Agence APS: Overlooking the port of Marseille, place of arrival and departure of men and plants, the garden promenade of Fort Saint-Jean extends the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean (MUCEM) and links Marseille to its history. The different areas of the Fort form the Garden of Migrations which through a succession of sixteen scenes evokes the mixing of cultures around the Mediterranean and the plants that accompany them.
1 The Orange Grove
Unifying the former lower and higher yards and yet preserving the two parts, the orange grove highlights the surroundings and the staging of these spaces when entering the fort. The project stresses the will to connect the DRASSM building, the entrance to the chapel and to reveal the mysterious access leading uphill to the cannons.
A concrete pavement made of rolled or crushed aggregate constitutes the common thread of the path accessible to everybody. On each side you can see large stone paths made of split pebbles that enhance the physical unity of the two yards. Posted like sentinels on duty on each side, two rows of five luxurious orange trees in terracotta pots attract the eye and guide the visitor’s steps.
The orange tree yard is an entrance into the heart of the Mediterranean, into a privileged space to start the discovery of the Fort and walk around the “garden of migrations”.
The south surrounding wall is composed of sealed loopholes that we suggest could be reopened so as to be visible from inside the courtyard, to accentuate the tension between the inside and outside of the Fort.
Next to the lane leading uphill to the cannons, the existing structure is restructured as an ornamental lake to magnify the Mediterranean culture of water in connection with the orange grove.
Nearby, a garden of agave flowerbeds exacerbates the contrast with the coolness of the pond and its jets of water and highlights the vision of the geological facies supporting the perched gallery of officers.
2 the cannon slope
Those who want to avoid the elevator or those who have already stepped into the orange grove will discover the cannon slope and will be able to climb the grand staircase with the banister, following the visible marks of history while penetrating the thick walls of the Fort.
This magical sequence in a large vertical vaulted gallery, lulled by a chiaroscuro controlled by a softened light to secure the walk, provides access to the higher level of the Fort on a lane connecting the parade ground to the Royal Gate, which will house the future Saint Laurent footbridge, another gateway to connect the ground floor of the city with its public spaces.
3 The DRASSM building
Thanks to its style and temporality of distinct construction, the DRASSM building holds a special place in the history of the Fort architecture.
For its implantation on the visible foundations of the palace of the commander, it interconnects with the two parts of the orange grove. It is a remarkable element of the Fort’s lower gate that can be seen both from higher and lower viewpoints.
The ground floor of the DRASSM building is dedicated to the welcoming of the public (toilets, ticket office …). A vertical link via an elevator placed on the south gable end of the building will allow groups and people with reduced mobility (PRM) to reach directly the building’s terrace on their way to the upper part of the Fort.
The comfortable journey on an access ramp (with a 4% maximum slope) accessible to PMRs makes it possible to easily connect the other side of the Fort, with access to the DRASSM and its equipment and to the entrance of the chapel.
By avoiding any improper and ill-suited decorative mannerism of a plant wall, our proposal of covering the gable with a vertically arranged concrete fishnet texture allows to wrap today’s façade of the DRASSM as well as the elevator equipment.
The materiality and permeability of this “skin” with the vegetal pattern and the evocation of a Moucharabie (wooden lattice) make light of the link with the strong minerality of the place and the interplay between light and shadow that unite the site. This same vocabulary of fishnet is used as a shade structure covering the entire terrace of the DRASSM where visitors arrive.
4 The shadow gallery (roof of the DRASSM)
Under this floating carpet of material that prints its light graphic design on the terracotta floor, this “gallery of shadows” is a final antechamber in the open air before entering the “myrtle yard” (former garden of the commander).
This space could be used for example as an outdoor exhibition gallery for some works of the Mucem.
To summarize the proposals of work on the DRASSM building, about which we would like to start a dialogue with the contracting authority, are the following:
-Decorating the South gable and covering the terrace with a shading structure
-Removing the large access ramp that interferes with the legibility of the higher Courtyard then the “Orange Grove” can reunite through a different perspective the two levels of yards so as to make these spaces available and accessible to receiving visitors and exhibitions
-Demolishing of the end of the Northern construction separating the terrace and commander’s garden: this open arrangement would allow to connect physically and visually the “shadow gallery” and the future” myrtle yard”
– Possibility of changing the pink colour of the concrete facades
– Turning the roof terraces into gardens if that is technically feasible: this “garden of gold” theme related to the garden of migrations is a dry garden of sedum completed with a collection of bulbs with winter rest and saffron.
