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La Seine Musicale

Sinuous rigueur in concert

Shigeru Ban Architects | Jean de Gastines Architectes

Shigeru Ban is best-known for his experimental houses and lightweight structures, but after building Pompidou 2, he enlarged his practice and opened a second office in Paris. His latest achievement is La Seine Musicale, a complex that occupies one end of the Île Seguin, a narrow sliver of land in the river that is part of Boulogne-Billancourt, on the western boundary of the capital. Renault made cars there until 1992, when they closed their factory - the largest of its kind in France. The land was cleared and the tycoon François Pinault commissioned Tadao Andō to build a museum for his collection of contemporary art. Discouraged by local opposition to his plans, he abandoned the scheme and moved it to Venice, where Ando converted the Palazzo Grassi, and then the Dogana. To resolve a tangle of competing proposals, Jean Nouvel masterplanned the island as a linear axis of arts, commerce, and parkland. Ban won the competition to design a cultural resource that should appeal to a broad audience and provide a gathering place for Parisians and neighboring communities, much like the City of Music on the opposite side of the capital. Constrained by space and budget, he created an austere wedge of spaces that step down to the narrow tip of the island where the concrete block sprouts a bubble of glass enclosing a 1,150-seat concert hall. The broad frontage, accessed by a narrow bridge from the north bank, is dominated by a giant LED screen for live transmission of events, outdoor movies, or - inevitably - advertising. A broad flight of steps leads up to a green roof. During the day, industrial doors to the right of the screen fold up to admit the public to a concourse that links the two performance spaces, as well as retail, administrative offices, rehearsal rooms and a music school. It’s a bold attempt at achieving openness in an impassive block, but the first impression is intimidating. Lacking the crowds that may assemble for a popular performance in...

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