Old Port - Old Fort - New Marseilles

MuCEM Designed by Rudy Riccioitti and Roland Carta on the historic port-site in the Belle-de-Mar district of Marseilles, the MuCEM (Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée) is made up of one of Marseilles major historical constructions - Fort Saint-Jean and building J4, at the entrance to the Old Port, and including the CRC (Conservation and Resource Centre).

The site is highly symbolic of Marseilles’ ethnic diversity and ‘J4’, as the construction is known, houses the Mediterranean gallery, a 325-seat auditorium, a children’s area, a bookshop, a restaurant and other public facilities. J4 is a two level 15,000 m2 building, which Rudy Ricciotti describes as ‘a perfect square with 72 metre long sides, held together by slender arborescent structures, protected by a “sun-screen” envelope similar to a moucharabieh. Mineral, made of fibre reinforced concrete, and a flat tarnish colour, it’s a form of architecture that alludes to the metaphor of Mediterranean space ...’ The MuCEM faces into the Mediterranean, acknowledging the waves of people who have teemed into the La Joliette port since its erection in 1844. Its ramparts (long footbridges over the canal below) connecting it to Fort Saint-Jean reference an ancient and layered past. They provide open thoroughfares with multiple viewpoints across the historic site.

The Construction

The innovative use of concrete is what turns this simple structure into a work of art. Inspiration for the use of this unique concrete product came from the stony mineral landscape and the adjoining fortifications — fibre reinforced ultra-high-performance concrete (UHPC) — first used by Ricciotti to build the Footbridge of Peace in Seoul, and then used for the footbridge for the Saint-Guilhem-du-Désert, and for the Villa Navarra, in Muy. The concrete is comprised of aggregates, fibres, and a matrix; it has mechanical resistance to compression 6-8 times greater than traditional concrete; it can take on a variety of forms; and is airtight and watertight.

The flexibility of the material allows for porosity and a lace-like aesthetic, quite delicate against the stone of the old fort. The building materials, concrete and glass, permit and encourage the interplay of openness, light and shadow. A panoramic view along the harbour to the east or west of the building seems to present different perspectives of the past, overlapped with the present, in every direction. Here on the Mediterranean it is the sunlight and the water that determine the mood; not far from its North African neighbours, the arches of lace provide the subtle decorative feature, subtly referencing the traditional while the materials speak a very modern language. The use of 308 arborescent posts to support the structure add to the lightness, some straight, some Y shaped or N shaped and in varying heights, they are all prefabricated in UHPC.

When you walk from the fort to the museum across the footbridge, also constructed in UHPC, the view in either direction is expansive: the fort with its reclaimed harbour beneath on one side, and the view of Notre-Dame de la Garde, a beautiful cathedral set on top of the hill, on the other. the footbridges are moulded, colossal shapes with no arches or stay cables, linking the museum to the fort and the city.