After the rain

Europan 17 Competition

Europan 17 Competition

Europan 17 Competition

The project's field of study is a fragment of the watershed of a coastal river - the Aygalades stream - rising in the north of Marseille. In this geography of "limits" within fragile ecosystems, we invite to a change in spatial scale, governance, time, and relationships between humans and non-humans, where the "health" of the watershed becomes the key indicator for the project.

The project's field of study is a fragment of the watershed of a coastal river - the Aygalades stream - rising in the north of Marseille. In this geography of "limits" within fragile ecosystems, we invite to a change in spatial scale, governance, time, and relationships between humans and non-humans, where the "health" of the watershed becomes the key indicator for the project.

The project's field of study is a fragment of the watershed of a coastal river - the Aygalades stream - rising in the north of Marseille. In this geography of "limits" within fragile ecosystems, we invite to a change in spatial scale, governance, time, and relationships between humans and non-humans, where the "health" of the watershed becomes the key indicator for the project.


City of Marseille Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropole EPA Euroméditerranée


Prospective Programming Urban Studies





Vulnerability and margins at the center

The project sites are presenting a great number of limits. Some are obvious and infrastructural (the A7 highway separating neighborhoods in two, walls and barriers limiting the possibility to go from one point to another when walking...) some others are more silent but tangible, such as social issues (high level of poverty and “declared” unemployment, low connectivity between the northern neighborhoods and the center of Marseille, aging population with low mobility...) or environmental issues (polluted soils, “sick” river contaminated and used as a dump by hawkers...) and the underlying climate crisis with extreme heat waves and heavy rains, which will increase in the coming years.

These limits are the results of a long history of profit-driven development led by the activity of the harbor and its industries and Marseille’s city infrastructure development. Considered as a margin for many years, the project sites are, again, at the border of the future intervention of Euroméditerranée in the neighboring districts.

To restore the continuity of this “geography of limits” and its impaired ecosystem services we need to shift our perspective: no longer consider the site as the margin and the limits of the city but as a key element to a greater whole.

Change of scale to aim for an auto-regenarative system

To gain a thorough understanding of the project sites and address its complex dynamics, we suggest a change of scale in terms of relations between humans and non-humans, space, governance and time. This change not only gives new metrics and scope of interventions, but also questions the indicators we are referring to when evaluating the success of the project.

Almost metaphorically, we suggest taking the river Aygalades as a scale of reference. Key element in the water cycle, a source of life for its environment and widely degraded and ignored, it becomes the measurement standard for our project.

Watershed solidarity with the Aygalades at the center

To break free from the “set” boundaries of the sites, it’s essential to reframe our perception of space and envision it as an integral part of a larger interconnected system. Placing the Aygalades at the core of this framework encourages us to view the territory from a watershed perspective.

Embracing a watershed-based approach implies recognizing the interdependence and solidarity among diverse stakeholders and communities: actions taken upstream inevitably affect those downstream.

Moreover, the watershed plays a crucial role as a life-sustaining resource for living organisms, underscoring the urgency to safeguard and rejuvenate its health.

Humans and non-humans mutualism

To ensure the restoration of their living milieu, we need to amend the relationship between humans and non-humans. Over the years, both the site and its inhabitants, be it humans or other living beings, have suffered significant abuse and neglect leading to the situation we know today. Inspired by the restorative justice, we call for addressing harm or the potential for harm by involving all impacted parties in reaching a shared understanding and consensus on how to repair the damage or wrongdoing and attain justice.

From there, we acknowledge that the Living can no longer only be considered as a mere passive resource, and a range of commitments to prevent or repair damaged ecosystems through tangible action - actions are taken.

Though, we don’t believe in a punitive vision of ecology, and we rather advocate for an intersectional environmentalism which identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalised communities and the earth are interconnected. In that sense, the auto-regenerative city cannot be if we are not first taking care and empowering the most vulnerables ones.

In order to build a common foundation for the living world, an awareness-raising, mediational and pedagogical approach would appear to be recommended. To achieve this goal, we propose drawing inspiration from the compensation, training, and deliberation processes put forth in the Citizens Convention for Climate.

Chronotopic approach to a phased project

Considering this new approach towards the Living, a paradigm shift regarding time becomes crucial. Instead of solely focusing on the human time scale and its cycles, we must integrate the time scale of the soil, water, fauna, and flora restoration.

To establish a time scale for all living beings, adopting a chronotopic approach allows us to study and comprehend how space is utilized over time by various living systems.This includes identifying the optimal seasons for planting specific species, nesting times for various organisms, and periods when extreme weather events are concentrated.

By breaking away from the anthropocentric perception of time and embracing a broader perspective that encompasses the time of all living entities, we extend time scales to ensure the preservation of the land and its inhabitants.

The time of the project is then dilated and could be divided in the three following phases (represented in “ the chronotopic symbiosis reference frame”):

  • Phase 1: Diagnosis and initial “treatment”;

  • Phase 2: Observation;

  • Phase 3: Recovery and adaptation.

