Classical Dialogues: Nîmes, Art in the Public Square


On a first approach, Nîmes Carré (1984-1993) is a slender reinterpretation of the classical temple in front of it: a glass box with a steel portico. But the modern translation of the Roman monument is subtly shifted to enter into a dialogue with the urban context, and to enhance the public nature of this ‘Pompidou of the South’. Thus, the hexastyle Corinthian colonnade is transformed into a canopy held up by only five thin supports, which shelters the steps leading to the off-axis entrance; the asymmetry is reinforced by another access in the opposite corner, suggesting the diagonal movement of the street pattern; and the combination of Mediterranean louvres with cylindrical concrete columns, placed like pilasters in the vitreous skin, gives the prism a relaxed technical elegance which effortlessly fuses the vernacular with the classical. Built on the site of a neoclassical theatre destroyed by fire, the new art centre manages to maintain the former volume by burying half its programme, and top lighting the interior through a cathedral-sized atrium traversed by glazed lifts, stairs and walkways. Promoted by Jean Bousquet, Mayor of Nîmes and owner of Cacharel, this mediathèque did for architecture what his company had done for fashion: the democratization of the dream of the haute couture...[+]

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