A touch of french design – Transgression and innovation: French contemporary architecture outside of France






Display stands created by Mathieu Lehanneur for Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto and Italian specialist in leather goods, Mandarina Duck: the material chosen was an extruded laser-cut lightweight, resistant milky-white ABS tube structure resembling a honeycomb. © M. Lehanneur.



Jean Nouvel’s Doha Tower (Qatar) surfaced with four layers of aluminum “butterfly” elements of different scales to create different densities according to orientation with respect to the sun, reminiscent
of Islamic screens, which contribute to shielding the building from high temperatures. © J. Nouvel.


Transgression and innovation: French contemporary
architecture outside of France

by P. Jodidio, Switzerland




Philip JODIDIO


The local, and sometimes foreign, press puts a good deal of energy into detailing evidence of the “decline” of France. It is true that a century or so agao, the diplomacy and language of France may have had broader influence than they do today. Art too is often referred to, with the present unfavorably compared to the glories of the School of Paris that counted amongst its members Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani, Mondrian, Chagall or Mondrian. But what of architecture? Might it be that the importance and presence of contemporary French architecture has rarely if ever been as significant as it is today? Some call the Pritzker Prize the “Nobel” of architecture. France counts two active winners of that award, Christian de Portzamparc (1994) and Jean Nouvel (2008). Germany, for example has just one (Gottfried Böhm, 1988) as does Spain (Rafael Moneo, 1996). Few living architects have had as broad a presence outside their own country as Paul Andreu, who for thirty years (1967- 97) was the Chief Architect of Aéroports de Paris, developing no less than fifty airports around the world aswell as the Paris–Charles-de-Gaulle hub at Roissy. Though conceivably slightly less well-known to the general public, other figures such as Dominique Perrault, author of the new French National Library (Paris,1989-95); Jean-Michel Wilmotte, award winning architect and interior designer responsible for the galleries in a large part of the Louvre, but also for the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (2013); or Odile Decq, the colorful architect of the MACRO Museum of Contemporary Art of the City of Rome (2004-10), count amongst the significant international figures of contemporary architecture. Each of these architects has completed major projects outside of France in the past ten years that have left a considerable trace in the cities where they were built.

Medicographia. 2014;36:407-418 (see French abstract on page 418)


In the heart of Beijing

Paul Andreu was born in 1938 in Caudéran in the Gironde region of France. He obtained an unusual and prestigious combination of diplomas from the École Polytechnique (1961), the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées (1963, as an engineer) and as an architect from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris (1968). As Chief Architect of the Aéroports de Paris he was responsible not only for the architecture of Paris–Charles-de-Gaulle (Roissy) Airport (Paris, 1967-97), but also for the development of approximately 50 airports around the world such as those of Jakarta (1986); Tehran, Iran (1996); Harare, Zimbabwe (1996) or Shanghai-Pudong, China (1999). Andreu has also worked on other large-scale projects such as the French terminal for the Eurotunnel project (1987) and the National Center for the Performing Arts/国家大剧院(Beijing, China, 2007). Other work outside of France carried out after he began to leave Aéroports de Paris to create his own practice in Paris, includes the Museum of Maritime History of Osaka, Japan (2000), a sports complex in Guangzhou, China (2001), the Center for Oriental Arts (Shanghai, China, 2004), and the Archaeological Museum in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China, nearly completed. The National Center for the Performing Arts was awarded to Paul Andreu in August 1999 as a result of an international competition that he won in the last phase against Carlos Ott, author of the Paris Bastille Opera and the English architect Terry Farrell, as well as a Chinese group from Xinghua University. This large structure was erected just behind the Great Hall of the People, near Tienanmen Square, and thus very close to the entrance to the Forbidden City. Its 212-meter long ellipsoidal titanium shell houses three halls of 2416 seats (opera), 2017 (concerts) and 1040 seats (theater). The shorter axis of the structure is 143 meters and the height of the shell is 46 meters. In order to leave the external shell intact, the architect decided to provide public access through a 60-meter long tunnel passing beneath the basin that surrounds the building.



National Center for the Performing Arts (the “Giant Egg”), Beijing, China (Paul Andreu with ADPi and BIAD). Photo © Paul Maurer.


