requiring three and a half years of construction.
At 135m high, it scrapes just a few metres below Zaha Hadid’s tower for shipping company CMA CGM, and neighbours buildings from the likes of Rudy Ricciotti, Kengo Kuma and Stefno Boeri.
Nouvel conceived this building for the particular context of Marseille, saying: ‘Tall buildings tend to repeat themselves. They’re often designed before anyone even knows where they’re going. I wanted to show that a tower can have identifying characteristics and a connection to the place where it’s built.’
Photography: Stéphane Aboudaram | WE ARE CONTENT(S) (left) and Michèle Clavel (right)
The developer, Constructa, is a French family-owned company run by Marc Pietri, a jovial character with razor-sharp business instincts. Constructa operated in the US for 22 years where, Pietri says, ‘I learned that the renaissance of cities starts with their waterfronts.’ In 2002 he bought this plot of land in a neglected area of Marseille near the commercial port, covered with abandoned warehouses and highways.
The powers behind Euroméditerranée asked Pietri to construct high-rises here, a major risk in a zone where nobody could imagine living or working. He decided he would only undertake the Quais d’Arenc project if he could work with the right architects, so he contacted Nouvel and offered him the signature building.
Nouvel decided on a very simple construction with a surprising façade: the tower is covered with vertical and horizontal brise-soleils. These consist of 3,850 concrete pieces of various formats, fitting together like a puzzle to frame the windows at differing depths or angles. Some are grids, others parallel slats or single panels. ‘I don’t know of any other tower taller than 100m high with brise-soleils,’ he says. ‘It doesn’t exist.’
Photography: Michèle Clavel
Made of ultra-high-performance fibre-reinforced concrete, the brise-soleils filter the sunlight, allowing for windows in transparent glass (rather than the tinted or highly reflective ones normally found on a tower) and crystal-clear views.
The tower’s other unusual characteristic is its blue, red and white colour scheme. Nouvel insists these are not the colours of the French flag but the shades of Marseille: the ochre roofs, the off-white clouds and limestone calanques, or inlets, the particular blue of the sky – and especially the blue of the city’s beloved football team, Olympique de Marseille. In fact, there are 30 variations of colour brushed onto the concrete. This gives the building the look of an ‘unfinished drawing’, says Nouvel – and with time, the paint will fade to a softer patina, creating many more nuances.’ §