THE MEDI-TERRAIN: A NEW THALASSOCRACY | Marseille, France | Unit 21 | 2016
Awarded Saint-Gobain Innovation Award for Design Realisation
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The project aims to re-imagine the organizational strategy of the Mediterranean region – an alliance of port cities independent of national identity holding semi-autonomy, as is generated from a networked system. The ports themselves become nodes, marked by non-monumental networked infrastructure and named the ‘Medi-Terrain’ or ‘Middle Ground’. This is not a new notion, but finds its origins in the historical multiculturalism and the trading of civilizations that has been at the centre of the Mediterranean for the majority of its history.
The Medi-Terrain is a spatially networked thalassocratic republic – consisting of 12 small Mediterranean islands each one situated within the existing 12 nation states which surround the Mediterranean Sea. This physical territory has been ideologically separated from the mainland of each nation and together forms a league, encouraging freedom of trade, movement of people, collectivization of ideas and an ideal model of conviviality in multiculturalism for its inhabitants.
These free zones form an archipelago of contrasting cultures with an architecture designed not in a top down fashion, but by bottom-up, evolutionary processes. Colonialism in reverse – it is defined more in terms of connection and vector rather than division and territory. In this way the grid becomes essential to understanding the new spatiality conceptually, while the urbanism physically occupies and extrapolates the grid-like structures of the Marseilles quayside.
The port, previously the very object that has dictated the complex, warping mosaic of cultural activity and architecture, has fallen fallow; sealed off from the public and disconnecting
Marseilles from its real home in the shifting seas of maritime connection. The proposed territorialoccupation of the port operates through a new urbanism characterised by open-source methods and networked building forms, finding its origin in programmatic design via a rules based system,which creates a continuous feedback loop with the physical form. The growing urbanism is constituted of large, dense webs of party structures within which activity no longer occupies buildings, but buildings wrap around programme. Universal easement laws are applied throughout, permitting all agents within the system semi-autonomy over all adjacent building forms – in this way a wall may act as a staircase or a window act as a floor; multiplicity in space. The fabric ceases to contain hierarchical plinths, columns or entablatures, instead all elements are networked to provide enveloped space through their coalescence. The architecture, once established, acts as a new data source to develop the rules system that spawned it –synonymizing information and architecture.