Oscar Niemeyer's departing gift to France unwraps in Château La Coste

The Oscar Niemeyer Pavilion at Château La Coste in Aix-En-Provence is the last of the architect’s modernist works in France.

by STIRworldPublished on : May 02, 2022

To the architect who said 'form follows beauty', the pavilion designed in his last days is indeed a redemption of everything he believed in. Almost a decade after the death of the celebrated Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer, Château La Coste unveils the final gift that he left for the country of France. The pavilion set in the backdrop of Provencal hills and amongst the 500 acre vineyards of Vermentino is the new identity for the site's assemblage of works by some of the finest architects of the world: Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Louise Bourgeois, Kengo Kuma, Richard Rogers, and Jean Nouvel.

The curved architecture of the pavilion adorned by the glass facade reveals the landscape beyond | Oscar Niemeyer Pavilion | Château La Coste | STIRworld
The curved architecture of the pavilion adorned by the glass facade reveals the landscape beyond Image: ©Stéphane Aboudaram, WE ARE CONTENT(S), Courtesy of Château La Coste

The genesis of the project goes back to 2010 when Château La Coste extended an invite to Niemeyer to design a pavilion in the exhilarating landscape of Provence. For an architect who considered wine as an important symbol of mankind’s presence on earth, the idea of creating something among the vineyards was adored. The choice of a suitable site and technical visits from the team began in 2011, after Niemeyer’s yearlong devising to perfect the design.

The organic form of the concrete structure casting shadows and reflection on the shallow pool | Oscar Niemeyer Pavilion | Château La Coste |  STIRworld
The organic form of the concrete structure casting shadows and reflection on the shallow pool Image: ©Stéphane Aboudaram, WE ARE CONTENT(S), Courtesy of Château La Coste

Marked on the maps of the historic Aix-En-Provence, the pavilion reflects the ebb and flow of Niemeyer’s style of organic architecture. Nestled perfectly in harmony with the landscape, the built form doesn’t dominate the vines and rolling hills, but rather frames them into a picturesque background. The structure introduces itself to the visitor through the curved glazed elevation that brings in a transparent visual interaction of the interiors even before one experiences the space. The pavilion, crafted in curved walls of concrete, is integrated together by a solid cylindrical auditorium anchoring an ovate-like gallery that appears to be floating over the shallow pool. The 380 sqm gallery, shaped in glass facades and mostly white interiors, frames a large red ceramic mural inspired from Niemeyer’s drawings. The glass façade visually brings in the vineyards and make them a part of the built landscape. With the completion of the pavilion, Château La Coste now has a 140 sqm auditorium with the capacity of 80 seats. Niemeyer’s eternal attention to play with light and curved volumes in concrete are reflected in the shallow pool at the entrance.

The contrasting volumes of solid concrete walls and glazed facades | Oscar Niemeyer Pavilion | Château La Coste | STIRworld
The contrasting volumes of solid concrete walls and glazed facades Image: ©Stéphane Aboudaram, WE ARE CONTENT(S), Courtesy of Château La Coste

Contemplating the modern architecture of Niemeyer, the pavilion is a prolongation of the design philosophies that he held close throughout his life. The start of his architectural career took off with the leader of the modernist movement in Brazilian architecture, Lucio Costa. Niemeyer worked alongside Costa from 1937 to 1943 on one of Brazil’s first masterpieces of modern architecture, The Ministry of Education and Health building. His first solo project, The Pampulha Modern Ensemble, now a UNESCO Heritage site, was commissioned by the then Mayor of Belo Horizonte, Juscelino Kubitschek de Oliveira in 1941. Designed around an artificial lake, the complex reflects his impressions of creating free-flowing forms in concrete and incorporating the built form to freely interact with the landscape, which even after years can be identified in the pavilion of Château La Coste. The Pritzker Prize winner envisioned a number of projects across the world, however, most of them rest in the land of Brazil, his homeland, and France, a country he held much closer to his heart.

  • The gate at Château La Coste | Oscar Niemeyer Pavilion | Château La Coste | STIRworld
    The gate at Château La Coste Image: Andrew Pattman, Courtesy of Château La Coste
  • The vineyards of Château La Coste along with the art centre by Tadao Ando in the backdrop of the Provencal Hills | Oscar Niemeyer Pavilion | Château La Coste | STIRworld
    The vineyards of Château La Coste along with the art centre by Tadao Ando in the backdrop of the Provencal Hills Image: Vincent Agnes, Courtesy of Château La Coste

Now in the absence of the architect himself, Château La Coste, located in one of the oldest wine-making regions of France is entitled to home a memory of his legacy in what they call to be 'a place where art, architecture and wine co-exist in harmony’. Every year, Château La Coste invites artists and architects to reside in the landscape of Provencal hills with the freedom to create a site-specific work. The site also holds multiple creations of Japanese architect Tadao Ando including the art centre, chapel, origami benches, and a pavilion. In between the historic city of Aix-En Provence and the Luberon National Park, art and architecture become the heart of the vineyard in addition to its historic wealth and a wine-growing tradition since the Romans.

(Text by Sunena V Maju, intern at STIRworld)

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