Jakarta (1986); Tehran, Iran (1996); Harare, Zimbabwe (1996) or Shanghai-Pudong, China (1999). Andreu has also worked on other large-scale projects such as the French terminal for the Eurotunnel project (1987) and the National Center for the Performing Arts/国家大剧院(Beijing, China, 2007). Other work outside of France carried out after he began to leave Aéroports de Paris to create his own practice in Paris, includes the Museum of Maritime History of Osaka, Japan (2000), a sports complex in Guangzhou, China (2001), the Center for Oriental Arts (Shanghai, China, 2004), and the Archaeological Museum in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China, nearly completed.

The National Center for the Performing Arts was awarded to Paul Andreu in August 1999 as a result of an international competition that he won in the last phase against Carlos Ott, author of the Paris Bastille Opera and the English architect Terry Farrell, as well as a Chinese group from Xinghua University. This large structure was erected just behind the Great Hall of the People, near Tienanmen Square, and thus very close to the entrance to the Forbidden City. Its 212-meter long ellipsoidal titanium shell houses three halls of 2416 seats (opera), 2017 (concerts) and 1040 seats (theater). The shorter axis of the structure is 143 meters and the height of the shell is 46 meters. In order to leave the external shell intact, the architect decided to provide public access through a 60-meter long tunnel passing beneath the basin that surrounds the building. Andreu emphasizes that the tunnel is an essential design element since it represents a transition space between the busy outside world and the world of culture within. Andreu faced resistance to his project, both within China, and curiously in France as well, officially because of the building’s apparent lack of reference to its Chinese context. In response to critics at the time, Andreu stated, “What I look for in every project, is its internal coherence and its intelligibility, but at the same time, its relation to what surrounds it. Each project seems to me to be a closed and complete world, at the same time as it is a part of a larger whole, which is to say its physical location, its site, and in a more general way the environment. The whole that I imagine is very often an entity that exists only in my mind… a mental reconstruction of a disparate group of elements. That is why I often think of my projects as elements that are detached from the broken up body of the city.”



The Taiyuan Archeological Museum (under construction), Shanxi, China (Paul Andreu architecte paris with Richez_Associés and BIAD).
Photo © PAAP.




One57, tallest residential building in New York, NY, USA (Christian de Portzamparc Architecte). © WADE ZIMMZEMAN.

From 57th street to Rio de Janeiro

Christian de Portzamparc was the first French winner of the Pritzker Prize in 1994. He was born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1944. He studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris (1962-69) and created his own firm in 1980. His work includes the Crédit Lyonnais Tower (Euralille, Lille, 1992-95); Nexus World Housing (Fukuoka, Japan, 1989-92); the widely praised LVMH Tower on 57th Street in New York (1996-99); and an addition to the Palais des Congrès in Paris (1996-99). He also designed the French Embassy in Berlin (1997-2003); La Philarmonie Concert Hall in Luxembourg (1997-2005); and the headquarters of Le Monde in Paris (2001-05). More recently he has completed the Ciudad de la Musica (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2002-07); and One57 (New York, NY, USA, 2010-14).

One57 is quite simply one of the most visible new buildings to emerge on the Manhattan skyline in many years. This 75- story, 306-meter high tower dominates its neighborhood on West 57th Street, just across the street from Carnegie Hall. The project was based on a 2005 direct commission from Gary Barnett, President of the Extell Development Company. Heights up to 400 meters were envisaged during the development process, but the completed tower remains the tallest residential building in Manhattan. Aside from luxurious apartments on the upper floors, One57 includes the Park Hyatt Hotel. Residential interior design was by Thomas Juul-Hansen while the hotel interior is by Yabu Pushelberg. The site has an unusual L-shaped configuration. As he did for the earlier LVMH Tower also located on 57th Street, the architect carefully studied the city’s alignment regulations and the air rights specific to this site. The architects state, “The building’s volumes are linked by an ascending and descending cascading movement that flows over curved transitional surfaces containing inhabited terraces. A vertical pattern of contrasting stripes comprised of two different glass types (with uniform visibility from the interior) distinguishes the north façades and recall the vertical energy of New York’s cascading skyline, in contrast with the east and west façades that resemble the aesthetic of the Le Monde and Nantes projects.”

Another of Christian de Portzamparc’s recent and very visible projects is the Cidade das Artes, located at the crossing of Americas and Ayrton Senna Avenues, an intersection originally designed by Lucio Costa in the Barra da Tijuca area of Rio.

