by Jerry ElengicalMar 20, 2023
Ensconced within the Northern Vosges Natural Park in France, an existence that the architects of Site Verrier de Meisenthal describe as bucolic, a public plaza, covered yet uncovered, solid yet porous, takes shape as a literal and metaphorical connector. The project - an extensive renovation and extension exercise for the historic site undertaken jointly by Paris-based FREAKS and New York-based SO-IL Architects - bears immense metaphors on its very nature of being, its typology, and the site it draws from.
This metaphorical relationship and outlook that the project uses to address a sensitive topography, history, and primarily, function, imparts the project some of its perceived softer qualities, despite the intervention primarily being an undulating poured-in-place concrete surface, materialised in a series of crests and troughs. The result is a literally seamless marriage between the contemporary and historic, the industrial and institutional, glass and concrete.
The congregation of structures, now held together by the sinuous concrete 'ribbon', comprises three independent yet spatially interrelated institutions. The glass museum, Musée du Verre et du cristal, tracing the history of glass and its significance for the site as a living memory; the CIAV, Centre International d’Art Verrier, an international glass art centre showcasing traditional craftsmanship with glass; and the Cadhame, Halle verrière, that doubles up as a multidisciplinary cultural space hosting art installations, events, and concerts, sited at varying floor levels, impart the site with an inimitable character.
For the variances presented in this alliance, a unification bearing an increasingly public edifice would dexterously seem the only way forward, and that is what emerges as the modus operandi of the intervention. "Our intervention unifies them to define a contemporary institutional identity in dialogue with an industrial heritage,” states the team at SO-IL.
The metaphor further extends to steadfastly house the notion of contrast, with the sinuous concrete overture alluding to the production of glass that the site and the centre derive much of its history from. The undulating surface serves concurrently as the roof, ceiling, and wall of the extent of the connecting intervention. Along with the voids activated by the crests of the concrete surface, a public plaza unifies the ground floors of the adjacent structures, while new functions are injected under and over this surface, including workspaces, workshop areas, a cafe, and a restaurant.
Furthermore, building functions and utilities in the existing buildings are reimagined and extended to more expansive programs. A new entrance for the factory hall is carved through a previously unused basement floor, along with the creation of a black box theatre seating 500 that can morph into a theatre with standing room for 700 or a concert hall for 3,000. This is in conjunction with the makeshift spaces for smaller concerts and events that the slopes of the concrete enclosure offer, elevating the aspect of public involvement and the plurality of the complex.
The near serpentine formation of the concrete surface - a manifestation of fluid, molten glass standing against stark industrial edifices without necessarily contradicting them - not only spatially activates the plaza it ensconces, but explores an interesting intersection between organicity in design, its relationship with public spaces, and the persisting effect of contrasts in architecture. “The new public space heightens civic awareness of the historical site and also introduces a highly flexible venue for outdoor theatre, concerts, and seasonal festivities,” states SO-IL on how their architectural solution and reimaging of public space in a historical pretext involved a multifarious approach, along with looking at the overlap of spaces through many utilitarian angles.
Name: Site Verrier de Meisenthal
Location: Meisenthal, France
Client: Communauté de communes du Pays de Bitche
Program: Cultural center, visitor center, black box theater, art storage, offices, workshop areas, classrooms, cafe, restaurant, bar, music studio
Area: 6,500 sq.m. / 70,000 sq.f.
Team: SO—IL: Florian Idenburg, Jing Liu, Ilias Papageorgiou, Lucie Rebeyrol, Ian Ollivier, Seunghyun Kang, Pietro Pagliaro, Danny Duong, Antoine Vacheron; FREAKS: Yves Pasquet, Cyril Gauthier, Guillaume Aubry, Bertrand Courtot, Axel Simon
Project Manager: LFA
Structural Engineer: MHI
Museography: Designers Unit
Cost Estimator: MDETC
Planning Manager: C2Bi