A collaboration with nelobo architecture studio
N.B. This work is still in progress. Rose bushes, turf and ferns will were recently planted on three of the four modules. Pictures will be added as it goes along.
In 2010, I spent 6 months at Villa Kujoyama, an artist-in-residence program located in Kyoto. There, I met Olivier and Rozenn Boucheron, a duo of architects who founded the studio nelobo. Noticing that the projects we were developing in our respective fields dealt with similar issues, we decided to try and explore the shared territory caught between art and architecture. The public art project designed for a high school in Clisson (France) and inaugurated in September 2013 is the first fruit of this collaborative effort.Our own memories of our teenage years inspired the basic idea that the most important lessons one learn in high school are not about mathematics, history or foreign languages but about oneself, about love, about aspiring to independence and needing others... To sum up, that adolescence, just as the 19th century coming-of-age stories teach us, is a time for apprenticeship for life itself. This learning too takes place in high school, but not in a classroom and not through the lessons of a teacher. Usually, the courses of this "school within the school" consist of moments spent with some friends in one nook of a schoolyard or of secrets shared with a loved one in a dark stairwell or an empty hallway. That is, in places that are not intrasically attractive but that pupils use for want of anything better to find tranquility and intimacy. Our goal through the creation of a set of small size architectures was to provide this secret school with proper premices. In a way, we continued the work of the architects who designed the high school. After they followed the official architectural program and designed the various required equipments traditionally associated with education : classrooms, canteen, administration offices... we designed outbuildings that fit the "other" program : places to talk, to dream or to chat up. These are four different modules spread throughout the site (three on the outside and one on the inside). They are of various types and sizes but they are all, so to say, in an in-between scale : Big if you consider them as art, small if you see them as architecture. They can be compared to the small edifices that appear in Giotto's frescoes or to the Japanese gardens that mimic a natural landscape within a narrow area. That is, constructions that are both symbolic and functional. But the function here is left open. Each module is identified by a name that refers to a particular layout (the Garden, the Tête-à-tête, the Speaker's Mound, the Belvedere-Grotto) and suggests a certain kind of use : Some look convenient for gathering and debate while others seem more suitable for introspection or one-to-one discussion. But finally everyone is free to invent new functions and to use them according to his own desire.
Concrete, glass, steel, terra cotta, rocks, gold leaf, rose bushes
261 × 780 × 525 cm (103 × 307 × 207 inches) This first module is an invitation to contemplation and meditation. From the outside, it is sort of brutalist architecture, a rectangular shaped building made of uncoated concrete. A hallway that works as a light trap leads to a dark and simple space that opens onto an enclosed garden. These two connected spaces offer maximum contrast. They are separeted from each other by a long glass wall that prevent people from entering the garden. The mineral and vegetal composition only addresses the eye, like a moving picture. This particular layout evokes a zen garden, a contemplation garden that can only be seen from a distance (as opposed to the "stroll garden" one need to walk through) and that, far from being just an aesthetic object is a support for meditation. Half-closed and half-opened, dealing with both interiority and exteriority, this module also plays with the contrast of stability and movement. The orthogonality of the building as well as the hieratic rocks, remembrances of the Japanese dry gardens, contrast with the seasonal changes of the vegetation, the wind playing with the foliage, the shifting reflections of the sun on the golden rock and the activity of the birds around the two terracotta nest boxes. The Tête-à-tête
Wood, plaster, mineral wool, fabric, glass
280 × 370 × 370 cm (110 × 145.5 × 145.5 inches) Unlike the Garden that occupies a large surface area and offers people a place to meet and chat, this module is designed for two people at once. It is a small cell located inside the high school's library. Viewed from the outside, it gets itself noticed by its curved wall that breaks the orthogonality of the building and by its three convex windows. A doorless entrance opens on a narrow padded corridor. The atmosphere inside is quiet and cosy. The curved walls keep on spiraling until it end in a double chair whose two seats face opposite directions, taking an s-shape that evokes the old fashioned furniture the module was named after. Its confined space, subdued lighting and partial soundproofing create an intimate feeling that makes the Tête-à-tête a place for isolation and relexation, for reading or for friendly conversations.
The Speaker's Mound
Soil, steel, ground marking paint, turf
75 × 1149 × 548 cm (29.5 × 452 × 216 inches) In total contrast with the previous module that was a place for isolation, this one is an invitation to address not just one person nor a restricted group of friends but everyone around ; and this not only to talk, but also to debate and to dispute. Formally, it is the simplest of the four modules : a sort of encounter between Hyde Park Speaker's Corner and the pitcher's mound of the old baseball fields. Atop a small mound is a steel step stool anyone is free to (make a) stand on. Again, there is no predetermined use, but the slightly elevated position requires self affirmation and the presence of a ground marking resembling a basketball key urges the "player" to "throw" something : a ball, an idea, a joke... Whatever. The Speaker's Mound is a court for a new game whose goal is to invent the rules.
Concrete, steel, glass, ferns
609 × 936 × 673 cm (240 × 368.5 × 265 inches) The Belvedere-Grotto is the biggest one of the four modules. Just like the Garden, it is made of two different spaces with very distinct qualities. The lower part is a dark grotto excavated under the schoolyard. It is a large empty egg-shaped space with raw concrete walls. The flight of stairs that leads to its bottom transforms it into a small underground theatre. The upper part on the contrary is an open sky platform that offers a clear view of the surrounding vineyards. The two spaces, the centripetal and the centrifugal one, are connected by five oculi that unify them in a unique structure. The grotto is a big empty shell offered to the pupils for them to fill it with conversations, music, parietal art and so on.
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