CLIENT Regional Government of Bouches du Rhone
SIZE 44,500 m2
1997 RIBA Worldwide Projects Award
1997 RIBA Civic & Community Architecture Award
1995 Palmarés Award for Architecture
This headquarters building for the
regional government of the Department of the Bouches du Rhone was
won by Will Alsop in a two-stage competition in 1990.
The starting point of the project was the political
decision to relocate the Departmental headquarters from the centre
of Marseilles to the suburb of St Just as part of a regeneration
initiative. This was made possible because the Metro provides a
convenient connection to the site from all parts of the city - the
trains run literally below the building. The site, close to the
shore of the Mediterranean, was subject to extreme conditions of
wind, including the mistral, and Alsop's environmental strategy was
an important aspect of the practice's submission.
The scheme (built in 26 months between the end of 1991 and spring,
1994) brings to fruition a number of themes and ideas explored in
previous Alsop projects. The basic format of the building consists
of two parallel administrative blocks, rectangular in form, joined
by a toplit atrium. The attached block containing council chamber
and assembly hall (the Deliberatif) is cigar-shaped and joined to
the other blocks by walkways and escalators.
The office atrium is a public space, grand but not intimidating,
dramatised by great pairs of "X" columns, with shops and cafes for
staff and visitors.
The tremendous presence and impact of this major late 20th century
public building is achieved with a high degree of economy - the
materials used, concrete, solaglass, timber and steel, are
straightforward but used in an extraordinary way. There was an
equal stress on economy in the services strategy, with only limited
use of air conditioning and optimum use of natural ventilation.
Shading devices, including a sweeping fabric awning across the
assembly hall block, counteract the effects of the Mediterranean
sun. The impact of the building as a public landmark is vastly
enhanced by the use of strong colour in the external elevations -
stimulating, comfortable and affordable, the Hotel is the
antithesis of the conventional bureaucratic fortress.