Vieux Port pavilion
by Foster + Partners


A polished steel canopy reflects visitors walking underneath at this events pavilion in Marseille's harbour by UK firm Foster + Partners (+ slideshow).

Vieux Port pavilion by Foster + Partners

Supported by eight slender columns, the stainless-steel structure stretches over the paving to create a sheltered events space in the city's Old Port. The roof features sharply tapered edges, creating the impression of a paper-like thickness.

Vieux Port pavilion by Foster + Partners

"The new pavilion is quite literally a reflection of its surroundings," explained head of design Spencer de Grey. "Its lightweight steel structure is a minimal intervention and appears as a simple silver line on the horizon."

Vieux Port pavilion by Foster + Partners

The Vieux Port pavilion forms part of a masterplan of public realm projects that Foster + Partners has been working on along the seafront of the French city to tie in with its role as European Capital of Culture 2013. Other improvements includes new surfaces, wider pavements and a series of nautical pavilions.

"Our aim has been to make the Vieux Port accessible to all," said De Grey. "The project is an invitation to the people of Marseille to enjoy and use this grand space for events, markets and celebrations once again."

Vieux Port pavilion by Foster + Partners

The architects worked alongside landscape designer Michel Desvigne, who added granite paving to complement the original limestone cobbles. They also collaborated with local firm Tangram Architectes to deliver the structure.

London-based Foster + Partners has also released plans for several new projects in recent months. Others include a concept to 3D print buildings on the moon and a renovation of New York Public Library's flagship branch. See more projects by Foster + Partners.

Vieux Port pavilion by Foster + Partners

Photography is by Nigel Young.

Here's a project description from Foster + Partners:

President of Marseille leads opening celebrations for new Vieux Port pavilion

The transformation of Marseille's World Heritage-listed harbour was officially inaugurated on Saturday during a ceremony attended by Eugène Caselli, President of Marseille Provence Métropole and Jean-Claude Gaudin, the Mayor of Marseille. The event marked the completion of the new 'club nautique' pavilions and a new sheltered events space on the Quai de la Fraternité at the eastern edge of the port, built to commemorate the city's year as 'European Capital of Culture'.

The new events pavilion is a simple, discreet canopy of highly reflective stainless steel, 46 by 22 metres in size, open on all sides and supported by slender pillars. Its polished, mirrored surface reflects the surrounding port and tapers towards the edges, minimising its profile and reducing the structure's visual impact.

Reclaiming the quaysides as civic space and reconnecting the port with the city, the boat houses and technical installations that previously lined the quays have been moved to new platforms and clubhouses over the water. The pedestrian area around the harbour has been enlarged and traffic will be gradually reduced over the coming years to provide a safe, pedestrianised environment that extends to the water's edge.

The landscape design, which was developed with Michel Desvigne, includes a new pale granite surface, in the same shade as the original limestone cobbles. The simple, hard-wearing, roughly textured materials are appropriate to the port setting, and to improve accessibility for all, kerbs and level changes have been eliminated.

  • harakiri

    Impressed by SANAA’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion or running out of new ideas?

    • mlk

      Plus the Serpentine’s had a more interesting shape and was well integrated.

      • mdc

        Rosa Muerta 2007 by Robert Stone out in the Clalifornia Desert. Look it up. The first guy isn’t always a big-name corporate firm!

      • beatrice

        I disagree – I think this is a more interesting shape. Less wobbly lines.

  • Very simple yet effective idea. Can’t wait to see it when we go there on holiday in May!

    • Chris

      Alternatively you could just look at a mirror in your bathroom and save several thousand pounds.

  • florq


  • mdc

    Rosa Muerta by Robert Stone in the California desert in 2007. But history is for the corporate firms.

  • beatrice

    Please, all you Robert Stone people, you really think that he was the first person to put a mirror upside down in an outdoor place? In 2007? You think nobody else did that before?

    Off the top of my head I can say that Dan Grahame did many experiments with this, a long time ago. But I’m pretty sure there are many others – most probably back in the 60s. NB: his 360 degree mirrored skate park is worth seeing.

    More importantly, I think the photos are faked above. My reasoning – you cannot get a flat reflection like that from flat sheet steel. It will always have little ripples here and there. That’s why the SANAA pavillion at the Serpentine looked really cheap (in reality, not the photos!) It was bowed and wobbly like a circus hall of mirrors.

    That will happen with any reflective thin material laminated onto a sheet material – you see every imperfection.

    The only way to make it work is by using either real glass mirrors (min 6mm) or using Mylar stretch mirror fabric over frames – that’s how they made the giant sun installation at the Tate. Anything less, and you’ll see every ding, warp and flutter. It is of course possible that they used 10mm sheet stainless steel. Would love to know.

    Maybe Nigel Young could enlighten me? Maybe I’m totally wrong, but the reflection looks faultless and seamless from here.

    • echen

      You named one artist – not an architect – who didn’t build anything like this (the round skate bowl is a paper proposal and it’s pretty easy to see why it wasn’t built) and insinuated many others – when they put up a specific building/architect/date and stood by it.

      I am sure there is a non-architecture example where someone put a mirror on a ceiling but that seems like a weak argument for a broad statement denying the very possibilty of original ideas in architecture. Maybe they are right – shouldn’t we support that rather than cheer the copy and say “everybody steals”.

  • nicey

    Look, loads of people have copied Foster’s ideas too – so what? Mirrored ceilings have been around since sex began in the 1960s (possibly even earlier). This looks a lot less twee than SANAA’s Serperntine shape. It should be judged on the reality of its spatial presence; harder to do from pics. To me it looks simple, even fun, which might be a first for Foster.

    • Tobi I

      Sex began in the 1960s?

  • I’ll be interested to see if it is as flawless as it appears here when I see it in the flesh.

    • beatrice

      Exactly. Sheet steel has never worked for this purpose. Got to be Myalr or glass.

      • Candelario_Bach

        That really comes down to the quality of the engineering and the craftsmanship of the fabricators. An adequate structure, the right thickness of the metal sheet and good welding/polishing can make this possible.

        Knowing Foster and his neat technical solutions, I’m sure he isn’t going to go cheap on one of his projects.

        See Anish Kapoor’s and Jeff Koons stainless steel sculptures.

  • Paopao

    Foster goes SANAA and fails to recreate their rarefied atmospheres.

    • beatrice

      See above. Anyone want to post a link to the first project that had outdoor mirrors? Pre- internet age, obviously.

      • Domilly

        Look again at the photos, the reflection is not flawless.

  • Luke

    Someone took a rolling pin to the Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor.

  • mdc

    That’s the thing – Stone took it from the sex world and made it architecture, and didn’t shy away from talking about it that way. These guys are copying it from another architect now that it is safe.

  • Anton

    I like this pavilion. It’s simply elegant. Although I think it would me more interesting if it was rotated a little bit to catch the water’s reflection as you approach it.

  • dUMB

    OMG! Anyone looking up is going to notice my bald patch!

  • aa

    The simplistic design outcome successfully manifests such an elegant identity for the pavilion. The roof plane has created an illusion of a square frame exhibiting public activities to the sky. Plain, sweet and simple.