Jean Nouvel’s new tower in Marseille is conspicuously unique and purposely a part of its context, spanning 31 stories (443 feet) worth of offices, restaurant space, and daycare facilities. While every project is technically unique because of things like site constraints, architectural preferences, and building codes, finished designs still end up looking bland far too often. The same materials and colors continue to feature in building after building, city after city. With La Marseillaise, Nouvel set out to craft an inspired aesthetic that clearly related to the region around it.
La Marseillaise, which opened in October of 2018, is a work of unfinished modernism. It’s as if Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier started collaborating on a project but abandoned the job near the end because of creative differences. The result is still beautiful, of course, and Nouvel’s desire to leave things seemingly undone is the secret to that beauty. He explains: “She may be concrete, but the concrete is disarmored — light concrete, fiber concrete — light as an unfinished architectural drawing.”
The façade is also painted red in keeping with the color of the typical Marseille rooftop, white for the color of the local rocks, and blue for the color of the sky. Despite the fact that Nouvel only used three colors for the facade, the color that is in La Marseillaise is decidedly more dynamic than that of Unité d’habitation: one of Le Corbusier’s iconic projects situated just five miles away. This vivid quality can be credited to the 27 different shades used to make up those three colors.
The appeal of this building is that it both looks and feels like it belongs in Marseille. Whether it’s observed from the east or the west, it fits with the context. It is unmistakably not a nameless, placeless box.