Ru­dy Ricciotti Ar­chi­tec­ture: a Ma­jor Art

Af­ter the ef­fer­ves­cence set off by the ope­ning of the MuCEM in Mar­seille, buil­dings de­si­gned by Ru­dy Ricciotti sche­du­led for com­ple­tion in 2014 and 2015 in­clude the Ri­ve­saltes Mu­sée-Mé­mo­rial and the FRAC Basse-Nor­man­die. Com­bi­ning tech­ni­cal mas­te­ry and a

Art Press - - ARCHITECTURE - Trans­la­tion, L-S Tor­goff

In op­po­si­tion to the glo­ba­li­zed eco­no­my and its des­truc­tion of skills, the col­lec­tive va­lue of work and the concep­tual exi­gen­cies of ar­chi­tec­ture, Ru­dy Ricciotti of­fers a re­turn to sen­si­bi­li­ty and beau­ty. He ti­re­less­ly fus­ti­gates the “mi­ni­ma­list” ex­cesses of the mo­der­nist dog­ma, and de­plores the “an­xie­ty and ter­ror” pro­du­ced by the aes­the­tic pu­rism and aca­de­mic forms of late mo­der­nism that have trans­for­med the built en­vi­ron­ment in­to a world with no nar­ra­tive. He is equal­ly fierce in his cri­ti­cism of the de­cons­truc­tio­nist style as a vec­tor of a mor­bid fas­ci­na­tion with frac­ture and dis­per­sal ( of forms and mea­ning). What’s nee­ded, he argues, is the construc­tion of ano­ther nar­ra­tive, re­jec­ting “the ty­ran­ny of the ex­cep­tio­nal, the fantastic and the in­cre­dible” along with that of the or­di­na­ry and ba­nal.(1) Ricciotti’s ar­chi­tec­ture brings to­ge­ther tech­ni­cal com­plexi­ty and the ex­pres­sive power of construc­tion ma­te­rials. As Marc Mim­ram per­cep­ti­ve­ly notes, he has suc­cee­ded in re­con­ci­ling struc­tu­ral ly­ri­cism

with ce­ment. “We need to get back to the plea­sure of raw con­crete fa­çades, the dis­tin­gui­shed ex­pres­sion of una­dor­ned mas­si­ve­ness and struc­tu­ral ske­le­tons.”(2) His pe­des­trian bridge cal­led the Pont du Diable (Saint-Guil­hem-le-Dé­sert, 2008), for example, is a pio­nee­ring struc­ture for Eu­rope in its use of ul­tra high-per­for­mance fi­ber-rein­for­ced con­crete. It is 70 me­ters long with no sup­ports, with a span more than 67 me­ters in length and 1.80 me­ters wide. The use of ad­van­ced tech­no­lo­gy (the struc­ture was pre­fa­bri­ca­ted and moun­ted on site by on­ly six wor­kers) made it pos­sible to fo­cus on the visual im­pact of the foot­bridge. With no cables, it is a pure line stret­ching across the land­scape of the Hé­rault ri­ver gorges. Tech­no­lo­gy must not do­mi­nate or ins­tru­men­ta­lize ar­chi­tec­ture. An ar­chi­tect must be able to keep playing with the flaws and ten­sions in­herent in a de­si­gn pro­ject. The use of fi­ber- rein­for­ced con­crete for the lat­ti­ce­work on the J4 in Mar­seille (MuCEM, 2013) blurs our per­cep­tion of the buil­ding and its en­ve­lope so that it os­cil­lates bet­ween har­sh­ness and light­ness, or­ga­ni­ci­ty and ar­ti­fi­cia­li­ty. To take ano­ther example, the ri­gor and sim­pli­ci­ty of the ITER (In­ter­na­tio­nal Ther­mo­nu­clear Ex­pe­ri­men­tal Reac­tor) head­quar­ters in Ca­da­rache (2012) are per­tur­bed by a fa­çade equip­ped with black con­crete sun­shades whose ir­re­gu­lar­ly un­du­la­ting sur­face gives the im­pres­sion of a cur­tain. From the cri­ti­cal mo­der­nism of the Villa Ly­pren­di (Toulon, 1998) to the large, asym­me­tri­cal in­laid con­crete of the Stade Jean Bouin (Pa­ris, 2013), Ricciotti’s ar­chi­tec­ture is “he­te­ro­ge­neous and pa­ra­doxi­cal.”(3) Ricciotti iden­ti­fies his style as the kind of man­ne­rism that can be found in the work of ar­tists (he cites his friend, the ar­tist Gé­rard Tra­quan­di: “Man­ne­rism is a syn­the­sis of dif­ferent kinds of know­ledge”) and wri­ters (“like Bar­bey d’Au­re­vil­ly, I want to make my ar­chi­tec­tu­ral sen­tences as long as pos­sible”). The De­part­ment of Is­la­mic Art at the Louvre (de­si­gned with Ma­rio Bel­li­ni, 2012) is an illus­tra­tion of this. Si­tua­ted in the Vis­con­ti cour­tyard, this new space houses near­ly three thou­sand art­works from In­dia, Iran, Tur­key and Spain. Its roo­fing is a tri­angle made of a double layer of glass co­ve­red with a gil­ded me­tal­lic mesh. To high­light the rich­ness of the col­lec­tion (the di­ver­si­ty of re­li­gious and eve­ry­day ob­jects, the re­fi­ne­ment of the way the ma­te­rials are wor­ked, the abs­tract and de­co­ra­tive shapes and mo­tifs) Ricciotti de­si­gned a floa­ting roof sup­por­ted by eight co­lumns. This fluid veil, slight­ly set back from the mu­seum’s fa­çades, plays with our per­cep­tion of the light and the ma­te­rials, ma­king the layer of alu­mi­num look like cloth, ad­ding com­plexi­ty to its or­na­men­tal di­men­sion and re­la­tions of scale with the ar­chi­tec­ture of the his­to­ric site, and set­ting off a dia­lec­tic bet­ween the un­du­la­tion and the screen that both co­vers and connects it.


Waves, faults, web­bing, trun­ca­ted vo­lumes… Ricciotti ma­ni­pu­lates and bends the vo­lumes, thi­ck­nesses and blocks, and dis­rupts the boundaries bet­ween in­side and out­side. Thus the images are ne­ver simple or ob­vious. The me­sh­work of the MuCEM may seem fa­mi­liar with its Orien­tal and or­ga­nic ac­cents, brin­ging out the mi­ne­ral beau­ty of Me­di­ter­ra­nean land­scapes, but its di­men­sions and bla­ck­ness al­so freight it with a cer­tain vio­lence, as if any in­no­cence were im­pos­sible. The Centre Cultu­rel Ai­mé Cé­saire in Gen­ne­vil­liers (2013) is an ir­re­gu­lar, hol­low prism of white con­crete whose ope­nings along the buil­ding’s sides and cor­ners bring to mind the torn can­vases of Lu­cio Fon­ta­na. This de­li­be­rate war­ping of vo­lumes made its ap­pea­rance ear­ly in Ricciotti’s work, such as the Vi­trolles sta­dium (1990), a big rhom­bus sit­ting smack on the ground, and the slight­ly tra­pe­zoi­dal ins­tead of rec­tan­gu­lar Col­lège 750 in Saus­set-lesPins (1992). Ricciotti clear­ly en­joys “be­traying mo­der­nist va­lues” by introducing an ele­ment of doubt. So­me­thing al­ways up­sets the prin­ciples of to­ta­li­ty and ho­mo­ge­nei­ty. The func­tion of his buil­dings

is to neu­tra­lize ar­chi­tec­ture’s cur­rent consu­mer-rea­dy nar­ra­tive and image, ma­king pos­sible all kinds of sty­lis­tic and for­mal dis­tor­tions.


