Marseilles Docks, France

Ceramics as a living material

The historic dock buildings are given a new lease of life in a carefully designed redevelopment project in which ceramic tile plays a key technological and emotional role
Alfredo Zappa
Ernesta Caviola
5+1AA Alfonso Femia, Gianluca Peluffo Agenzia di Architettura srl
Année de réalisation

It is hardly an exaggeration to claim that Marseilles is more a port than a city. It is a place of arrival and departure, of refuge and exchange, open to the influx of goods, people, culture and meaning. A port, as Baudelaire wrote, is « a delightful place to contemplate those who still have the strength to will, the desire to travel ».
The city’s historic nucleus originally grew up around the hub of the Vieux Port. Much later, around 1853, booming trade drove the construction of new port and storage facilities along the coast, which were gradually expanded to form the Grand port maritime. For decades Marseilles was the biggest sea port in the Mediterranean, a role that it maintained until recent times. Today the city of the Mistral is pursuing policies and investments aimed at restoring its dominant position of old. For this purpose, the two largest container cranes in the world and a new dry dock for cruise ships have been in operation since September. But while developing technical infrastructure, Marseilles has also focused strongly on urban strategies and regeneration.
Renovating one of the port’s largest and most important buildings, the historic warehouses, known as « Les Docks », took on special material and symbolic value.
The project, which was selected through an international design competition, is based on a complex investigation by architects Alfonso Femia and Gianluca Peluffo, partners at the practice 5+1AA, who considered the significance of nature and the role and meanings of the historic building, exploring above all its existing and potential relationships with the city. The project aimed not just to restore the physical site but also to re-establish relationships and social activities and thereby enable the building to be used by the city’s inhabitants, transforming its status from an austere and monolithic complex into a participatory and highly distinctive public asset.
This goal was achieved through a search for permeability between the city-facing side of the building and the side looking towards the sea, transforming what was once an impenetrable barrier into a physically and visually porous space. Equally importantly, the four courtyards enclosed inside a 365 metre long building were completely reinvented and transformed into extraordinary, inspiring spaces. Corte Barcellone, Corte Rome, Corte Village and Corte Marché have become functional and emotional hubs that punctuate the longitudinal itinerary, defining new spatial, dynamic and living relationships and hierarchies. Light, colour and material play a special role, giving the space a kaleidoscopic dimension that arouses wonder and emotions as well as a sense of intimacy.
It is in applications like these that ceramic tiles really come into their own as warm, polychromatic and surprising elements in terms of sizes, combinations and installation systems. In this project, the architects explained: « We cooperated with an art workshop based in Albissola, Italy, which made a ceramic wall tile by hand. The cast was delivered to Casalgrande Padana, which developed it for mass production while meeting the strict requirements of French building regulations. »
The ceramic tiles are used in different ways in the Docks to create astonishing results, a kind of living material capable of sparking a perceptive and emotional experience.

Casalgrande Padana, Granitogres Unicolore
porcelain stoneware
Unicolore Blu Forte, Blu Chiaro, Blu Scuro, Azzurro, Bianco
Caractéristiques techniques
Water absorpion (ISO 10545-3): < 0,1%
Chemical resistance (ISO 10545-13): compliant
Resistance to deep abrasion (ISO 10545-6): compliant
Stain resistance (ISO 10545-14): compliant
Frost resistance (ISO 10545-12): compliant
Modulus of rupture and breaking strength (ISO 10545-4): 50÷60 N/mm2
Slip resistance (DIN 51130): R9
Thermal shock resistance (ISO 10545-9): compliant
Crazing resistance (ISO 10545-11): compliant
Linear thermal expansion (ISO 10545-8): compliant
Certifications et prix
Demande d'infos sur le projet > Galerie produits >