Concrete filigree filters Marseille's Mediterranean light
Languishing off the sea wall of Marseille’s mediæval Fort St-Jean, something a little more 21st century now sits on the port’s old J4 pier. Coinciding with the city’s designation as European Capital of Culture 2013, the €191m Museum of the Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean (MuCEM) opened with a huge firework display that lit up the entire docks area. The designer of the 15,000m2 facility was outspoken French architect Rudi Ricciotti, who describes his massive square structure as a ‘vertical casbah’. The building has two skins.
The inner is 52m square – effectively a glazed box containing all the functions of the museum. This huge expanse of glass is then shaded by a deep grey lava-like outer lattice of fibre-reinforced ultra-high performance concrete, extending a further 10m beyond it on all sides. Between these two skins Ricciotti has placed ramps that run ‘Tower of Babel’-like down the 18m high facade to the main entrance foyer at ground level. A 115m long, high level grey concrete bridge is the only connection between Fort St-Jean and the MuCEM’s panoramic rooftop viewing terrace. We’re impressed by Ricciotti’s concrete form, but even more so by his own description of the building: ‘The sole material the colour of dust; matt, crushed by the light, distant from the brilliance and technological consumerism, commending the dense and the delicate,’ in a manner more ‘lah-di-dah’ than ‘ooh la la.’