L'Atalante, an art house cinema in Bayonne | Farid Azib

Bayonne / France / 2021

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L’ATALANTE, AN ART HOUSE CINEMA IN BAYONNE


Since its creation in 1990, the Atalante art house cinema represents an important centre of Bayonne’s culture. It has been managed by the Cinéma & Cultures association. It is located in front of the quai Amiral-Antoine-Sala on the right bank of the Adour, just below the Saint-Esprit bridge which leads to the city centre. To carry out the project, two cine-mas had to be grouped together and refurbished, one of which represented an extension of some 200 seats in the former garage of the adjoining building.


The city, the CNC (Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée), and the general and regional councils were the main partners in this project, which launched the rehabi-litation of the Saint-Esprit district. This area around the train station is undergoing a metamorphosis and has a long his-tory dating back to the 12th century: it is the birthplace of Bayonne’s chocolate factories and is home to the citadel built by Vauban at the end of the 17th century, the city’s sy-nagogue (built in 1836), as well as a population of diverse origins, often in transit, as it has been for centuries.


During my first visit, I was quickly aware of the challenge at hand: I had to bring together the historical character of the site with an explicit request to set this cultural space in a strong contemporaneity. I then began to contemplate the possibilities of an architectural modernity respecting the existing building through its capacity to coherently blend into the whole, without seeking to set it apart, to separate it, to single it out through contrasting forms, materials or striking colours.


The right balance had to be struck between respec-ting the heritage, the spirit of the place, and the creative dynamic necessary for the development of a cultural site, a theatre where the likes of aesthetic proposals, emotions, considerations and debates would take place to cement our present and to animate our future.


“SPACE AND TIME ARE THE FRAMEWORK WITHIN WHICH THE MIND IS FORCED TO BUILD ITS EXPERIENCE OF REALITY.” Emmanuel Kant


WINDOWS ON THE ADOUR AND OPENINGS ON THE CINEMA (AND VICE VERSA)


A city is made up of windows, thousands of windows that allow us to glimpse and guess at stories and destinies. The facades of Bayonne are rich in openings, which is conspi-cuous all along the Adour. Thus the windows were our fo-cus point and our main concern for the building’s external identity. They enable anyone to see and imagine and let out many signs that lead to interpretations and to possible fictions. Frames exposed to the south-west allow the light on each side to pass through - inside/outside, natural/arti-ficial - in an explicit analogy with the cinema: the Seventh Art is also a breakthrough on the real and the imaginary, an assembly of framing, of shots, put together to make either moving stories or senseless stories.


The filmmaker records, cuts, combines, constructs, to give meaning and a particular approach to space. I did the same to give this new building a facade. A facade all at once discreet and surprising, integrated and singular, asymme-trical, deconstructed and harmonious, angular and wise, soft and open... Thus, large amplified windows, altogether mismatched and matched in size, materialise this concept, like an architectural vision stemming from the expressionist tradition (and its cinematographic trend!), but whose design and organisation would be subdued by an original polish, an innovative delicacy and clarity, a subtle and gentle lighting.


The whole remains in harmony with the exterior facades of all the neighbouring houses and the slow movements of the Adour waters, which also pass by without being able to be stopped...


Windows open to the imagination and dreams on film, which will give passers-by a glimpse of scenes, movements, silhouettes, lights, life and collective activity: the cinema be-comes like an unexpected and ever-changing film set. From inside this art house, the landscape of the docks, the pers-pective of the bridge with its permanent mobility, the river and its waves and the historic city up opposite on the other bank are magnified urban sceneries. They are, underlined by the division of the openings and the orientations of the different viewpoints offered to the visitors, giving free rein to their interpretations.


Thus the facade is made up of prismatic projecting vo-lumes, created with light prefabricated elements, while the rear facade uses the same device, but in a lighter, more ab-breviated way, like a short film...  As Sylvie Larroque, co-di-rector of L’Atalante, rightly said: “There is a real interaction between the outside and the inside. In front of this facade, we are already in a frame of mind of potential fiction with its screen-like windows. These notions of openness to the out-side, of transparency, of visibility and of proximity to the river were really integrated into the initial construction project”.


“A BALANCE HAS TO BE ACHIEVED BETWEEN RESPECT FOR THE HERITAGE AND THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE AND THE CREATIVE DYNAMICS NECESSARY FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF A CULTURAL SITE.” Sylvie Larroque, codirectrice de L’Atalante


A COSY INTERIOR SPACE, DEDICATED TO PLEASURE AND INTERACTIONS


The project consisted of building a new hall, a bar-res-taurant and two flats negotiated as a dation for the owner of the land. The Atalante team was keen to create a place that was going to be lively.


Between the cinema reception area and the bar-res-taurant area, a system combines a wooden mesh on three levels, channelling the flows and allowing the installation of access control points to the cinemas. The internal activities generate a great deal of sound, with the broadcasting of films and the music of the bar-restaurant concerts. We had to protect the neighbourhood, as well as the two new flats installed within the walls of L’Atalante and also the different spaces from one another. In-depth consultation with the acoustician on the future system was therefore essential, especially as we had to combine these constraints with the site’s classification as a level 3 seismic zone, that being the most restrictive.


The transversal bar-restaurant forms the link between the existing transformed spaces and the extension. It has a strategic function. It consists of a very long wooden coun-ter made with an oak floor from the original building. The light atmosphere tends to reproduce the effects produced by the projection of a film. The glasses and bottles that are stored there contribute to amplify the play of light, for an even warmer and more welcoming atmosphere. Here, the view of the river is breathtaking. You feel that you are alto-gether a spectator and an actor, because as I wrote above, you can be seen from the outside...


Thus the cinema and music bar-restaurant rooms are designed as airtight boxes and steps are taken (there is no direct opening on the street side) to avoid any sound leaks. Acoustic lining and independent double wall, double frame, uncoupled from the structure, as well as floors and their in-dependently treated slabs were recommended. There are also a filtering of very low frequencies, dimensioned wall devices, and acoustic locks for all exits. Long baffle silen-cers and fresh air and exhaust intakes were installed and oriented appropriately.


A mezzanine overlooks the living area where food and drink are served and where the public can relax. It is a mul-ti-purpose space for readings, debates and exhibitions, and can accommodate school groups for the mediation of cine-matographic art...


The new movie theatre, accessible at ground level, of-fers 207 seats and 6 for disabled people. In order to pre-serve the comfort of art house cinemas compared to more blockbuster-oriented ones, I have provided generous screen sizes, comfortable seat pitch and good headroom. The two administrative offices are directly linked to the projection booths. The projectionist can move from one to the other in no time. The two dwellings, delivered raw, are superimposed on two levels. They are open to the city and the banks of the Adour through wide framings and their loggias, as well as to the internal space embellished with large terraces. At the rear, one accesses via a dedicated stairwell and lift.


“THE CINEMA FACADE IS ESSENTIAL IN ENHANCING OUR VISIBILITY WITH ITS OPENINGS ON TO THE RIVER AND THIS UNIQUENESS WHICH MAKES IT VERY  CINEMATIC-LIKE.” Sylvie Larroque, codirectrice de L’Atalante

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    L’ATALANTE, AN ART HOUSE CINEMA IN BAYONNE Since its creation in 1990, the Atalante art house cinema represents an important centre of Bayonne’s culture. It has been managed by the Cinéma & Cultures association. It is located in front of the quai Amiral-Antoine-Sala on the right bank of the Adour, just below the Saint-Esprit bridge which leads to the city centre. To carry out the project, two cine-mas had to be grouped together and refurbished, one of which represented...

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