Re-Claim: The Fractured Urban Block as a Nucleus of Social Justice

This Final Design Thesis seeks to explore the opportunities created by fractures within urban blocks to integrate a social justice programme into an existing community. By re-claiming these sites, it is possible to create a nucleus of community empowerment, with pockets of community spaces in an existing urban fabric being more accessible. They can therefore better provide for the people they serve on a daily basis compared to those located in new build areas, specifically those enabled by ‘clean slate’ type approaches which are the norm in Marseille.

Contextual research has therefore been the primary driver of this thesis, with developing an understanding of the socio-political context of Marseille leading to my specific site selection. In 2018, four buildings collapsed in the neighbourhood of Noailles, killing a number of residents and acting as a catalyst for further fractures, both physically through the large scale of proposed demolitions, and socially due to the loss of numerous community spaces due to the declining activation of the surrounding streets. As such, this neighbourhood is at greater risk of gentrification due to its historic and multi-cultural nature, and the trend of post-disaster gentrification, to which this thesis explores an alternative future.

We can start to understand gentrification… as an act of theft: of place, and of social, economic and cultural resources” – Leslie Kern

Precedent studies have also been critical to the development of the Thesis Design Proposal, with the social justice centre typology unlocking the programmatic approach, by developing the basis for spatial sequences and hierarchies.

The design proposal aims to distribute a social justice programme into the urban block surrounding the collapse site, with a main centre located adjacent to this, which houses key functions including an assembly hall, gallery and library. Other proposed interventions into the block include offices and co-working spaces, a market hall, and a common house serving co-living units in refurbished residential buildings.

Architectural Technology

Re-Claim: Sustainable Strategies for Preserving the Collective Memory of a Collapsing Neighbourhood

My AT research is centred around the idea of ‘re-claim’, specifically investigating related strategies for preserving the collective memory and architectural character of the neighbourhood of Noailles in Marseille.

Noailles is a historic arrival neighbourhood in the first arrondissement, and is in danger of structural and social collapse. Many of the predominant ‘three window’ residential buildings were declared structurally unsound following the collapse of several homes on the Rue d’Aubagne in 2018. Since then, many of the homes have been evacuated, leaving a once highly diverse and active neighbourhood to fall into disrepair and putting it at risk of gentrification through proposed regeneration schemes. My design thesis explores the re-claiming of both this physical land and also of the voices of residents, and through my AT integration I have explored the more literal concept of re-claiming. I have explored the potential of the existing buildings and the materials created through necessary demolitions along the Rue d’Aubagne in order to sustainably propose new buildings, whilst remembering the architectural heritage of the neighbourhood.

This has been implemented through three key strategies: sensitive adaptive re-use of existing buildings, (mis)remembrance of the architectural character by re-creating the original facades using contemporary construction, and minimising the use of new materials by cataloguing and utilising existing elements in new buildings. My methodology therefore began with understanding the existing site condition, the building typologies and structural pathologies, in order to ascertain which buildings are suitable for adaptive re-use. This then allowed for the quantifying of existing structural and decorative materials, which have formed a ‘kit of parts’ from which my proposal is predominantly constructed. As my Design Proposal evolved, this research influenced the spatial qualities of the design and allowed me to take an atmospheric approach to the re-use of existing buildings and built elements. This has preserved the collective memory of the site, whilst also providing spaces which are appropriate for the 21st century and have low embodied carbon.

“The building’s state of decay interested us, not with a view to returning it to its original condition, but rather of bringing the ruin forward in time, with all its character of something unfinished, making it participate in a new reality” – Flores & Prats


Assembly Hall Ventilation/ Facade Strategy

1:50 AT Model

1:50 AT Model

1:50 AT Model

1:500 Site Model

Existing Urban Block

Extent of Required Demolitions

Main Proposal