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MUCEM, Marseille, France

Issue 76 December / January 2014 : Architectural: Museum

ARCHITECTS: Rudy Ricciotti, Carta Associés, Foster and Partners / Tangram architects LIGHTING DESIGNERS: AIK, Licht Kunst Licht, 8’18” and L’Agence Lumière

In preparation for its role as 2013 European Capital of Culture, the city of Marseille underwent a series of transformations, not least to the area around the Old Port, home to a new museum of Europe and the Mediterranean, MuCEM.

The French state has long placed a respect for culture and the arts at the heart of its national identity. It is a credo made concrete, in part, by the striking museums and galleries that can be found woven into the fabric of the country’s towns and cities. Francois Mitterand’s ‘grands projets’ of the 1980s provide perhaps the most memorable examples of this philosophy, a near hubristic confidence in the power of iconic arts spaces to enrich the collective spirit. But in reality, the French commitment to culture runs much deeper and stretches much wider.

From the early seventies onwards, policy was rolled out across all departments of state requiring that any publicly funded building allot one percent of its construction budget to the commissioning of site-specific artwork. This ‘1% Artistique’ plan – since adopted by most decentralised governing bodies – has been the driving force behind a host of public artworks that might otherwise never have existed.

This year, the city of Marseille became the latest European Capital of Culture, a title that brought with it a wave of regeneration, including a rebirth of the city’s seafront: three connected projects that exemplify both the power of French cultural pride and the possibilities of the ‘1% Artistique’ policy.

The centrepiece of Marseille’s transformation is the new Museum of the European and Mediterranean Civilisations (MuCEM). As part of the MuCEM complex, a new building was constructed on the city’s J4 pier, a porous cube with a lacework-like façade, designed by architect Rudy Ricciotti, which at night becomes a glowing lighthouse of blues and turquoise. This is linked via a slim footbridge to Fort St Jean, a 17th century fortification that now houses a series of exhibition spaces and a botanical garden. At nightfall, the gardens provide the setting for a ‘moonlit’ walkway, leading visitors across another footbridge to Marseille’s historic Panier district. From here it is a short walk to the city’s Old Port - now refreshed with a new public lighting system to create a welcoming seafront panorama.

Four lighting design practices - AIK, Licht Kunst Licht, 8’18” and L’Agence Lumière - contributed to the success of these three seafront projects, taking on the various requirements of each, from the permanent and temporary exhibition spaces within, to façades and landscaped exteriors.


The J4 building is just one of three sites that together comprise MuCEM. A series of additional gallery spaces can be found in the neighbouring Fort St Jean and a separate Centre for Conservation and Restoration is located within the city’s Belle de Mai district, but with its striking appearance the J4 has quickly become the posterboy for the whole museum complex. Architect Rudy Ricciotti saw off competition from a host of world-renowned practices with his design for the waterfront site: a cuboid glass structure shrouded on its south and west sides by a 15cm-thick brise soleil façade, formed from Ultra-High Performance Fibre Concrete (UHPFC). This filigree outer skin was to become the starting point for the J4’s 1% Artistique element, an exterior lighting scheme by Yann Kersalé and his team at AIK entitled ‘MERville’ – a marvel of the sea.

Under Kersalé’s direction, the screen is used to fragment light from a series of concealed fixtures, scattering blue and turquoise across the surrounding water and giving the structure a pulsating transparency that makes reference both to the sea and to the flow of history that has swept through the Old Port over the centuries.

Kersalé’s team at AIK worked with manufacturers LEC Lyon in adapting over 200 of their 4240-Le Havre fixtures so that they could deliver the exact effect required. The architect stipulated that no fixtures be visible during daylight hours, so each piece was customised with location-specific brackets and precisely calculated optics to direct light exactly as it was needed to create an accurate visual result.

The wide lens and anodised, waterproof construction of the Le Havre allowed it to be placed externally between the glass outer wall of the museum and the UHPFC façade. AIK had previously used the fixture for The Wave, their illumination of the sea wall that protects the city of Le Havre. As Technical Manager at Atelier AIK, Fabienne Maman explains this past experience was key in their selection for Marseille. “We came onto this project very late through the 1% Artistique procedure and the works on site had already started,” he says. “Although Rudy Ricciotti was very attentive and responsive to our needs, we had some catching up with delivering the work on time. Failure was just not an option. We preferred to take no risks at all and therefore decided to work with LEC.”

A pedestrian walkway runs between the glass wall and UHPFC façade, providing access to the museum’s roof terrace and from there the ‘floating’ footbridge that links with Fort St Jean. These ramps provided a mounting point for the two-colour blue/green Le Havre spotlights.
There is no outer skin on the north and east facades, but the UHPFC meshwork is present as an overhanging section of roof, jutting out at the top of the building. These are also illuminated by Le Havre fixtures.

To complete the scheme, the decking of J4’s roof terrace is inset with a constellation of blue stars, inground Bordeaux fixtures, again from LEC Lyon.

