Corinne Vezzoni: site identity

This close relationship with the land is something that Corinne Vezzoni has found in Marseilles, where she has made her home, and where the broad landscape federates even the most disparate architectures: "Not in a city of perspectives such as Paris, but in a city open to the sea and the hills, one where the land itself is stronger than all the rest."

"Marseilles has always given its historical patrimony a rough ride.  Is this the fault of land excessively pregnant?", insists Corinne Vezzoni, as if the strong identify of the commune was to be found not in the city itself, but beyond the limits of its urban development.  Nonetheless, she it was who set up her architectural workshop together with Pascal Laporte, inside the residential unit of Le Corbusier, who has indeed founded her professional line of conduct seeking the traces of the past, and attempting to integrate with the broad lines of the landscape.  The "restanques",  provencal dry stone walls which make it possible to cultivate terraced fields nestling in the hillsides, have become the customary figures of her work, for the positive energy lycée in the Saint-Mitre district in Marseilles for example, or for one of her better known achievements, the Henri Matisse lycée in Vence.

Contextual value

For the High Environmental Quality (HEQ) lycée in Vence, delivered in the early 2000s, the whole difficulty of the project lay in the integration of an establishment designed to house 1,000 students in a remarkable site.  With a site length equivalent to that of the medieval centre, how could denaturing the land be avoided?  How to use the slope?  How to be sparing in terms of surface area while adjusting the construction templates to the neighbouring housing tissue, and not obliterating the composition and perspectives of a neighbouring substantial aristocratic residence?  Corinne Vezzoni has taken particular care in establishing a site plan following the traces of the ancient agricultural plot layout with its terraced fields, applying their sense and orientation with the incorporation of vegetalised terrace roofs.  Felling has also made it possible to emphasise and provide access to a small wood perched on a hillside.  The classroom building, segmented by a series of areaways, backs on to the wood, while the residential quarters overlooking the site are single-storey and give onto the woodland, their windows opening onto the natural surroundings.

Corinne Vezzoni regards herself as a contextual architect.  Nevertheless, she ventures to determine two, contrasting homomorphic and homochromic project typologies.  In the first case, as a reference to the camouflage strategies practiced by certain animals that imitate the forms of their environment, she visualises "work on fragile and sensitive sites where the buildings must serve to enhance the value of the site itself."  In the second case, where the construction sites raise more difficulties, respect for the landscape disappears and its place is taken by a confrontation: "How can one measure the colouring of site, go to meet it and amplify it meaningfully?  How can one exist in this situation?"  This means that projects come up against their medium, as in the case of the Bouches-du-Rhône departmental archives and library buildings in Marseilles.

A question of size

Initially programmed by the client as two separate buildings, the archives and library situated at the Euroméditerranée centre share the same roof, in line with a favourite theme of the architect, namely mutualised utilisation.  Apart from operating economies and space saving considerations, which have made it possible to restore a small public garden to the city, the aim was to be able to increase height and volume to avoid disappearance under the crushing visual impact of the motorway viaducts spanning the construction site.  In a word, the objective was simply to exist.  The structure was designed in such a way as to highlight the storage facility, a sort of huge red "memory bank" container giving a glimpse of the glass, stone and steel envelope.

For the architect, who always begins by planning her projects using models, the building should never create the illusion of being something other than what it is: a mausoleum hermetically sealed to light and air, contained within spaces open to the public.  The task was, above all, to create a site induced by confrontation with a hostile environment.  In the words of Louis Isidore Kahn, who Corinne Vezzoni quotes readily: to see to it that "what is has always been."