It forms a single large structure with a vast terrace set ten meters above ground level. Intended for chamber music (500 seats) as well as popular music, three movie theaters, dance studios, ten rehearsal rooms, exhibition spaces, restaurants, a media library, the design is characterized by the two horizontal plates that form the roof and the main terrace. Between these two horizontal limits, curved concrete walls contain the halls and establish an interplay of solids and voids. The 1800-seat Philharmonic Hall can be converted into a 1300- seat Opera. The architect describes this work as a “public symbol” and a landmark for a new area of Rio. Echoing his own Cité de la Musique in Paris, Portzamparc undoubtedly also intends this Cidade das Artes as a kind of homage to the great Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012) who mastered the art of concrete forms that appear to float above their site.



Cidade das Artes, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Christian de Portzamparc Architecte). © NELSON KO.

Provocative, forbidden, visible

Jean Nouvel is certainly one of the most visible French architects, both within the country and abroad. Born in 1945 in Fumel, he studied in Bordeaux and then at the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts (Paris,1964-72). From 1967 to 1970, he was an assistant of the noted architects Claude Parent and Paul Virilio. He created his first office with François Seigneur in Paris in 1970. Jean Nouvel received the RIBA Gold Medal in 2001 and the Pritzker Prize in 2008. His first widely noted projects were the Institut du Monde Arabe (Paris, 1981- 87, with Architecture Studio) and the Fondation Cartier (Paris, 1991-94). He has worked frequently outside of France, completing the Agbar Tower (Barcelona, Spain, 2001-03); an extension of the Reina Sofia Museum(Madrid, Spain, 1999-2005) and the Danish Radio Concert House (Copenhagen, Den- mark, 2003-09). In France he also designed the Quai Branly Museum, dedicated to the arts and civilizations of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas (Paris, 2001-6). Current work includes the somewhat controversial new Philharmonic Hall in Paris (2015); the Louvre Abu Dhabi (UAE, 2009-15); and the National Museum of Qatar (Doha, Qatar, 2015).



Summer Pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London, UK (Jean Nouvel). © Ateliers Jean Nouvel / Photo: John Offenbach.


Jean Nouvel’s Summer Pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery in London’s Kensington Gardens (2010) was a 500–square meter ode to the color red. “Red,” he says, “is the heat of summer. It is the complementary color of green. Red is alive, piercing. Red is provocative, forbidden, visible. Red is English like a red rose, like objects in London that one has to see: a double- decker bus, an old telephone booth, transitional places where one has to go.” Nouvel’s pavilion in Hyde Park had retractable awnings but most visibly, a freestanding 12-meter high sloping wall. Intended as a public space, the Pavilion was the venue for the Serpentine’s Gallery’s program of public talks and events, Park Nights. Red outdoor ping-pong tables emphasized Nouvel’s interest in play in this outdoor context. Edwin Heathcoate wrote in the Financial Times (July 9, 2010), “His pavilion is another step into something new. A series of theatrical red planes, bars and canopies, it stands somewhere between a hip Ibiza nightclub and Soviet constructivist agit-prop.”

A six-hour flight from London, Nouvel recently completed his Doha Tower (Doha, Qatar, 2007-11) for Sheikh Saud Al Thani. This 238-meter structure has a cylindrical plan measuring 45 meters in diameter. It is located in the center of the downtown area of Doha that is called West Bay. There are 41 stories of rental office space. Each floor provides panoramic views towards the Gulf, the Bay, the dense urban perspective of West Bay or even the desert according to orientation. The client has reserved the uppermost three stories of the building for his own use. The building has an unusual entrance—with a sloping, landscaped ramp leading down to the main entrances that are below grade and are covered by a circular canopy. Landscape design is by Jean-Claude Hardy and takes into account the desert climate. As seen from street level the building in fact appears to have no entrance—it becomes a purely sculptural object on the skyline, showing no visible surfaces in glass. The building has an unusual skin, formed with four “butterfly” aluminum elements of different scales, which are superimposed to create different densities according to orientation vis-à-vis the sun: 25% toward the north, 40% toward the south, and 60% on the east and west. Inside, a slightly reflective glass provides further protection, complemented by roller blinds where necessary. This combined system substantially reduces solar gain. The nighttime presence of the Doha Tower is enhanced by a computer controlled LED system designed for the façade by Yann Kersalé. During the design process, the Doha Tower has a formal relation to two earlier projects by Jean Nouvel, the unbuilt Tour Sans Fins (Paris, 1989) and the Torre Agbar on the Avenida Diagonal in Barcelona (2000).



Doha Tower, Doha, Qatar (Jean Nouvel). © Ateliers Jean Nouvel / Photo: CSCEC.