French lighting design practice 8’18” was tasked with ensuring the artistic lighting was successfully adapted and integrated with any functional exterior and interior lighting. This included providing pedestrian lighting for the ramps up to the roof. Under regulations, these are classed as external walkways and as such must meet a requirement of 20 lux. In order to achieve this without disrupting Kersalé’s scheme, luminaires were installed into the underside of the ramp directly above, or into the UHPFC roof structure in the case of the top ramp. Working with the manufacturer, they developed a special louver system to minimise spill and glare when viewed at a distance from both inside and outside the museum.

8’18” was involved on the MuCEM project from its early development stages in 2003, working with the architects to help create a suitable lighting strategy. They took responsibility for the twin concrete footbridge that link the J4 roof terrace with Fort Saint Jean and the Fort’s east entrance with St Laurent church in Marseille’s old town.

Although the construction of both bridges are similar - both share the same cross-sectional shape and ‘seamless’, single-form design - subtle differences exist between the two. This is a reflection of the change in light technologies that occurred between the prefabrication of each.

Back when the link from J4 to Fort Saint Jean was commissioned, LED technology was an unproven technology, so the bridge was fabricated for traditional in ground luminaires. These were adapted to take LED fixtures, but the process was not without complication. When the second bridge between the Fort and St Laurent church was commissioned, the design was adapted to acomodate LED downlighting within the handrail.


For the interior of the J4, 8’18” helped to develop a ceiling grill system that would provide ambient lighting for the museum exhibition halls, foyer and auditorium. Their solution was designed to fit within the ceiling support structure and is applied throughout the museum. The transverse structural beams form coved troughs for which special brackets were designed to accommodate not just the ambient lighting, but also the power supplies to the exhibition lighting, as well as incorporating speakers, security cameras and the fire detection system.

Ambient lighting manufacturered for installation in standard trimless false ceilings had to be adapted with a metal support to fit the troughs. 70W and 35W metal halide were used, concealed behind a neutral grey glass so that they are visually unobtrusive when not in use.

The ground floor of the four-storey J4 building houses the MuCEM’s permanent exhibition with a lighting design by German-based Licht Kunst Licht. The space is organised in four sections, each addressing a different theme - agriculture, the three monotheistic religions, citizenship and human rights - yet the gallery retains a open, spacious feel.

Arched brackets were developed in order to attach projectors into the ceiling troughs using a modified luminaire base. Thus, projectors can be positioned freely along the trough and their location on the arched bracket can be adapted to create the desired orientation and beam angle. The electrical connection with the concealed 3-phase-track occurs through a modified adapter with extended cabling. The LED projectors can be focused between 10° and 65° half-beam angle and are dimmable through an on-board rheostat. Barn doors on each projector limit light scallops on the trough flanks and allow specific exhibits to be artistically illuminated with precision.

A large part of the exhibits is illuminated from the ceiling, but individual display cases are fitted with additional lighting features. Table displays, for example, contain prominent exhibits that are treated with light from the sides of the case, provided by LED strips concealed behind a frosted glass cover. Similarly, the busts in the ‘Mur des Portraits’ (wall of portraits) are illuminated by lateral concealed LED strips.

Amphorae and bowls are not exclusively lit from above. In order to allow for a full appreciation of the ceramics’ rich decoration the platforms themselves are luminous. A ‘Cabinet des Curiosités’ (cabinet of curiosities) contains collectibles from all over the world – textiles, spices, stuffed exotic animals and more. Here, hidden linear light fixtures and LED mini-projectors illuminate the exhibits individually. The small projectors are fitted with a magnetic base and flexibly connect to a bespoke metal housing. The housing is recessed flush in a groove at the display case’s top.

The result is a calm, engaging scheme that, while emphasising the large variety of different exhibits on display, retains and enhances the fabric of the space.


For over 400 years, Fort Saint Jean has stood guard at the entrance to Marseille’s Old Port. First constructed on the orders of Louis XIV in a bid to strengthen the city’s defences, the site began its life as a historical monument in 1964 when it was handed over to the Ministry of Culture. It housed the department of underwater archaeological research until 2005, when work began to incorporate the Fort into the larger MuCEM complex.


The architectural management of the Fort’s interior spaces and accessibility requirements was handled by Roland Carta, alongside Rudy Ricciotti. Just under 1200sqm of exhibition space was created, allowing additional pieces from MuCEM’s extensive collection to be displayed on a five-year rotation. These galleries occupy the ‘village’ of buildings within the fort walls - specifically the Chapelle Saint-Jean, the Galerie des Officiers and buildings ‘E’ and ‘G’. As with the J4 building, interior lighting was designed by 8’18”. They specified a system of Erco Optec LED spots and Firalux micro-projectors for these gallery spaces.
8’18” also devised lighting for the I2MP and Georges Henri Rivière buildings.

