The project concerns the refurbishment and the extension of the Lille Modern Art Museum in a magnificent park at Villeneuve d’Ascq. The existing building, designed by Roland Simounet in 1983, is already on the Historic monuments list.
The project aims at building up the museum as a continuous and fluid entity, this by adding new galleries dedicated to a collection of Art Brut works, from a travelling movement that extrapolates existing spaces. A complete refurbishment of the existing building was next required, some parts were very worn.
In spite of the heritage monument status of Simounet’s construction, rather than set up at a distance, we immediately opted to seek contact by which the extension would embrace the existing buildings in a supporting movement.
I tried to take my cue from Roland Simounet’s architecture, ‘to learn to understand’, so as to be able to develop a project that does not mark aloofness, an attitude that might have been seen as indifference.
The architecture of the extension wraps around the north and east sides of the existing arrangement in a fan-splay of long, fluid and organic volumes. On one side, the fan ribs stretch in close folds to shelter a café-restaurant that opens to the central patio; on the other, the ribs are more widely spaced to form the five galleries for the Art brut collection.
The Art brut galleries maintain a strong link with the surrounding scenery, but they are also purpose-designed to suit the works that they house: atypical pieces, powerful works that you can’t just glance at in passing. The folds in these galleries make the space less rigid and more organic, so that visitors discover art works in a gradual movement.
The architecture is partly introverted, to protect art works that are often fragile and that demand toned down half-light.
At the extremity of the folds – meaning the galleries – a large bay opens magnificent views onto the surrounding parkland, adding breathing space to the visit itinerary. These views make up for the half-light in the galleries: the openwork screens in front of the bays mediate with strong light and parkland scenery, a feature that recalls Simounet’s generous arrangements in the galleries that he designed. Envelopes are sober: smooth untreated concrete, with mouldings and openwork screens to protect the bays from too much daylight. The surface concrete has a slight colour tint that varies according to intensity of light.
1/ How would you characterize the kind of architecture you create? Is there a unifying theme behind all your projects?
I try to be very inspired by the context around a project: It doesn’t mean that the architecture has always to flow in a discreet way inside the site, but it has to interact deeply, to be unique and totally connected to the context. Sometimes the result can be smooth, sometimes it can emerge in a quite impressive and powerful way, because the context need to be waked up and reactivated.
The unifying theme behind my projects can be the importance that I give to the context, the poetry or the emotion that I try to give to the future users who will live inside my buildings.
2/ What are the first considerations you make when approaching a project?
First consideration is about the context, but also at the same time about the functionalities. I try to assemble functionalities in an inventive and sometimes unexpected way. I try to emphasize some of them, to have generous volumes, to create contrasted interior spaces.
3/ What does green design and sustainability mean to you? And how do you try to implement it?
Sustainability has to be taken as a help and not a constraint. It has to be searched and pursued without decreasing comfort, beauty and qualities for the future inhabitants. And one more time, sustainability has to be solved in a very contextual way: it cannot be rules and regulations that affect the architecture in the same way all over the climates: those green objectives are totally different in a city or in a natural context, in a cold country or in a very hot one.
About Lille Museum
4/ How did you approach the unique challenges associated with working on an already designed building?
I love challenges which are to fit and to be glued to an existing building. Anyway it’s a very common challenge in a city where architectures are never alone. They have always to fit to one another and to create a dialogue.
The Modern Art Museum in Lille was a very interesting project because the existing building was listed and the Monumental Authorities were very severe, in asking for a separated new building, without any link to the existing one: there was a sort of “security perimeter”, so that the existing museum would be, in their mind, respected and protected…
I didn’t appreciate this constraint, which was totally “disrespectful” to the curator’s needs: The extended part had to be created for a wonderful “outsider art” collection, and the curator’s wish was precisely to create a continuous promenade through the three forms of art: modern art, contemporary art and outsider art. It was a way to say, for the first time, that outsider art has to be considered as an art form. So I decided to respect the listed building, but to envelop it to create this amalgamation and deep link between those three forms of art.
5/ How did working on a museum affect your design?
A museum asks the question of the link between architecture and art: how the architecture can express itself in a powerful way, and in the same time, how architecture can let the artists take possession of the interior spaces, in a free way.
Both objectives are necessary, and have to find their way to complete each other.
6/ How do you balance innovative design with functional building?
Innovative design can precisely be thought in terms of functionalities; For me the program and the functions have to be expressed in an innovative and inventive way: Innovation is not formal, but it is a question of how to use and live the architecture.