5 The governor’s garden or myrtle garden
On the small residual space overlooking the Orange grove, visitors exit the Shadow Gallery and enter the “Commander’s Garden”. A tiny courtyard planted with myrtles, with delicately scented flowers and foliage and whose name reminds us of the Alhambra of Granada. On one side, the limestone pavement highlights the small staircase directly connecting the western wall walk to access to a man-lift allowing PRMs to connect the lower level of the gallery of officers.
On the other side, the arrangement of the trimmed lines of myrtles and pomegranate trees in full bloom highlights the position of the garden standing like a balcony above the courtyard, the Square Tower, the chapel in the background, the garden of the Ailantes, and offers some strategic views of the city and the port.
6 The Officers’ Gallery
An elevator has been installed in two cells of the Officers’ Gallery on the higher and lower level. It offers a large range of possibilities of access, use and paths to PRMs and facilitates the quality of discovery and presentation of the collections of the Mucem, since it connects these two levels of activities.
7 The western wall walk
After leaving the meeting point between the officers’ gallery and the myrtle garden, the western wall walk moves Northwards to reach the circular terrace of the Beacon Tower and then gets near the central Parade ground. All along this path open to sea spray, facing the Palais du Faro (Faro palace) and overlooking the Louis Brauquier promenade, the narrowness of the passage, whose access to PRMs could be allowed, probably requires to be turned into a one-way path on this portion in order to avoid any conflict of use.
Halfway along this route, where the path is making a bend, it is possible to have direct access to the Parade ground using the shortcut of a covered walkway whose project will considerably reduce the length and therefore the constraints.
8 The Place d’Armes
In the upper part of the Fort, the Place d’Armes (Parade Ground) is the vibrant heart of the Fort which is the place for meetings and events that are open to many audiences.
The project aims at enlarging the larger area by simplifying the reading of space for a better understanding of the Fort’s structures.
Thus to the North, the Place d’Armes (Parade Ground) sticks out to redesign the earth platform in the geometry of the tip of the sea and at the same time recreate the continuity of the rampart walk which is used as a gentle ramp for PRMs and that will help to connect the terrace from the Tour de Fanal (Beacon Tower) to the Place d’Armes (Parade Ground).
Under the influence of the Mistral (southern wind) the garden hosts the wind garden, planted with different types of grass. It is a real viewpoint indicator with two directions making it possible to visually touch the near and distant landscape, the hustle and bustle of the port, the Mucem and the dramatic end of the footbridge stepping over the harbour basin to cling to the Fort.
The extended limits of the Place d’Armes come to ensconce themselves to the North onto the new geometry of the platform of the tip of the sea, to the West onto the work of the Fort connecting the beacon Tower and the Horseman of the harbour, to the East onto the “terraces of the Fort” that host the Mucem footbridge to the South or the northern facade of the G building and on the northern wall of the Horseman of the harbour. Thus, the layout of the G building on the Place d’Armes is magnified to accentuate its strategic role: reception desk, coffee shop, exhibition seminars, etc.
The general altimetry of Place d’Armes is enhanced to reduce accidents and limit stairs and topographic ramps between structures. For example, between the arrival height of the Mucem footbridge and the entrance thresholds in Georges Henri Rivière building (GHR): the flatness of the square allows easy access to the entire surface while ensuring comfort of use with adjoining spaces and preserving the future relationship with the St Laurent footbridge. Taking up the spirit of the materials discovered in the field, the surface of the square is a rustic assembly of limestone slabs whose pattern is designed at random.
Near the cafe restoration terrace and at the back of the GHR building, the Mediterranean vegetable garden, leaning on the western wall of the Fort and extending by squares at the foot of the Beacon Tower, is staged in a row of colours that tells the saga of Mediterranean vegetables whether winter or summer, native or exotic ones.
To evoke the culture of water in the Mediterranean, a small canal organizes the gravitational integration of the vegetable garden. On the long flower bed that dominates it unfolds the path of low aromatic plants with its exceptional view of the sea horizon and the Faro promontory.
The hanging fig trees perched on top of the horseman of the harbour are kept on the spot. A corbelled concrete staircase on the south wall gives access to the observation deck of the rider with rustic wood decking and a bench.
To the southern foot of the horseman, along a path joining the eastern end of the gallery of officers, the garden of wild lettuce of the Fort, installed in a triangle of stones and ruins, offers a presentation of today’s flora of the fort in a eulogy of this flora of reconquest able to overcome the biological diversity (of these plants which had their hour of glory and were introduced for different uses).
9 The terraces of the fort
The terraces of the fort are located along their entire length at the main facade of the GHR building and delimit the eastern side of the Place d’Armes before turning north on the threshing floor, after receiving the Mucem footbridge.
Wooden seats can reinforce the comfort of outdoor use. The terraces of the Fort shape the difference in height that joins the eastern part of the Fort by a vocabulary of small and large stone steps adjusted onto the landings connecting a 4% ramp in a zig-zag. The ramp climbs up from place d’Armes to reach the footbridge or slide higher into the thickness of dry-stone terraces that support the gardens of the hill.
The terraces, a sort of green foliage theatre, constitute a major asset of the Fort by offering a generous space for the reception of the public or the organization of shows and cultural events in connection with the Mucem or the life of the city.
To their southern end, the terraces are in the shade of the plant cover created by the grove of green oaks, evocative of the Mediterranean forest.
10 The threshing floor
To the North of the terraces of the Fort, the threshing floor, visible from and beyond the footbridge is a rustic cobbled street next to dry vegetation. The Place d’Armes is aligned on the same altimetric plan. A large area without any vegetation is available for cultural events such as the setting up a “stage” in direct contact with the terraces.
11 The hill gardens
At the top of the terraces, the hill gardens are a space of freedom for the stroller. The landscape atmosphere which looks more nature-like evokes the great agro-sylva-pastoral tradition. The open path moves forward in the middle of the scented garrigue, and further on, olive and almond trees sitting on the stone terraces, come curling up to the embankment of the Saint Laurent horseman.
A picnic area, with unlikely limits can be detected under the silver canopy of trees. Surrounded with a low stoned wall forming a base an earthen bench offers the seasonal spectacle of cultivated wheat mixed with harvest time plants. The straw that will be harvested will be used as mulch for the Mediterranean vegetable garden.
Thanks to the thickness of the garrigue vegetation, areas with limited access to the public can be protected. A specific protection device can be hidden inside the vegetation if necessary.
12 The ethnobotanical journey of emblematic plants of the Mediterranean
The ethnobotanical journey of the emblematic plants of the Mediterranean unfolds its garden on the slope of the embankment which accompanies the Western walkway over more than two hundred linear meters, with exceptional viewpoints on Marseille and its urban landmarks (cathedral Major, Saint Laurent church…).
Two-sided views on the traditional use of plants in Muslim and Judeo-Christian cultures displayed at hand level to be touched and smelt, the great historical fresco to be seen on the wide flower bed of the garden is told by plants.
On the skyline overlooking this plant fresco, a hem of Tamaris shrub resistant to winds and sea spray, displays its light and elegant hair on the mass of the Fort, whether near or far, when looking at the Fort from the old port.
The end of the visit allows to arrive either from the entrance accessible from the top of the ramp emerging from the terraces of the Fort, or from the South by a new connection and 4% ramp slid into the thickness of the structure and giving access either to the upper part of the guardhouse in front of the G building or further down onto the service square of the officers ‘ upper gallery.
13 The herb garden of Saint John ‘s day
We are now at the top of the remarkable staircase opening to the Lower Bastion. A small staircase allows the same place to reach the southern end of the wall walk of the Horseman of the city. On this path set back in a quiet place reigns a special atmosphere. This is where we can find the garden of herbs of Saint John’s day, favourable for magic.
14 The higher level/landing of the guardhouse
The higher level of the guardhouse enables people to join the exhibitions located at G +1 of the F building. These visual and sound exhibitions will evoke the memory of plants and industries of Marseille and the Mediterranean. Thus the story of the trade of spices, coffee, oils and soaps, aniseed-flavoured goods, cotton and dyestuffs… will be told in the heart of the garden.
15 The ailanthus garden
Then behind, slightly up above the path, the garden of suckering ailanthus is deliberately bounded by the island to exacerbate its invasive role. It is an opportunity to remember a great deal of textiles, hemp, silk and cotton, as well as vegetal dyes that were widely traded for centuries.
16 The garden of Canebière and Auffes
The garden of Canebière and Auffes is lying on the embankment of the lower bastion. Beyond the forest of the masts of the old Port just at eye level, the view of the garden opens up onto the city and the Canebière. With hemp and “auffe”, this is an opportunity to talk about the importance of ropemakers and esparto goods in a port such as Marseille.
Access to the inside of King René Tower is provided to connect the narrow staircase to the summit terrace which offers a superb view of the entire geography of the city. It also allows you to look back on the massive extent of Fort Saint-Jean.
It is time then to get back onto earth leaving this insular space still echoing multiple mysteries…
Short office name: Agence APS
Role of the office in the project: Landscape architects
Owner: Ministère de la culture – MUCEM
Location: Fort Saint-Jean, Marseille, France
Surface: 15.000 m²
Budget: 5.700.000 eur (pre-tax)
Design year: 2012
Year built: 2013