Printer Friendly

Warped wrapper: this new arts centre in Lille is an imaginative exploration of form and materials.

From a declining industrial town in the coal belt of northern France to this year's European Capital of Culture (along with Genoa), Lille has done much to reinvent itself. In the early '90s, the routing of the high-speed (TGV) train line from Paris to connect with the Channel Tunnel saw French mayors haggling to secure its progress through their cities. Ultimately, Lille prevailed and was transformed into a major European transport node, precipitating an ambitious urban makeover masterminded by Rem Koolhaas. Koolhaas' Euralille (AR December 1994), a monumental agglomeration of offices, shops, housing and entertainment close to Lille-Flanders station, was one of his earliest projects, manifesting a new and startling vision of urban architecture. Now, under the auspices of European Capital of Culture, Lille plays host to the next generation of Super Dutch superstars with Lars Spuybroek's remodelling of a nineteenth-century textile mill to house various cultural activities.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Spuybroek's Maison Folie de Wazemmes forms part of a programme to transform a series of redundant buildings (including a church, hospice, farm and fort) into so-called Maisons Folie. Historically associated with frivolity, entertainment and enchantment, the original Maisons Folie were boating residences for royal stewards and favourites in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, evolving into more elaborate and exotic structures peppered round gardens and great estates. As their purpose was to surprise and delight, unadulterated eccentricity in both form and materials could be given free rein.

Lille's modern urban Maisons Folie are intended to extend this tradition of whimsical yet engrossing experimentation. They also draw on contemporary themes of art and culture catalyzing civic revival--the precedent of redundant industrial structures being colonized and regenerated is well established in cities as diverse as New York, Rotterdam, Glasgow and Hamburg. At the end of Lille's stint as Cultural Capital, the Maisons Folie will become neighbourhood arts centres, intimately woven into the fabric of the communities they serve. Spuybroek and his practice NOX won a competition in 2001 for his proposal to renovate a former textile mill near Lille's Wazemmes market. Composed of two low-rise red-brick buildings separated by a narrow alleyway, the industrial complex became redundant in 1990. To this existing arrangement Spuybroek adds a third discrete element, a hall for performance, or salle de spectacle, so creating a new urban route and public square for outdoor socializing and activities.

The salle de spectacle is essentially a black box with the usual stage, tiered seating and studios, but Spuybroek elevates and transforms the orthogonal volume by shrouding it in a shimmering warped skin of lightweight steel mesh. As a vanguard in the field of digitally-inspired form-making (AR December 1998), Spuybroek's credentials for architectural subversion are well established. Here, however, formal and spatial ambition serves merely to generate a scenographic external carapace (albeit well crafted and inventively conceived), wrapped round a conventional box. The steel mesh is a standard off-the-peg product, applied in an off-the-wall way. Only in the foyer is there any sense of taking the warping further into genuine spatial experiment.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Tautly supple and rippling, like a well toned muscle, the lightweight screen filters and reflects light, glinting and sparkling by day and mutating into a gently glowing mass at night as light filters through the glass walls of the box. Perhaps not unexpectedly, as it becomes harder to distinguish the real from the digital, the effect is uncannily like the seductive computer-generated renderings that help to fix architecture in the public imagination. Spuybroek's rendering has become the icon and logo of Lille 2004, even appearing on five million French stamps.

The existing factory buildings have been spruced up to house exhibition, workshop and office spaces. The warped skin theme is tentatively extended to the older parts, forming a protective screen around a new external escape stair, suggesting that old and new now have a funky reciprocity. However the spectacle on the main street side is more gently prosaic, as the self-important, space-age interloper nuzzles up to workaday terraced houses. Still, Lille's ambition must be applauded and the city has its icon, but when the cultural circus finally folds its tents, it will hopefully also leave the seeds of something more lasting.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]
COPYRIGHT 2004 EMAP Architecture
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Van Cleef, Connie
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Aug 1, 2004
Words:705
Previous Article:Dignity in death: imaginative understanding of materials makes this tomb a fitting set for rites of passage.
Next Article:Woven in Worb: Gottfried Semper's odd theories about textiles and building are imaginatively reinterpreted in stainless steel.
Topics:


Related Articles
Euralille: the instant city.
Creative umbrella: the ambitious transformation of a provincial fun palace into a progressive postgraduate art school demanded an adventurous...
Kids' stuff: combining sturdy materials with spatial clarity, this little nursery school in Roubaix forms a cheerful enclave for its young charges.
New report shows public libraries can add to the reading experience.
From Utopia to reality in Latvia. (People: making a difference).
Travel brief.
Les innovateurs du Nord a l'oeuvre: l'innovation consiste a transformer des idees et connaissances en nouveaux produits et services et a adopter de...
Diary.
South Africa's first female-led party launched.
Diary.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters