Lord Foster has been chosen to redesign Marseille's Vieux-Port area in a bid to boost the city’s image for 2013, when it is European capital of culture.
The British architect and Michel Desvigne, a French landscape designer, will turn it into a pedestrian zone for 2013 before entering an even more ambitious phase with a complete overhaul of the waterfront planned to be complete in 2020.
Altogether the project will cost around €64 million, €24m for the first phase and €40m for the second.
It is just one part of a series of projects intended to transform Marseille.
Lord Foster, the architect behind the Millau viaduct and London’s 30 St Mary Axe (alias the Gherkin), said he was pleased to be involved and added: “I know the Vieux-Port, it is a remarkable space. I hope to make it better.”
Marseille mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin said: “The project designers do not start from scratch; our port has existed for 2,600 years. We have protected the Vieux-Port and we wish to modernise it while maintaining its essence, keeping the urban landscape image without disfiguring it.”
The Foster/Desvigne plans will get turn the Quai des Belges nine-lane highway that runs along the end of the port into a pedestrian area. First it will be cut to four lanes, then just two lanes for buses.
At the foot of the St Nicolas fort, a park will stretch to the port and cover the existing road interchange. Restaurants and cafes will be built there as part of the nautical village.
The current forts and gardens will also be rethought to create a large park which Desvigne hopes will help bring back harmony into the city’s green landscape.
Simultaneously, the city is investing in projects to attract tourists. One is an €267m extension to the Vélodrome stadium, the home of Olympique de Marseille. It will be renovated and re-roofed and by 2014 it will boast a 67,000 capacity to help France host the 2016 European football championships.
The new stadium will be a model for sustainable development, producing more energy than it uses, through a wind farm and solar panels.
Another project, the future 10,000m Place de la Méditerranée civic square, will have a four-star hotel, 15,000m of office space and a 3,000-seat cinema, when it is completed in 2013.
The city has also laid the first stone for the Mediterranean Regional Centre which is being built partly underwater opposite St Jean Fort.
The lower part of the C-shaped building is below sea level and will have a 450-seat conference room with a view of the sea through the reinforced windows.
Nearby, the Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (Mucem) will form, with the regional centre, a huge new cultural centre costing €420 million.
The European capital of culture will cover an area of Marseille and Provence that stretches from Hyères to the Camargue and will welcome tourists with four TGV stations, three international airports and two ports.