MSA Stage 5 School of Architecture

Holly Atkinson

A Topographic Timeline

A Topographic Timeline

Marseille is a city of layers, which manifest in many forms. This thesis explores the relationship between the historical and topographical layers within the city as a conduit to explore the landscape of material culture in Marseille and connect people back to the built environment.

Marseille developed from a natural port in the mediterranean, in a basin surrounded by mountains, with undulating terrain and rocky outcrops as characteristic of the urban environment. As the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe, the marks left by the tapestry of narratives that have been played out on the urban form are fragmented across the city. This thesis seeks to recontextualise these fragments architecturally, using a curatorial approach responding to the experiential nature of the city. In St Jerome in his Study by Antonello da Messina, the subject is framed within the centre of the composition – a cabinet-like representation of knowledge – but framed within the context beyond this space. This enrichment of the understanding of place forms the ideological basis for this thesis.

The relationship between narrative and topography is explored through the phenomenology of city and site, creating an architecture that responds to the contextualised material culture of place, and the city as a palimpsest. This approach takes a stance on interventions within heritage environments as an alternative to placeless architecture, but instead translating sense of place, and using the building to architecturally play out the story of the city. Always concerned with the human experience of the site, framing artefacts within views to contextualise a narrative, and using the form and materiality of the intervention to curate an experiential journey of the site, forming a relationship between human and city.

Materiality and tectonic expression play an important role, with historical forms and techniques forming the inspiration for the site approach, but translated for contemporary needs of society. Local limestones are expressed in varying conditions throughout the site, curating the journey from earth to sky, but always expressing the solidity and weight of this materiality. This journey continues up the hill, with the intervention reinstating severed links and broken forms, creating a topographical timeline from vieux port to massif.

site location

site images

object-city relationships

programmatic concept

city elements

textures of the city





site over time

contextualising fragmentation

artefact programme

topographic timeline

site plan








site axonometric

section AA

section BB

unfolded journey section

topographic elevation

facade elevations

site model 1

site model 2

city site lines

public realm

urban journey

structural axo

tech detail

clay model 1

clay model 2

clay model 3

local quarries