The former includes an entrance to the museum via the Old Port, as well as a conservation training centre, library and offices. Working with Roland Carta architects, the team integrated lighting into the furniture of the space, creating an appealing glow for visitors as they enter the lower courtyard. Inside the building’s classrooms and library a simple system of 16mm fluorescent linear fixtures with louver optics are controlled by a daylight sensor, while additional compact fluorescent downlights are triggered by motion sensors.

An exterior staircase runs up the outside of the building, concealed behind a perforated metal façade. The architects requested that 8’18” create a subtle play of light with this surface. To do this, they illuminated the stairways, allowing light to spill through the perforations. On the north façade, a strip of asymmetrical, directional LED is attached to the cladding’s metal frame

The Georges Henri Rivière buildings houses a cookery workshop in its east wing and a museum bookshop in the western section, in addition to a central space for temporary exhibitions. Here, Erco Hi-trac incorporates a 54W fluorescent provides indirect lighting as well as a structure on which to mount lighting for temporary exhibitions.


As an important part of the Fort Saint Jean redevelopment process, a new exterior lighting scheme was developed by L’Agence Lumière.
Their approach was threefold. Firstly, they focused on accentuating certain parts of the structure in order to reveal its historic character after nightfall. Secondly, they worked with landscape architects Agence APS, to illuminate a new Garden of Migrations – a botanical history of the Mediterranean Basin constructed within the walls of the Fort. As well as picking out selected foliage among the various flora, lighting draws visitors along a new footpath that runs through the Fort complex, linking via the Fort’s two floating footbridges to the J4 and Le Panier district of the city. LED fixtures from LEC Lyon proved the mainstay of the lighting fixtures on the Fort, providing a pallet of fixtures with the proven robustness required to endure the elements.

The final element of the scheme involved the addition of Martin Professional event lighting to create an almost fantastical dreamlike quality to the the footpaths and courtyards. As the sun sets, a hot white light slowly envelops the Fort. This then shifts imperceptibly towards a more blue-white that mimics bright moonlight. The intent here was to provide a sense of calm in which tourists and locals could enjoy an evening promenade.

Controlled by a Martin Pro M2GO control console, all exterior lighting remains active until 1am when, by law, it must be switched off.


The Old Port marks the historic heart of Marseille. The site of the original settlement of Massalia some 2600 years ago, it had in recent times become a traffic intersection with multiple lanes of cars cutting off the old town from the waterfront.

Landscape architect Michel Desvigne together with teams from Foster + Partners / Tangram Architects were tasked with realigning the character of the area, introducing a series of measures to reduce traffic and creating a pleasant space for pedestrians to promenade.

Lighting designer Yann Kersalé was again called in to help mould the Port’s nighttime identity. Working with manufacturer Selux, he specified seventeen 16.5 metre and eight 23.5 metre tall, custom designed Olivio masts. Their slim aesthetic echoes the masts of the sailing ships moored nearby and support a spiral of luminaires equipped with 90W or 140W Cosmopolis lamps.

Positioned around the upper sections of the poles in different sized groups, their natural, organic design provides a subtle contrast to the geometric layout of the pedestrian square and illuminates the extensive promenade area right up to the water’s edge.

The eight larger poles feature an additional Kersalé touch: a 2.5 metre high LED Skin, that creates a bark-like detail on each mast’s surface. The effect is created by laser cutting the reflective stainless steel housing to reveal RGB LEDs that pulse with a selection of video art pieces, specially created by Kersalé for the project. Conceptually these nod to the flow of water - and history - linking Marseille to the Mediterranean.

Marseille signs up to LUCI

In September, the Mayor of Marseille signed the LUCI Charter on Urban Lighting, joining cities from around the world in a commitment to implement public lighting policies that respect sustainable urban development.

The signing took place during the LUCI City under Microscope event in which Marseille unveiled its lighting strategy to over 150 participants comprising 25 international city delegations.

The product of contributions from over 40 cities around the world, the LUCI Charter on Urban Lighting outlines the issues cities must address when setting up their public lighting policies: energy efficiency, improvement of the quality of life, reduction of light pollution, maintenance, recycling, the cultural and social dimensions of light. It provides a reference framework within which towns and cities can develop their own sustainable lighting strategies.

The City under Microscope event consisted of two days of conferences and site visits, focused on the use of light as a tool for urban and cultural renewal in Marseille, France’s second largest city.
Talks included Yann Kersalé discussing the Old Port and MuCEM projects; Patrice Eschasseriaux and Aurelien de Fursac of Côté lumière outlining their transformation of the Grand Hôtel Intercontinental; Gilles Genetelli, Manager of ELAEIS on the facade lighting for the Palais du Pharo; Bruno Foucras, Head of Public Lighting and Illuminations for the City of Marseille, discussing France’s second largest street lighting network; and Christian Point, Head of the Procurement, Studies and Illuminations Division of the City of Marseille explaining the dynamic lighting scheme created for the Marseille Opera.




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