Nantes, France 2021
Cultural and Associative Center
supervision : Romain Rousseau, Léa Moscony & Kantuta Quiros (ensa nantes)
How to tell a story using architecture as a narrative tool and not as a subject?
The Kaufman Club House has a story to tell its visitors, while hosting a fairly free program : a cultural and associative center.
The purpose of this project is to give architecture a narrative function that is not self-referential. Seizing architecture as a poet could seize words, or a painter could seize his watercolors to tell a story. Not to describe its program or functioning as ducks and decorated sheds do, nor to make its structure intelligible as Gothic cathedrals or
Italian rationalist buildings could, but to share a tale, embedded in its own universe that differs from that of the speaker. To find through architecture a diegesis and not a mimesis that cannot help but be meta.
The building is a text that the visitor comes to read. The text needs nothing else but itself. The visitor is not the hero of the architecture, he is its reader. The real hero is a U-shaped post, that fell in love with an ionic column and will have to go through the whole building to find it. This story is inscribed in the metal frames and concrete walls that make up the structure.
The activities it hosts become the storytellers of a play they did not write. By telling their text, they bring to life the story that pre-exists them.
The tables that are set up for an oil painting workshop, the Wednesday afternoon yoga mats, or the small associative concerts are not characters in the same way as the HEAs or the railings, but rather catalysts, enriching the visitor-reader experience and participating in his encounter with the work itself, i.e. the architecture.
The Kaufman Club House is an associative place with a diverse and chronologically changing program that must bring together a wide variety of activities within its walls. It is an all-purpose box, which can claim to be the sovereign shelter dear to Perret. In this sense the club-house can be summed up as a roof (20 by 25m) that covers 2 levels with identical surfaces.
This block is placed in the upper part of the land in order to align its first platform with the street level to the North which slopes gently downhill. The lower level sinks into the natural gradient of the land to open a small terrace too, this one facing the South of the plot totally embedded in the undergrowth bordering the Sèvre river below. This totally cuts off the "fantastic world" of our history from any contact with reality. On the contrary, the "ordinary world" communicates with the rest of the neighborhood: it is visible from the bridge to the East and the street to the North, presenting them with a transparent angle as their first sight.
SIGHT FROM THE ROAD
The first level presents and separates the entrance and exit of the building. The two doors are distinguished by a partition that emerges from the building, serving as an invitation to enter, a mask for the "wrong" way" and an introduction to the universe. Characters from the ordinary world are already there, and our hero takes advantage of this moment to step out of the rows by withdrawing from the axis of the beam. With its "arms" facing the entrance, the U-shaped pole invites us from outside to follow him.
The first room continues to introduce us to the rules of the game. We grasp the size of the envelope, we see the first disturbing concrete elements appearing which prefigure the underground world. Obviously what will immediately catch our attention is the central patio and its column, already observed by the hero who finds himself in the middle of the open space.
In addition to clearly exposing us to the objective of the entire journey, this window well lets us guess fragments of future spaces: we can discern the stairs that hint at the existence of a lower level invisible from the street. We can also see that concrete will gradually take an increasingly important place. As soon as you enter the building, the unfolding of the whole story is announced.
The west side of the stage has a glass floor just above the basement stage. On this side of the floor, the concrete eruptions intensify until they become a seat in the center of the bay. The path, which wraps around the first technical box out of narrative, suddenly brings us to a wall at the south-west turn.
The outline we had in mind is suddenly cut by a concrete wall that breaks the mental path we were prepared for. We may be tempted to go along on our left hand around the central box (that's what the post will do) but this path is actually a dead end. We then have to go down and penetrate the concrete basement. Fortunately, a new friendly character comes to guide us: the guardrail. This one is the mentor of the post, coming to rescue it after its wrong turn and guiding it beyond the stairs. It softens our departure from the ordinary world and reassures our hero. An inner window allows us, as we go down the first steps, to be comforted: there is a way back and we will find our mentor there.
Arriving at the underground level, we find an acute angle that forces us to turn away once again from the target column that we had seen in the corner of the staircase. Once the first compression is over, we emerge into the main room through the narrowing corridor. This one is the counterpart of the first plateau which will introduce us to the new universe we have just entered: a world of walls, mass, sloping floors, steps and other roughness...
The pole is with us but it is completely disoriented, turning on itself crushed under the concrete beam and looking for the light outside, thus still mistaken. Luckily his mentor the guardrail reappears and brings him back in the right direction: towards a small crack in the mass that we might not have noticed otherwise.
On this stage, however, there are not only adverse elements. The bar, near the bay windows, has the same structure as the boxes on the ground floor. It's like a front post of the normal world which would resist in this hostile universe and which will be a point of attachment to the hero as well as to the visitor (it's the bar after all).
Continuing his way, the hero gradually sinks down, passing a decompression cell on his left, like a resting threshold before his last test. On his right, two bays let him see first the column, and then the door leading to it (but never both at the same time). With this last impulse, he can then cross the last bend at 180° to find himself facing the column, haloed by the zenithal light of the patio and framed by the glass panels.
A final triumphal procession, in ascent, leads the hero and his conquest to the top of a staircase, facing the light in double height, the culmination of this journey in darkness. Going up the second staircase, one can notice that the mentor was watching the two lovers from above.