Architectural and urban planning projects are rarely subject to evaluation. We propose here to tackle this issue and apply new criteria, not focused on growth and profit, but on “proof of care” and how beneficial the action could be on the long term for the ecosystem. One of the new criteria could be inspired by Iroquois “Seventh Generation Principle” stating that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.

Inclusive governance

Considering these observations and the potential future crises, it is imperative to allocate time to convene all the sites stakeholders together.

Some are established institutional representatives such as the Harbour, Euroméditerranée or the city of Marseille while some others are newly created such as the ASP1 (Associations Syndicales de Propriétaires), with the urban version ASL (Association Syndicale Libre) and the commons-caring ASCO (Association Syndicale Constitué d’Office), the Parliament of the Living (an authority for non-humans voice) or the inhabitants’ experts-users to represent all parties and all interest with a strong ponderation for the most vulnerable in the decision-making apparatus.

To ensure to involve certain parties, we introduce « inputs » which can be:

  • Financial, political and legislative measures such as EU funds supporting decarbonization plans or SAGE legal framework;

  • Mediators & expert consultants who provide acculturation, research data and follow up;

  • Real estate bodies which provide and control real estate for the collective interest (EPF, community landtrust, ASL...);

  • Biodiversities boosters including natural fertilizers or reintroduction of species.

By granting access to the most vulnerable group (compensation, mediation,etc.), we try to make sure that the restoration of the regenerative city is led democratically and that locals can reclaim their ownership over their territories.

A first framework

What comes next assume we are taking part of the watershed governance system as mediators and experts consultant:

Our vision embodies a preliminary step, enabling us to comprehend the intricate, multi- scale challenges of the site and explore potential ideas and solutions. The concepts, applications, and projects presented here are at an advanced stage, originating from a selected group of Europan experts. Nevertheless, they offer a framework that can be embraced and adapted by the stakeholders of the territory.

A cyclical project-process

We are proposing projects that are part of a perpetual and interconnected process, operating across various administrative, spatial, and temporal dimensions following the “Chronotopic symbiosis reference frame”.

Some, like the Plombières footbridge or the Billoux Circus infrastructure, are developed as triggering factors, initiating an action-reaction process. They provide tangible elements to be observed and critiqued, enriching the debate with both quantitative and qualitative data.

A crucial aspect with these new triggering equipments is to foster a renewed bond between inhabitants and spaces that were once inaccessible or disqualified; through engaging artistic interventions and cultural programs facilitated by local associations, or contemplative, majestic and eye-pleasing spots overlooking their shared environment.

Some others, like the freed lands of Arnavaux industrial sites or Canet presbytery garden, undergo thorough discussions within the relevant governance body before any concrete actions are taken. This serves as a gathering of stakeholders who possess insights, needs, and potential relevant to the project’s scope. It acts as a platform for debates and arbitrations, seeking a balanced approach that prioritizes the well-being of both humans and non-humans.

Porous city

In order to meet our goal of a regenerative city, we need to make space for all living forms to thrive. In a man-made environment of limits, we need to pave the way for the natural world which has been partially excluded from the sites.

This implies to work with the “already-there” including the highway infrastructure, all types of buildings, and the industrial sites. By doing so, the underside of a freeway can become an ecological corridor, a flood-prone park or a nesting site for wildlife.

For the wildlife and flora to prosper while also preparing for the climate change challenges, we must restore water to a central and essential position, making it our ally.

One key is reviving the natural flow and space of the Aygalades river by projecting its expansion and retraction during extreme events through the implementation of flood parks and an end goal of reintroduction of beavers who will keep its ecosystem hydrated.

To keep the environment hydrated and cool, we create wetlands, restore soil permeability and shape the landscape and buildings using ancient low-tech techniques (restanque, impluvium,etc.).

Retrieve greater continuities

There are several existing spatial and historical continuities that go well beyond the limits of the Europan site, and that can be magnified.

With restored blue corridor it is possible to stride with an established GR (following the rivers from mouth to the sources) to grasp the great landscape in a tangible way.

Unsealing the ground to recover its permeability makes the traces of the past re-emerging, Furthermore, this historical legacy is showcased by retrieving a renewed, local and convivial version of one of the Aygalades leisure places (like the Billoux circus or the Canet presbytery garden), or the old “chemins vicinaux” planted and arranged for the mobility of all (like the “Traverse de la mère de Dieu”).

To cross or to go beyond mono-functional pockets, we propose to develop: footbridges or pedestrian development for the commuting mobility and green grids in continuous ecological corridor for large wildlife migration or in steppingstones to serve as a staging point. Even the thin boulevard Charles Moretti, has now growing trees and climbing plants with the old parking space freed of car.

It also requires breaking down the wall of the archipelago city: therefore we suggest opening new pathways and lowering the walls of Le Canet cemetery - it restores its sea viewpoints and transform it as an observatory of the great landscape. Similarly, it facilitates Station Alexandre’s connection to the city flow and enables the hybridization of this historical place.

Ultimately, our journey takes us back to the Aygalades and its flow, collaborating with and for the watershed humans and non-humans actors to refine and develop more precise propositions.

© Umarell 2023