Pietri Architects clads La Porte Bleue with a grid of concrete arches

Architect: Pietri Architectes
Location: Marseille, France
Completion Date:
September, 2023

In 1995, work was initiated to redevelop the port of Marseille, France. The Euroméditerranée project, as it is known, oversaw the construction of office towers, residential high-rises, and the conversion of vacant industrial buildings into cultural centers. The Euroméditerranée’s latest addition is La Porte Bleue a residential high-rise by Parisian firm Pietri Architectes. Compositionally, the tower is defined by its grid of 414 concrete vaults. La Porte Bleue joins a cluster of towers along Rue Jean-Gaspard Vence which include La Marseillaise and CMA CGM Headquarters, designed by the offices of Jean Nouvel and Zaha Hadid, respectively.

La Porte Bleue neighbors Jean Nouvel’s La Marseillaise tower (center) as well as Zaha Hadid’s CMA CGM Headquarters (right). (Luc Boegly)

The tower is clad in an exoskeleton of white concrete arches intended to recall the legacy of European rationalist architecture, albeit within the context of the Mediterranean coast. According to a project description, the white exterior is “a reference to the Mediterranean, to the color of limestone.” La Porte Bleue also exudes similarities to the office’s previous work, which typically employs a coastal design vernacular marked by light colors.

La Porte Bleue’s rationalist grid of arches is clearly drawn from the Palace of Italian Civilization designed for Benito Mussolini’s Esposizione Universale Roma, (EUR) where the building’s structure acts as its primary decoration.

Situated as it is between the city and the water, the firm conceived of La Porte Bleue’s arch forms as giving shape to the port of Marseille’s status as an entrance to France.

La Porte Bleue was inspired by the rationalist architecture of the 20th century, particularly The Palace of Italian Civilization in Rome. (indeciso42/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 )

The tower will serve the Arenc district, a post-industrial port transformed into France’s 3rd largest district. The area is also home to a number of cultural attractions thanks to investment from the Euroméditerranée project, attracting tourism.

The 173-foot-tall building serves both office workers and tourists. Its mixed program houses 250 vacation rentals managed by Odalays on the first 11 floors and residential units on the top seven.

There are 68 residential units in the tower. Floors 12 through 16 contain single family dwellings, which range from one-bedroom to four-bedroom units. The top two levels, floors 17 and 18 hold larger duplex units with double height ceilings.

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Each unit features a loggia, furnishing views out to the Mediterranean and the city of Marseille. (Pierre Louis Leclercq)
Pietri Architectes has designed another tower for the site, M99, which is expected to complete in 2027. (Courtesy Pietri Architectes)

Unusually, Jean-Baptiste Pietri, founder of Pietri Architectes is both the client and the designer of the project. Pietri inherited Constructa from his father. The firm is the developer of Les Quais d’Arenc, which includes La Porte Bleue, Nouvel’s Marseillaise, and Tower M99, a residential high-rise designed by Pietri Architectes expected to complete by 2027.

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The irregular plan of the tower arises from its foundation, an existing subterranean parking garage. (Courtesy Pietri Architectes)

La Porte Bleue was constructed on top of an existing subterranean parking garage which travels six levels below ground. The firm told AN, “the existing structure,” referring to the parking garage, “had been sized for a building with a very different geometry. The difficulty was therefore to balance the entire building with the possible structural changes to the existing infrastructure.” Originally, an office tower had been planned for the site.

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Larger concrete units were prefabricated for the hotel suites and residential duplexes to accommodate their double height ceilings. (Luc Boegly)

La Porte Bleue’s concrete vaults, which number 414 in total, were cast from locally sourced concrete from the town of Aubagne. Larger, double height vaults were fabricated for the suites and duplexes within the tower. The concrete vaults are nearly 3 feet deep, furnishing shade for the loggia spaces and reducing solar heat gain and glare in the glazing.

The tower’s arches were formed through the joining of individual Y-shaped modules which were lifted by crane, one by one, onto the tower. Manufactured off-site, the modules were cast in 13 distinct sizes and connect to the towers concrete beams and slabs with aluminum joinery. 

White-pigmented reinforced concrete was specified as the building’s exterior cladding. A special mix was created with a higher-than-normal exposure class, aimed at preventing the corrosion which would occur due to the building’s exposure to the sea. To meet sustainability goals, a low-carbon concrete was developed by Vinci Construction and Méditerranée Prefabrication.

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The Y-shaped modules were carefully lifted onto the structure. (Jean Baptiste Pietri)

All of the building’s heating and cooling is supplied by the Thassalia geothermal installation, which produces energy by pumping water from the Port of Marseille into a network of thermal exchangers and heat pumps. It is a component of Euroméditerranée’s program to be a sustainable city.

The firm commented, “An effective alternative to air conditioning: marine geothermal energy offers effective and economical cooling potential for large port cities. Marine waters have a constant temperature all year round, which allows frigories to be extracted from seawater to cool buildings.”

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