Architecture of the month
Saint Jean du Gard || France
Located right at the heart of the Cevennes region, in Saint-Jean-du-Gard, the Museum of the Cevenol Valleys has recently opened in the Maison Rouge, a former brick spinning mill which has been restored and extended, and has been a listed building since 2003. Representing a plethora of passions, pursued tirelessly and with determination by the people of the region, this sanctuary preserves the memory of the human impact on the land. It is a living museum informing us of the reality not only of the local culture in the past, but also in the present and future.
In order to remain faithful to this balance between tradition and modernity, the architects at Vurpas Architectes, who won the competition for the project in 2011, imagined a building capable of meeting this dual challenge. Inspired by the surrounding landscape, the earth, the land, the history, nature, the trees, the built environment, and the people, they have produced a resolutely contemporary interpretation of the region's vernacular architecture. In order to find the right response, the architects immersed themselves in the history of the region and its culture, following with precision the original layout markings. The main road, the Gardon and the Péras irrigation channel all run parallel.
Over time, the area was developed in narrow, perpendicular strips allowing each development access to the channel, whilst protecting it from the Gardon. These form a series of bands running between the town and the Gardon. The project is set out on exactly the same lines as the original layout, both for the built and the landscaped components. The first strip is the historic Maison Rouge building. Alongside runs the updated second strip composed of the east gallery. The next strip between the Maison Rouge and the extension was left vacant to accommodate a courtyard and garden.
The extension itself is composed of three strips of differing heights and widths, a reference to the bancels, as the local dry stone walls are known. They expand at certain points to create exterior spaces and thematic gardens, letting in the light and opening up views. The layout of the parcel plan is also used for the landscaping of the outside gardens. The walls are extended through the mineral lines traced onto the ground, along which rows of mulberry trees have been planted. The rural architecture is an incredible source of inspiration and here the raw material of the landscape becomes an architectonic feature. The external walls of the extension are clad with shale, forming incisive, clean volumes with no superfluous additions.
They are built using dry stone walling techniques with the addition of recessed mortar and metal reinforcements to ensure compliance with seismic regulations. They were produced by specialist local tradespersons, using stone from a Lozère quarry. The south façades are composed of a wood and metal framework, with large windows which frame the outside garden landscape. A chestnut-wood fascine acts as a sunshade. The importance of the chestnut or "bread" tree in this region is well known, and one of the five sections of the museum exhibition is dedicated to the tree. The combination of shale stone and chestnut wood rollers constitutes a gentle, but solid and entirely complementary alliance, in shades which evoke the surrounding nature.
The Maison Rouge has been restored with the greatest respect for the existing building. The most characteristic features have been cleaned, restored, taken down, adjusted, or replaced with the aim of getting as close as possible to the original building. Any significant remaining pieces of equipment or machinery have been conserved and used to create a model reproduction of the spinning workshop. On the ground floor, particular care and attention has been paid to preserving the vaults. Due to the flood risk, these spaces are used on an occasional basis for conferences, workshops, or eating, and can be used as one large space for special events.
Location: Saint Jean du Gard, France
Architect: Vurpas Architectes
Associate Architect: Joël Tanguy
Design and Engineering: OTEIS
Gross Floor Area: 3,300 m2
Budget: 8.58 million Euros
Client: Alès Agglomération
Scenography: Fakestorybird Marion Lyonnais
Signage: Atelier des (créations) fantasques
Flooring: Briqueterie Capelle
Whitewash: Saint Astier et Ets Ocres de France
Stone: Pierre de Caberan
Façade: Carrière Chapelle
Curtain Wall: Jansen
Photography: © Kévin Dolmaire, courtesy of Vurpas Architectes