Simon Birchall marvels at the beauty of Will Alsop’s design for Marseille’s local government headquarters, but rails against inner-city ring roads ...
My wonder is Le Grand Bleu in Marseille, the seat of local government. I worked on it myself and think it is proof that contemporary architecture can be both exciting and functional.
Will Alsop’s designs are often controversial, but he pulls it off here with this visionary idea. It shows that cutting-edge designs are not necessarily technologically impossible or too expensive to be built. Not only does it look great, it also has some great environmental features.
My architectural blunders are inner-city ring roads – an error of the 1960s. Their location means they become physical barriers that restrict the natural growth of cities. Concrete collars separate the inner and outer cities, turning city centres into business districts filled with commuters in the day and emptied of people at night.
A no man’s land around the dimly lit subways is created in which pedestrians feel unsafe because of the area’s desertion and the threatening high-speed traffic.
I particularly dislike the Reading and Birmingham ring roads, but they’re a problem in most British cities.
Simon Birchall is managing director of construction and property at consultant Bucknall Austin