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24 April 2014

JOINT WINNER 2014 Renovation of the old port, Marseille (France)

The renovation of the Vieux-Port clears the docks of visual and architectural
barriers, thus making the presence of leisure boats compatible with access and enjoyment of all citizens.

[Matevz Celik, Director of the Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO) | Duration: 02:38]


Developer: MPM Communauté urbaine Marseille Provence Métropole, Direction des Infrastructures
Authors: Michel Desvigne Paysagiste MDP, Foster + Partners, Tangram, INGEROP, AIK
Country: France
Surface: 12.000 m2
Cost: 45.000.000 €
Project: 2011
Work: 2012
End of work: 2013


The Vieux-Port of Marseille is the largest urban harbour in Europe. The foundational site of the capital of Provence, it was also the region’s economic centre until midway through the nineteenth century, when transport of goods and passengers was moved to the Grand Port Maritime. The old harbour has a narrow entrance flanked by two old fortifications and it occupies a natural bay where the central districts of the city converge. However, despite its beauty and central location, the port fell into neglect and a state of disrepair by the end of the twentieth century. The premises of yacht clubs, which cluttered the port with architectural and visual barriers, blocked public access to 80% of the docks area where, moreover, the fact that priority was given to cars, discouraged pedestrian use.

In 2009, the City Council and the Marseille Provence Métropole (MPM) called for entries in a competition aimed at rectifying the situation. The first phase of the renovation work has cleared obstacles and vehicular transport from the port’s three wharves, which are now uniformly paved in pale granite evoking the original limestone cobblestones. The Quai des Belges, the central wharf, devotes 60% of its surface to pedestrians and protects them from the sun beneath the Grande Ombrière, a rectangular canopy of 1,000 m2, which can also be used for large crowd-pulling events. New floating docks have been installed in order to accommodate water activities without interfering with the pedestrian flow or views.

Thanks to a consultative process, which took into account the suggestions of residents, businesspeople and local associations before calling for entries in the competition, the port has recovered its vitality by means of taking the general interest into account. The presence of leisure craft, which fosters economic and associative activity, has been made compatible with access and enjoyment for all citizens. Hence, while other city ports combat economic decline by allowing privatised uses that undermine their role as public space, the Vieux-Port has been renovated by expanding its condition of a shared place that is open to everyone.

David Bravo, architect

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