Contradicting modernist tenets

Dominique Perrault, eight years younger than Jean Nouvel, was born in Clermont-Ferrand. He studied in Paris and received his diploma as an architect from the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in 1978. He received a further degree in urbanism at the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées in 1979, as well as a Masters in History at the Écoles des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in 1980. He created his own firm in 1981 in Paris. His most significant projects include the French National Library in Paris (1989-95), and the Olympic Velodrome, Swimming, and Diving Pool (Berlin, Germany, 1992-99). Recent projects include an extension of the Court of Justice of the European Community (Luxembourg, 2004-08); the Ewha Women’s University in Seoul (2004-07); the Olympic Tennis Center in Madrid (2002-07); and the redevelopment of the banks of the Manzanares in Madrid (2005-08). Perrault’s Olympic Swimming Pool (Berlin, Germany, 1998-99) was originally intended as an element in the application of Berlin to host the 2000 Olympic Games. This swimming pool is situated next to the Velodrome also designed by Perrault for the same event. Echoing the low-lying geometric circle traced in the ground for the Velodrome, Perrault here uses a strict rectangle, also set deeply into the surrounding orchard of 450 apple trees. Obviously intending to avoid the heavy-handed symbolism that accompanied the 1936 Games, Perrault opts for a minimalist discretion, a digging into the earth that is atypical of modernist designs. Although the idea of situating a good part of the structure below ground level may initially entail somewhat higher construction costs, it also ensures the thermal stability of the complex, and reduces the energy consumption of the buildings.

More recently Perrault worked on the large (70 000 square meter) and rather unusual Ewha Woman’s University (Seoul, South Korea, 2004-08). Founded in 1886, Ewha has 22 000 female students. Dominique Perrault won the international competition to design these new facilities in 2003, inaugurating the building on April 29, 2008. The program includes spaces for study, sports, including outdoor areas, offices, a cinema and parking. A great emphasis was put on the energy efficiency of the structure, with its green roof, water-use efficiency, and renewable energy sources. In winter fully 80% and in summer 70% of the power demands are provided by natural resources such as geothermal energy or natural ven- tilation. The project resembles a work of landscape architecture as much as it does more traditional structures—with its long avenue slicing through the middle of the site and revealing the academic spaces below a green roof. The architect calls the main spaces the Sports Strip and the Campus Valley—emphasizing the landscape elements of the design. As he wrote at the beginning of the project, “A new seam slices through the topography revealing the interior of the Ewha campus center. A void is formed, a hybrid place, in which a variety of activities can unfold. It is an avenue, gently descending, controlling the flow of traffic, leading to a monumental stair carrying visitors upwards, recalling the Champs-Elysées or the Campidoglio in Rome.”



Velodrome and Olympic Swimming Pool, Berlin, Germany (Dominique Perrault). © Georges Fessy/DPA/ADAGP.



Ewha Woman’s University, Seoul, South Korea (Dominique Perrault). © André Morin/DPA/ADAGP.


Perrault’s relation with digging into the earth has followed his career and his attitude, expressed about the earlier French National Library, makes his gestures vis-à-vis the earth in Berlin and at Ewha clearer. “The modern movement has always had a very Puritan relationship with the earth. When Le Corbusier imagined setting buildings up on pilotis so that would not touch the earth, one must admit that his attitude was very peculiar. In my project, the idea of the natural level of the earth disappears, and the building blends with nature. In Paris, one has the impression that the garden of the Library is at the level of the Seine, but in fact, it is ten meters lower. One almost has the feels that the garden was there before the building and that the Library somehow protects it. This relationship with the earth is complex and contradictory, and it contradicts the usual Modernist tenets.”



Late 17th-Century Room, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Jean-Michel Wilmotte). © Wilmotte & Associés SA / Photo: Julien Lanoo.

New light on the night watch

Jean-Michel Wilmotte, born in 1948, is a graduate of the Camondo School in Paris. He created his own firm in 1975. Although he is best known for his work in interior design, including numerous galleries of the Louvre (in collaboration with I. M. Pei), Wilmotte joined the Order of Architects in France in 1993. With approximately 200 employees, his office works on industrial and furniture design, such as the lighting fixtures and benches installed on the Champs-Elysées. As an architect, Wilmotte has completed the Gana Art Center, Seoul (South Korea, 1996-98) and a museum for objects given to French President Jacques Chirac in Saran, France. Wilmotte also completed the interior design of the Museum of Islamic Arts (I. M. Pei architect, Doha, Qatar, 2003-08), the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA, Beijing, China, 2006-07) and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Paris (2011). He recently completed the interior refurbishment of the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam, The Netherlands 2013); the new Nice football stadium (France, 2010-13); and the Arsenal Museum in Kiev (Ukraine, 2010-ongoing).



