The Old Port

Marseille, France

As the Euro­pean Cap­i­tal of Cul­ture 2013, Mar­seille has invested around 660 mil­lion euros in the devel­op­ment of a new cul­tural infra­struc­ture and has made some last­ing changes to the image of the city. Traf­fic-reduc­ing mea­sures have been intro­duced in the Old Port, the heart of the old city centre, which has now become a place for people to stroll and enjoy the sur­round­ings and views. The idea for the light­ing stems from Yann Ker­salé. Selux have devel­oped and realised a tech­ni­cally highly sophis­ti­cated light­ing solu­tion.

The place where the Greeks cast anchor and founded their colony ​“Mas­salia” 2600 years ago has become an invit­ing urban space that has recently under­gone con­sid­er­able ren­o­va­tion. Land­scape archi­tect Michel Desvi­gne together with teams from Foster + Part­ners / Tan­gram Archi­tects have com­pletely redesigned the entire 100,000 square metre area. What had once been a quaint old port area had turned into a major traf­fic inter­sec­tion with mul­ti­ple lanes, and was cer­tainly not attract­ing people to use the loca­tion as a leisure spot any more. The ring road around the har­bour has been scaled back, the dock area trans­formed into a large square for pedes­trian and events, and a mod­ernist shel­ter from the sun that goes by the name of ​“Ombrière” added. Spencer de Gray, Head of Design at Foster + Part­ners in London, describes the projects as ​“an invi­ta­tion to the people of Mar­seille to again stage and enjoy events, mar­kets and fes­ti­vals in this grand space”.

The light­ing con­cept devel­oped by Yann Ker­salé lends the space a new dimen­sion. Sev­en­teen 16.5 metre and eight 23.5 metre high custom designed Olivio pole-top design lumi­naires struc­ture the space and at the same time illu­mi­nate the exten­sive prom­e­nade area right up to the water’s edge. The ultra-tall slim­line poles trig­ger asso­ci­a­tions with the masts on sail­ing ships. The lumi­naires are equipped with 90 Watt or 140 Watt Cos­mopo­lis lamps and arranged spi­rally around the upper sec­tions of the poles in dif­fer­ent sized groups. Their nat­ural, organic design pro­vides a subtle con­trast to the geo­met­ric layout of the pedes­trian square.

A major com­po­nent of Yann Kersalé’s light­ing design are the 2.5 metre high “LED Skins”: ultra-flat, reflec­tive stain­less steel hous­ings with laser-cut designs, and equipped with RGB LEDs. These clad the eight large poles in the centre of the port area, sim­i­lar to the bark on tree trunks. The result­ing, amor­phous look­ing sur­faces can be used as LED screens for dis­play­ing video art cre­ated espe­cially for this loca­tion by the artist him­self. Dif­fer­ent videos are shown depend­ing on the time of year or the spe­cific occa­sion. Images and pat­terns in light that evoke asso­ci­a­tions to flow­ing water under­score the intri­cate link between city and sea – and reflect the cen­turies-old his­tory of the cit­i­zens of Mar­seille and how they con­nect to the Mediter­ranean.


client: MPM Marseille Provence Métropole


architect: Foster and Partners / Tangram architects


landscape architect: Michel Desvigne


electrical planning: Ingérop Conseil et Ingénierie


electrical installation: Citeos / Cegelec


photographer: Xavier Boymond


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