This ar­chi­tect has de­ve­lo­ped his thin­king through close contact with ar­tists such as Gilles Ma­hé, a pre­cur­sor of re­la­tio­nal aes­the­tics, Ber­nard Ba­zile and Ju­lien Blaine. The Ber­lin sculp­tor Fred Ru­bin made in­ter­ven­tions in the Ni­ko­laï­saal concert hall in Pots­dam (2000), the Pa­villon Noir in Aix-en-Pro­vence (2004) and the I TER head­quar­ters buil­ding. I n the boar­droom of that in­ter­na­tio­nal ener­gy re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion, this ar­tist ins­tal­led a light fix­ture ta­ken from the ato­mic ener­gy agen­cy of for­mer East Ger­ma­ny, an uproo­ted, re­cy­cled ob­ject whose ideo­lo­gi­cal context has fa­ded away. Its pre­sence here is al­most an aber­ra­tion, brin­ging in­to col­li­sion two an­ta­go­nis­tic scien­ti­fic and po­li­ti­cal worlds. Ricciotti likes to un­der­take part­ner­ships that chal­lenge ar­chi­tec­ture’s sym­bo­lic au­tho­ri­ty, its ar­khê (a Greek word mea­ning foun­da­tion, prin­ciple, com­mand­ment). In 1997, he wor­ked with Christophe Ber­da­guer and Ma­rie Pé­jus in de­si­gning eight

Mai­sons qui meurent (Houses that die), struc­tures that self-des­truct in rhythm with the lives of their in­ha­bi­tants (through na­tu­ral phe­no­me­na, the ero­sion of the buil­ding ma­te­rials and other pro­cesses). In 2011, he col­la­bo­ra­ted with Claude Vial­lat to de­si­gn the Mai­son de l’Em­ploi in Saint-Étienne. Ricciotti used va­ria­tions on the mo­tif crea­ted by Vial­lat (a “bean”) on each of the four fa­çades by ma­king ope­nings lit up at night with red, green and blue lights. “The idea was co­ward­ly: to strip the ar­chi­tect of his res­pon­si­bi­li­ty. In 1968, Vial­lat wan­ted to push back the li­mits of pain­ting, and in 2000 I wan­ted to push back the li­mits of style in a buil­ding that’s about unem­ploy­ment.” With Sup­port/Sur­face, Vial­lat in­ven­ted the di- sap­pea­rance of the frame and pro­vo­ked a cri­sis in the ap­pre­hen­sion of the ma­te­rial de­li­mi­ta­tions of pain­ting. This stra­ta­gem trans­po­sed to the scale of a buil­ding “kills” the ques­tion of pro­por­tion by mo­di­fying ar­chi­tec­ture’s construc­tive and sym­bo­lic hie­rar­chies. The fa­çade is no lon­ger an im­per­so­nal mask punc­tua­ted by ope­nings. Plas­ti­ci­ty takes over, gi­ving the buil­ding a new iden­ti­ty.


