Norman Foster’s Simple Mirrored Pavilion Reflects The Crowds Below

What could be better than a blissful view of the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of southern France? How about two of those views? That’s what the new Vieux Port pavilion in Marseille offers, reflecting the city’s historic harbor with a thousand-square-meter piece of strikingly reflective stainless steel.

The pavilion was created by Norman Foster’s firm, Foster + Partners, in collaboration with the French architect and urban planner Michel Desvigne. The design–that single, ultra-thin stainless steel surface, held up by eight unadorned pillars–is a stroke of simple brilliance. For those approaching or just passing by, the pavilion will be nearly invisible, which is a good thing–the harbor, a World Heritage site, deservedly remains the star of the show. But up close, the hovering mirror both transforms and expands the space. It can direct pedestrians’ gazes back out to the sea, or allow them to inspect their own reflections overhead, essentially making them part of the landscape.

The pavilion is part of an on-going effort to revitalize the seaside area for Marseille’s turn as the European Capital of Culture. In part, it’s about giving pedestrians some reprieve from the sun; it’s also intended to be used as a space for markets and other special events. But as Norman Foster himself noted in a statement accompanying its unveiling, the focus remains on that magnificent view. “I know the harbor at Marseille well, and it is a truly grand space,” he said. “Our approach has been to work with the climate, to create shade, but at the same time to respect the space of the harbor–just making it better.”

[Photos: Nigel Young, Foster + Partners]KV