Iconic architecture

With its lighthouse tower and great gallery, the art centre is a remarkable architectural creation with a « 20th Century Heritage » label. In this video, French architect Xavier Fabre how the building was conceived, with Italian architect Aldo Rossi (1931-1997).

This building is not a museum. What needs to be considered, is that the landscape is essential for the development of a sculpture park. That is how we can summarize the question we were asked by Dominique Marchès, the SYMIVA, and Vassivière’s authorities, when they expressed the wish to develop a venue dedicated to contemporary art.
The answer Aldo Rossi and I gave them had to consider this paradox : there was a building, but the building was not going to be the central part (so to speak) of the project. The building induces an art route. I’d say this route can be divided into 3 parts. The first part, set in the forest, is a tower, which does look like a lighthouse, because we are on an island, and it can be linked to the dam and the lake around us. But it’s also because there is a spring nearby. It’s like a starting point. The second theme is the large building that resembles a gallery, almost an art gallery like the Louvre , and it also brings to mind the image of an aqueduct, with its series of arches. An aqueduct that appears to have fallen into ruins and where artists come to live, to store their art and to create.
So the building is in fact a gallery, an art route, a journey through the landscape, something to be crossed and something to walk past, all in one ! It isn’t a venue where you gather, its goal is to spread. To spread light from the tower to show the sculptures. You walk through the building to understand how artists thought out and created their works here. That is how the building took form. Its two themes are the tower and the inhabited aqueduct.
There is quite a complex and clever work on rhythm that comes from, and we don’t say this often enough, Aldo Rossi’s will to build as wellas possible and to show, quite simply, the power of construction. This work was carried out by Vincent Speller, my associate, who designed the entire building in his detail graphic, and who made sure there were rhythm effects between the porticos. These are where the aqueduct theme originated: the rhythm of the stones, the rhythm and the regularity of the bow shaped windows , the rhythm of the materials used, the rhythm of the gutters and the rhythm of the zinc. It all belongs to a 2.25 metre unit.
The programme of what was ordered was quite simple : they wanted two or three venues where they could display different works of art, of all sizes:

  • for large works of art : the large gallery,
  • for small drawings to be displayed : the small room upstairs,
  • for meetings, presentations and lectures : the small theatre

The distinctions are all linked to the continuity of the gallery. And there are several exceptional places such as the entrance room, the portico, the porch, including the gift shop, which is part of the porch, the small work rooms, the hidden flat and the lab, a very important place. This is why I say that it is not a museum. It is a place where art is produced and it is very important. There is a workshop, the inner part made of red bricks, right there at the back. It is at the centre of the building, we walk around it and take the stairway. We can’t go in there because it belongs to the artists, but we can see it.
One last point : the tower ,of course was not part of the programme. And when we presented the tower, which was our first idea, two things happened. I arrived here from Milano, in my car one evening to present the project . I got out of my car with the model, and presented it to the people of Vassivière who had gathered here for the occasion. I showed them the project and their immediate reaction was to say « We need the tower right away !” There was an immediate compliance even though, when I had left, Aldo Rossi had said « maybe they will be shocked by the tower, they’ll disagree, don’t insist, we can make it out of wood » and the opposite reaction happened : they loved it. Because the idea is so obvious that everyone agreed straight away. However, another reaction occurred when I presented the tower to the architecture and art department. Dominique Marchès and I presented the project and the manager said « What are you going to do? ! Putting artists in there would be the worst idea, the worst for them, it’s much too difficult!” And the exact opposite of what he had said happened! Artists want to go there. The tower is a place that allows us to understand that the whole thing is an object that puts the eye to work. You go to the top of the tower and you see a work of art on the inside, you are at the heart of the project. You get up there and you see the landscape and you can see other works of art. There is a type of echo between the landscape and the inner work of art. That is why it is such an important part of the project. This was completely understood by our clients. In my 25 years of experience here , what I find the most successful , and it is a success for the entire team who worked here, is life in the park and the assimilation and work that went on here in the building. This harmony between the landscape, the sculpture park and the building was never imposed.

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