Zaha Hadid in Marseille 20.02.12

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Zaha Hadid's headquarters for a shipping company, the first tower her practice has realised, dominates France's second-largest city. "Marseille is very horizontal," says Jim Heverin, associate director at the firm. "There are no other towers, so at only 140m high – 40m shorter than the Gherkin – it has the same kind of effect as the Shard will have on London." (Jean Nouvel has designed an adjacent, slightly smaller tower that will, if built, lessen this magisterial effect.)

One kilometre north of Marseille's historic centre, at its commercial port, the CMA CGM Tower sits at the gateway to the city, at the point at which the elevated motorway leading in and out of town forks. At ground level, the building is lost in the colonnades that hold up the expressway. The third floor is at traffic level, and the building mirrors the energy of the sweeping concrete viaducts along which cars hurtle. "As you drive out of the city you see the building swoop up," Heverin says. The facade's fluid, concave slope recalls the WR Grace Building in New York by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.

Hadid hoped to bring parametric fluidity to the typology of the tower, whose traditional form is the vertical block on a podium. The building draws on her as yet unrealised proposals for towers in Dubai (the flexuous, interlocking Signature Towers) and Beijing (the Central Business District, with its sweeping contours). In Marseille, Hadid has created a dynamic structure with a slightly pinched waist, that uses the contrast between light and dark glazes to create a slim, light silhouette. The upright band of dark glazing on the building's thinnest side exacerbates this effect, echoing Giò Ponti's Pirelli tower in Milan, a building that also abandons the block form.

Hadid's tower obeys two grids. The inner one is a conventional, vertical extrusion, whose straight edges allow for easy partitioning and flexible office space inside. This is partially covered in a second, sinuous layer, with clear glazing that slopes to the ground. The double skin, Heverin says, was inspired by Foster's Gherkin and is "functional as well as expressive". The ventilation channel between them cools the building and reduces the amount of solar gain. "It allows for lots of daylight," Heverin says, "so employees aren't sitting behind tinted glass all day and can enjoy spectacular views over the bay, city and docks."

 

Image

Iwan Baan

 

Words

Christopher Turner

quotes story

Hadid hoped to bring parametric fluidity to the typology of the tower, whose traditional form is the vertical block on a podium

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