Gana Art Center,
Seoul, South
Korea (Jean-
Michel Wilmotte).
© Wilmotte &
Associés SA / Photo:
Pascal Tournaire.


Built in 1885 by the architect Pieter Cuypers (1827-1921), the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, home to such masterpieces as Rembrandt’s Night Watch, was refurbished by Jean-Michel Wilmotte (with the Spanish architects Cruz y Ortiz) subsequent to a 2004 competition. The 12 000–square meter museum design project was completed in 2013. A very particular constraint of the project was that the new work should not alter the work of Pieter Cuypers. Wilmotte and his team completed the mezzanine level which is dedicated to special collections and works from the Middle Ages, level 1 for objects from the 18th and 19th centuries, level 2 with the works of the 17th century including the Night Watch, and level 3, which is for 20th-century art. The minimalist display cases designed for the Rijksmuseum by Wilmotte are very much in the spirit of the rest of the architect’s work where modernity and a sensitivity to existing buildings are brought together in an effortless way.



Great Site of
Homo Erectus
Fossils Museum
,
Nanjing, Jiangsu
Province, China
(Odile Decq).
© Odile Decq.


An abstract art garden

Odile Decq was born in 1955 in Laval, and obtained her degree in Architecture (DPLG) at UP6 in Paris in 1978. She studied Urbanism at the Institut d’Études Politiques (IEP, “Sciences Po” in Paris (1979) and founded her office in 1980. Her former partner Benoît Cornette died in 1998. She has designed a number of apartment buildings in Paris; three buildings for Nantes University (France, 1993-99); a refurbishment of the Conference Hall of UNESCO in Paris (France, 2001); renovation of the Cureghem Veterinary School in Brussels (Belgium, 2001); and the Liaunig Museum (Neuhaus, Austria, 2004). Decq was amply praised in the press for her MACRO Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome (Italy, 2004-10). Set into an area of historic industrial buildings, Odile Decq’s new MACRO Museum of Contemporary Art of the City of Rome MACRO has been hailed as a worthy competitor for Zaha Hadid’s MAXXI. The architect explains that the architectural section of the building is expressed through “the translation from horizontal to vertical, from inside to outside, from the foyer to the roof-landscape-garden.” Because of the complex location, she has developed the project as a series of transitions, or as an “abstract art garden” at least where the roof is concerned, and a “landscape”. Although they are “non-regular” her interior spaces are nonetheless “simple spaces given to the artists,” offering multiple exhibition possibilities. She also recently completed the Opéra Restaurant (Paris, France, 2008-11); and the FRAC Contemporary Art Center in Rennes (France, 2009-12). She was the winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Architecture Biennale (1996) and the 1999 Benedictus Award for the Faculty of Economics and the Law Library at the University of Nantes. She is currently working on the Great Site of Homo Erectus Fossils Museum (Nanjing, China, 2012-ongoing).


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MACRO Museum of Contemporary Art of the City of Rome, entrance to Didactic Room (Odile Deck). © Odile Decq / Photo: Luigi Filetici.

Breaking the molds

The projects presented here and surely a good number of others, such as Jean Nouvel’s emerging museums in Doha and Abu Dhabi confirm not only the geographic spread of French contemporary architecture, but also its interest and originality. Designers like Wilmotte can take on the architecture of the past easily because they were born with it all around them. The spirit of transgression and innovation that animates the work of Nouvel, Perrault and Decq makes them ideally suited to breaking the molds of modernism, reaching out and creating the forms that already have begun to define the 21st century. The lyrical forms of Christian de Portzamparc add another feature to what might amount to a description of the character of the French, an appreciation of beauty and a capacity for reasoning that some link back to René Descartes (1596-1650). In each of these projects, but perhaps particularly in the work of Paul Andreu, the French sense of organization comes forward. It is this sense that allowed Aéroports de Paris under his direction to be the leading worldwide designer of airports. It was his audacity that made Terminal 1 at Roissy–Charles-de-Gaulle one of the most noted airport buildings of its time, an audacity that also surprised and finally delighted the Chinese in the heart of their capital with the National Center for the Performing Arts, that they call “a Pearl on the Water.” ■