/// A LOOK AT: Alfonso Femia, the architect who breathed new life into the docks of Marseille

11 Oct /// A LOOK AT: Alfonso Femia, the architect who breathed new life into the docks of Marseille

In November 2017, Batimat will be launching the first edition of Regard sur l’Architecture, a publication for the show’s exhibitors and visitors that will present exceptional projects with use at the heart of their design.

The “Les Docks” shopping centre in the La Joliette district in Marseille is one of the projects featured. The building was awarded “Best Shopping Centre” in 2016. Interview with Alfonso Femia, the architect of this new public space in the heart of Marseille.



L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui:Les Docks” (Marseille) is one of the projects featured in Regard sur l’Architecture. What do you think of Batimat’s editorial initiative?

Alfonso Femia: I think it’s always important to talk about projects and help everyone to understand them. And it’s also important to explain the process that led to construction, including the project’s objectives, constraints, goals and difficulties, the consistency between the design and the final product and dialogue between project players, from the project owner to the craftsmen who have all contributed their work.

So I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about it here thanks to the Batimat initiative in collaboration with L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui.


L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui: For this specific project, what was the biggest challenge that you encountered and how did you resolve it?

Alfonso Femia: The key challenge was to successfully give “Les Docks” a spirit that was consistent with its history through its new identity without betraying the body and soul of “Les Docks”. From the beginning of the project, I wanted to make “Les Docks” a real place to go to, and not just a place to go through. To this end, “Les Docks” needed to become a “public” place where people could feel they were in Marseille, in the heart of the Mediterranean, at home in “Les Docks”.

Another even bigger challenge was all the work involved in the organisational process in constant dialogue with an artist (Danilo Trogu), craftsmen, manufacturers, a construction company, French bureaucracy and the project owner. Showing that, even in France with all its red tape (certifications, safety, etc.), it is still possible to use a renaissance approach – a project created via a process open to creativity, distinctiveness, and historical and modern diversity. And we succeeded, on time and on budget. By working together as a team, we created a place full of discoveries and surprises.

And that is what I love. Projects need to involve others. They need to engage in a dialogue with human empathy.


L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui: Your project illustrates an essential issue, that of adapting architecture so that it is appropriated by the users. How did you incorporate use issues into your project?

Alfonso Femia: Working on heritage projects, on existing buildings, requires real imagination and ingenuity. We live in a society that has become rule-bound, not a society of constraints. Rules do not allow you to be creative, while constraints force you to. So being allowed to come up with a different use for a building designed for other purposes in another context, with heroic spaces, layers and dimensions is a wonderful thing. It allows us to keep creating extraordinary places. For “Les Docks”, like I do with any renovation project, I looked and listened to the building to avoid proposing a design that conflicted with or took over its identity. We declared everything that we were doing to the building. Wherever possible, we opened it up so that people and light could enter and flow through it. We introduced the new “vital” technology and ducts system and, as we did so, we showcased the Mediterranean and the idea of an awe-inspiring space that anyone can relate to, through the use of ceramics, nature, wood, stone, artwork, words, and light.

Interview realized by “L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui”  in August, 2017.



Batimat is a committed observer of major trends in the sector, and launched the Regard sur l’Architecture programme during the 2016 Biennale Architettura in Venice, based on a simple, yet essential question: Architects are visionaries, but what impact do their buildings have on residents and users? What is the fruit of the architect’s ultimate aim of improving our living conditions?

Regard sur l’Architecture is a 12-month field survey with those designing, constructing and living in new builds, providing new insight into a selection of recently developed unique buildings, which have been chosen for the quality of their “architectural solutions” to a given issue such as emergency, social or collaborative housing.

The findings from Regard sur l’Architecture will be published in November 2017 in a beautiful book and presented during a series of meetings with the contributors, organised by our partner L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, on the afternoon of Wednesday 8 November during the Batimat show.

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