RETROACTIVE: MARSEILLE[S]  -  Sunday September 6th, 2009

Marseille: city of the ‘bar’. Note the amazing building right at the back with a great hole in it.

A retroactive post.

Marseille houses the largest Playmobil city in Europe. That is the only thing you really need to know, which is why I put it first. The city’s history is long and complicated: Caesar put it under his thumb, while Cesar gave it a big thumb‘s up; it’s home to one of the oldest European places of Christian worship, a pimping cathedral, you know, all that kind of historical jazz. In modern times, the city was Corbu’s Radiant City guinea pig (more on that later in the week) and his mass-housing project started a trend that continues to this day – almost every building in the city is a “bar” (a linear tower block ).

As the ‘Premier Port of the Empire’, the city received the millions of immigrants coming from North Africa and the Near East (resulting from France’s colonial wars). The image I got from those I talked to (friends of friends and locals I met) is of a city struggling to integrate and accomodate its population. Poor public transport encourages excessive car usage, or possibly vice versa (the Marseillais’ are obsessed with auto-tuning (super-charging their cars, custom body work/art, mag wheels, etc). While racial and socio-economic divisions are pronounced (Marseille is not a wealthy city), the people are friendly and community orientated. They are talkative, even by my own standards.

From the Old Port looking up to Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde.

The urban planning is what really flipped me out though: mass-residential blocks have been ruthlessly superposed over the old urban fabric, sometimes erasing it and sometimes sitting incongruently next to it. The prolongation of the city limits by suburbs of strip towers has resulted in a metropolis that is extremely spread out. It reminded me much more of the type of urban thinking I saw in Texan cities than those elsewhere in Europe.

Left: ‘Modern Bakery’; Right: Luminy district school of architecture, just sat down in the middle of nowhere.

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