The shipyards of La Ciotat have a special place in the social and industrial history of France. It is for this reason that the services of the Ministry of Culture pays special attention to the site. Meet Helena Corset, Architect for “Bâtiments de France”.
LCS: In your opinion, what makes the shipyards a remarkable heritage site?
Helena Corset: Your question leads to reflect about the very notion of “heritage”, which has changed significantly in recent times. Originally, it referred to a notion which was fixed in a more or less distant past, which mainly related to original artistic works, or, in the field of architecture, buildings designed to make history (palaces, cathedrals). Gradually, we included remarkable functional buildings of the nineteenth century then the twentieth century, in a more dynamic approach: today’s architecture is indeed the tomorrow’s heritage! In this context, industrial sites are particularly important because they play an important role in the social and industrial history of our country, and even participate in the identity of a territory, as it is clearly the case in La Ciotat. Compared to other former industrial sites, the shipyards of La Ciotat have retained their vocation and remain in operation, which is the best guarantee of their preservation.
LCS: Does the site of La Ciotat have a particular feature?
HC: In my opinion, La Ciotat is characterized by a “spectacular” dimension, and in this respect is one of the most outstanding municipalities of the department. This dimension is found both in the natural landscape, so “scenic””, and in the urban landscape. The “Bec de l’Aigle”, The “Ile Verte”, the “Calanques”, the Shipyard and its large gantry crane, the historic buildings of the old town and the omnipresence of the sea combine and intertwine in an incredible alchemy.
LCS: What is your view on the future development opportunities?
HC: Any serious reflection on the preservation of an industrial heritage must reconcile preservation of some remarkable and iconic architectural elements and preservation of economic activity which is the mainspring of the heritage concerned. A shipyard is not a museum! I am convinced that with a minimum of good will and invention this may be winning approach for everyone and even generate a virtuous circle: On one hand, valuing heritage architecture participates in the branding of the site and, on the other hand, retaining the economic activity is the best guarantee for the maintenance of heritage. The renovation of the “rotonde PLM” in Marseille is in my opinion a very good example.
The shipyards of La Ciotat, given their history and their environment induce excellence at all levels. Development projects need to keep up with it.