La Marseillaise: A High-Rise as an Ode to Light
Only a few architects can manage to turn an ordinary investment project into a work of art. And to verbally transfigure your own work into a poem, it helps to be French - or Jean Nouvel. With La Marseillaise, he has remained true to his love for the extraordinary. The project looks as though Nouvel had painted the tower himself shortly before the opening.
Indeed, the 3,500 individual façade elements of fibre-grade ultra-high performance concrete (UHPC) were actually painted by hand. Otherwise, it would not have been possible to coat each element with as many as 6 different shades. This is what makes the façade appear so relaxed and spontaneous despite its streamlined, serial manufacture. This is exactly what Nouvel wanted to achieve: an office façade that would not be as interchangeable or forbidding as the neighbouring glass tower by Zaha Hadid Architects. Moreover, Novel aimed to avoid the effect of twin towers in silhouette, since the La Marseillaise office tower forms part of a completely different ensemble: the Quartiers d’Arenc, which is being developed by a single investor.
But let us return to the colour scheme. It is not the first time that Nouvel has dominated the entire profile of a harbour city with a coloured tower. In Barcelona, he has created a new icon with the Torre Agbar, the headquarters of the city’s waterworks, which erupts from the ground like a fountain as a hot, red column that cools off and becomes blue as it rises. The image of architecture transformed into water is accentuated by the exterior: a gleaming, transparent shell comprising thousands of glass lamellae. Inside, highly reflective stainless-steel sheets evoke the feeling of being surrounded by foam.
In Marseille, Nouvel is working with the same colours - red, blue and white - but in a different connotation. He has taken the opportunity to use the city’s name, Marseille, in an unstudied interpretation of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, as a topic for his associative discourse. Instead of gleaming panes of glass, it is the matte surface of the concrete that casts deep shadows over the windows on the sunny side of the building, thus raising the transparency of the glazing to a visual dematerialization.