/// A LOOK AT: The Friche la Belle de Mai

09 Oct /// A LOOK AT: The Friche la Belle de Mai

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 “Friche* la Belle de Mai”, an emblematic cultural centre in Marseille, is one of the projects featured. Interview with Matthieu Poitevin, the lead architect of an exemplary rehabilitation project.



If the late twentieth century in French architecture was characterized by the “Grands Projets”, the Pompidou, the Louvre Pyramid and the others, the early twenty-first seems defined by a more ad hoc urbanism, a bottom-up architecture which is intriguing, exciting and seems to have taken hold in France better than anywhere else. Perhaps the best example is the Friche la Belle de Mai in Marseille, the one-time factory for that most French of symbols, the Gauloise cigarettes.


This sprawling industrial complex has been slowly colonized as an arts centre – but one which is in many ways the opposite of the huge, centrally-planned arts centres which characterized the late twentieth century – London’s South Bank, New York’s Lincoln Centre, Paris’s own Pompidou. Instead the architects have developed the site piecemeal maintaining the dilapidated grain and texture of the industrial fabric and slowly opening the site up through intelligent intervention making real public spaces and streets as well as workspaces. There is no single blockbuster structure, no attempt at an iconic centrepiece, instead the place impresses as a kind of leisurely dérive, a mini-cityscape of chance encounters and eccentric juxtapositions. The actual architecture is made of cheap materials, quickly put together but with real wit and intelligence. There are playgrounds and skate parks, cinemas and market halls, theatres, cafés and galleries but most importantly this feels like a piece of reclaimed city, open, public and democratic.


It’s intriguing that the project was instigated by Jean Nouvel and developed under the supervision of Patrick Bouchain – but neither designed it or any part of it. The actual work was done by an assortment of architects and there is a deliberate avoidance of a single style, aesthetic or approach.  It is messy, inconsistent and incoherent – and just like a real fragment of city, full of surprises.  It points a new way to an architecture less concerned with big plans and grand style and more with the unruly realities of everyday life. It allows gaps and empty spaces for new and unexpected things to happen without dictating what these might be. Its joie de vivre is precisely what makes it so successful and so French. A truly enjoyable, unselfconscious and urbane place which feels unfinished and still magically full of potential.


Article published in L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui’s 412th issue – Special France – Mai 2016 Projects section



Our role as organiser of specialised Construction trade shows is to encourage industrial players to work with prime contractors and project owners to develop innovative solutions that help improve the built environment and our quality of life.

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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