In a context like architecture studies, where all the projects are virtual and will stay unbuilt, the graphic documents are essential to affirm intentions and offer a finality to the process of conception. They allow the ideas to become a form of architecture.
The way we conceive them is essential because they determine the way the project will be perceived and understood.
In this case, the graphic documents aim to emphasize the poetic dimension of the project. Therefore, we used elements from romantic paintings (Turner…) to represent natural elements, and we took the people from quite nostalgic pictures (Robert Doisneau). This association offers a poetic and abstract atmosphere to a project that, if misunderstood, could have been read as a “massive concrete block”.
This project was motivated by a precise event: the year 2016 witnessed the retirement of the last lighthouse keeper in France. With the disappearing of a profession, a question should be asked about the upkeep of those monumental maritime structures.
The concept is based on the hypothesis that, not only do lighthouses deserve to be considered as monuments, but they also present a great potential for an urban landmark, a potential yet untapped.
I chose to work around Dunkirk’s lighthouse, one of the highest in France in good condition. Its location, in the industrial harbour under complete reconversion, is full of potential. Its light, still in operation, is visible from the old city center and the new seaside neighbourhood.
The goal of this project is to “bring life” to the lighthouse’s site to turn it into a rich and dynamic urban space.
The first idea was to work on a very horizontal – but still monumental – vocabulary to emphasize the verticality of the lighthouse.
In order to bring a maximum of life on the site, the program is addressed to a great variety of populations (tourists as well as locals). It is composed of a residential hotel, a restaurant, a spa and a conference center gathered into one widespread entity.
To answer the sterility and neutrality of the site, I conceive the project as a unique and poetic ecosystem. It becomes a miniaturized city, with its houses, public spaces, gardens, streets…. It recreates the domestic scale within its enclosure. It provides protection against the sea climate, especially strong winds, and thus allows the planting of the site: the gardens of the residence become green breaths on a seemingly sterile site. A work on colors, inspired by the projects of Luis Barragan, helps in avoiding a certain spatial monotony.
The widespread cover is worked to be at the same time shelter, source of light, support of the views and terraces. The building offers a poetic break at the foot of the lighthouse –the light of the sea- threw a rich and diverse experience.
Who influences you graphically?
My drawings are inspired by a constant flood of images from various graphic disciplines that I come across on the internet. As far as architectural influences, I am drawn to offices characterized by their illustrative images like DOGMA or fala atelier.
For this project in particular, I was strongly inspired by the images in Wes Anderson’s movies. His frontal views and the bright colors are particularly eye catching and easily “readable”. The images become a consistent sequence, giving a strong identity to the movie/project as a whole.
In order to add a poetic quality to the images, I sourced imagery from romantic painters like William Turner.
How important is the language of representation in relation to the project itself?
In an academic context, where the projects remain entirely theoretical, visual representation is an essential tool to bring ideas to life. The language we chose to use has a strong influence on how the project is perceived.
Here, plans and sections are essential to understand the project and its complexity: a mini-city in constant interaction with the lighthouse. Taken out of context, the whole structure can seem monumental and monotone.
I needed a sequence of images that would express the diversity of spaces, the poetic quality and the human scale of the project from the user’s eyes. The images also tell the story of the site itself, which is still a mostly neglected part of the industrial port.
Could you talk us through the project development, from conception to then final product? How important was the drawing as tool to develop the project?
Early in the design process, I worked on all the design scales simultaneously. I moved back and forth between the urban scale, the internal organisation and the bedroom systems, with each scale influencing the other.
Once the main design intentions have been established and I have to draw the project more precisely using digital modelling tools, I tend to have a greater difficulty in understanding the inside spaces and atmospheres. Producing study images is always a way to zoom in to the user’s point of view and to clarify the impact of a large scale design intervention.
This back and forth was very important in visualising the relationship between the different spaces and the lighthouse. The collages were also the main tool in establishing the colours of the project. I would try several versions of color combinations for each space and ultimately, chose them in regards to the whole spatial sequence.
What was the intended effect for the diptych images?
In my intention of always considering an image as part of sequence or an experience, I find diptych images help to understand that, in an architectural context, an image is not an end in itself.
What is your take on the contemporary idea and condition of ‘preservation’? is it true that, quoting Koolhaas, it is overtaking us?
I am fascinated by buildings in which contemporary architectural vocabulary meets traditional vernacular, and am interested in how this junction occurs.
I think that in our current context, issues of sustainability in architecture can no longer be ignored. This in mind, the value of an existing structure should always be considered. I propose a considered approach to preservation, considering existing buildings as a potential ressource and not as a constraint.
I reject the vision of conservation that considers a building as something that should be overprotected and visited like a work in a museum. A building, old or new, should contain life. If its original function is obsolete, preservation should also be about transformation.
In the case of the light house, I thought it deserved to be preserved, maintained and enhanced, because of both its historical value and its urban landmark potential.