MARSEILLE: ECLAT[S] DU MYTHE | Marseille, France | Unit 21 | 2016

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The compound identity of Marseille is an inextricable interweaving of myth, reality, seen and unseen – a modernist construct: the industrial revolution, the continuous flux of migration, its colonial past, and the turbulence caused by inequality have all contributed to the creation of a unique image of the ‘phocaean city’. Each of these temporal imprints inherits a modernism that was never finished or achieved, which collectively illustrate the cultural entanglement of past and present Marseille, and perhaps also the morass of its cultural politics. By making this complex cultural identity accessible and the unseen seen, it could become an instrument of progress informing the cultural present, enriching the city and its inhabitants.
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Marseille is a city in which fact, fiction, insiders and the continuum of outsiders endlessly pass through each other in a manner which reinforces rather than dilutes its identity. This both informs and is irrelevant to the uplifting direct encounter with everyday Marseille, the city of the eternal present.
The demerit of this experiential reality is that it masks the often unseen complex, cultural reservoir.
The topography of Marseille together with the imprint of its various cities, past and present, have resulted in a language of the ‘Scenographic’, which makes the city perceptually memorable and easy to use. The visual relationship between the enclosing mountain range, sea, port and city monuments experienced while walking in the city foreshortens physical and temporal distances. This analysis is critical to the design development of the project; the idea of the scenographic and visual navigability is extended into the new building.

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This project looks at how a selection of the invisible histories might contribute to a fuller understanding of the identity of Marseille. It documents and qualitatively evaluates a series of urban stepping stones along La Voie Historique; the historic axis of Massalia’s ancient road, founded and built upon by the ancient Greeks and Romans, later to became a disconnected hinterland at the epicentre of Marseille and a ‘cultural route’ curated by city guidebooks and the tourist information office.
La Voie Historique will be used as the framework for a non-chronological recitation of significant moments of inhabitation: from its origin point, Les Jardin des Vestiges [1967], to the mid point, L’Église des Accoules [1720], to the intersection of Le Panier [1944], to the end point, Fort Saint Jean [2013]. By retracing imprinted time from historical documents, images and texts and examining how these physical residues have persisted, we may better understand and critically analyse the city’s genesis, fragmentation and cultural evolution.
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