'Le Grand Bleu' – Hôtel du département des Bouches-du-Rhône



Brian Clarke and Will Alsop’s collaboration on 'Le Grand Bleu', the Hôtel du département des Bouches-du-Rhône in Marseille. Clarke was responsible for the cladding and Yves Klein-blue colouration of the building, and his screenprinted line forms a 1,200 m2 artwork across the façade on one side. At the time of its construction in 1994, the Hôtel du Département (first nicknamed 'The House of Smurfs' by the Marseillais, and at its inauguration 'Le Grand Bleu' by President François Mitterrand) was, together with the Corbusier building on the Prado, the largest building constructed in Marseille during the 20th century.

"Clarke's first collaboration with Alsop was on the Hôtel du département. The task in hand was providing a huge wall of colour on the face of the building. Clarke's work makes the actual cladding into a work of art; the technique being close to the faience poular with Edwardian architects. The result is an extraordinary combination of the functional and the artistic." – Kenneth Powell in Brian Clarke: Architectural Artist.

"This headquarters building for the regional government of the Department of the Bouches du Rhone was won by Will Alsop in a two-stage competition in 1990. The starting point of the project was the political decision to relocate the Departmental headquarters from the centre of Marseilles to the suburb of St Just as part of a regeneration initiative. The tremendous presence and impact of this major late 20th century public building is achieved with a high degree of economy - the materials used, concrete, solaglass, timber and steel, are straightforward but used in an extraordinary way. The impact of the building as a public landmark is vastly enhanced by the use of strong colour in the external elevations - stimulating, comfortable and affordable; the Hotel is the antithesis of the conventional bureaucratic fortress." – Alsop Architects, Le Grand Bleu

The Hôtel du département was awarded the 1997 RIBA Worldwide Projects Award; the RIBA Civic & Community Architecture Award (1995); and the Palmarés Award for Architecture.