Ano­ther thing that makes Ricciotti’s de­si­gns exem­pla­ry is his at­ten­tion to the com­plexi­ty of the ar­chi­tec­tu­ral brief. The FRAC Basse-Nor­man­die and the Mu­séeMé­mo­rial du Camp de Ri­ve­saltes re­pre­sen­ted chal­lenges be­cause the sites were high­ly char­ged his­to­ri­cal­ly. The first, an art cen­ter to be com­ple­ted next year, will oc­cu­py a for­mer ni­ne­teenth-cen­tu­ry convent in a neigh­bo­rhood near down­town Caen. The buil­ding was to be re­con­fi­gu­red and an ad­di­tion construc­ted. He streng­the­ned the spa­tial lo­gic of the clois­ter by ad­ding a fourth side, em­pha­si­zing it fur­ther with a long beam made of fi­ber-rein­for­ced con­crete. The de­si­gn as a whole is cha­rac­te­ri­zed by the dis­cre­tion of the con­tem­po­ra­ry in­ter­ven­tion and a mir­ror game bet­ween the big re­flec­ting pool on the roof, and the glass-en­clo­sed sec­tions of the new struc­ture and the clois­ter. Ricciotti uti­li­zed the constraints of this his­to­ric site to create a poe­try of mo­ve­ment, of di­sap­pea­rance and re­flec­tion. The Mu­sée-Mé­mo­rial de Ri­ve­saltes (com­ple­tion set for late 2014) will be a ve­nue for re­search and an ex­hi­bi­tion space on a tra­gic his­to­ric site, a concen­tra­tion camp first used to in­tern Spa­nish Re­pu­bli­can re­fu­gees and then as a tran­sit camp for Jews and Gyp­sies be­fore they were sent to death camps. Af­ter the war in Al­ge­ria it hou­sed Har­kis (Al­ge­rians who had fought for the French). The half-bu­ried buil­ding is a red­dish earth-tone ce­ment mo­no­lith no tal­ler than the neigh­bo­ring bar­racks. The buil­ding’s mas­sive opa­ci­ty conveys a re­jec­tion of a spec­ta­cu­lar and/or com­pas­sio­nate de­si­gn. Its si­mul­ta­neous­ly brutal and humble ma­te­ria­li­ty sym­bo­lizes the ten­sions bet­ween the per­sis­tence and era­sure of me­mo­ry, and the good and bad conscience of the French na­tion. Ricciotti’s work is en­ga­ged in a cons­tant dia­logue with the ba­sic ele­ments of the ar­chi­tec­tu­ral vo­ca­bu­la­ry, de­cons­truc­ting the ca­nons of func­tio­na­lism and fa­ça­deism. When you read his wri­tings and hear him talk about the people he ad­mires (from Ar­thur Cra­van to Pier Pao­lo Pa­so­li­ni), you un­ders­tand why he seeks to hu­ma­nize a dis­ci­pline that has lost its po­li­ti­cal and tech­ni­cal moo­rings. The in­tro­duc­tion of a germ of doubt in­to ar­chi­tec­ture makes it pos­sible to strip con­tem­po­ra­ry construc­tion of those ele­ments that make it “com­for­table”—i.e., reas­su­ring and stan­dar­di­zed. This cri­ti­cal mis­sion is what drives his work. That’s why his ar­chi­tec­tu­ral thin­king is ba­sed on a dia­lec­ti­cal prin­ciple clo­se­ly lin­king ethi­cal and aes­the­tic orien­ta­tions in a quest for a hu­man equi­li­brium, a rea­li­ty-ba­sed hy­po­the­sis re­ne­wed and fur­ther dif­fe­ren­tia­ted with each new pro­ject.

(1) L’Ar­chi­tec­ture est un sport de com­bat, conver­sa­tion avec David d’Équain­ville, Pa­ris: Tex­tuel, 2013. The Ru­dy Ricciotti quo­ta­tions are ex­cerp­ted from an un­pu­bli­shed in­ter­view with him in Cas­sis on Oc­to­ber 23, 2013.

(2) La ra­tio­na­li­té ly­rique, ca­ta­logue of the ex­hi­bi­tion Ricciotti ar­chi­tecte, Pa­ris, Ci­té de l’Ar­chi­tec­ture et du Pa­tri­moine/Le Gac Press, 2013, p. 35. (3) Ca­ta­logue for Ar­chi­lab 2000, Or­leans, HYX édi­tions, p. 194. A book about Ru­dy Ricciotti’s work by Fla­vio Man­gione is to be pu­bli­shed in a four-lan­guage edi­tion (La­tin, Ita­lian, French and Pro­ven­çal) by An­dré Frère Édi­tions and Pros­pet­tive Edi­zio­ni.

Ci-des­sus/ above: Le pont de la Ré­pu­blique, Montpellier, inau­gu­ré le 18 mars 2014. (© Li­sa Ricciotti).

“Ré­pu­blique” bridge. Ci-des­sous/ be­low: Centre cultu­rel Ai­mé Cé­saire, Gen­ne­vil­liers. 2013. (© O. Amsellem).

Siège d’ITER France, Ca­da­rache. 2012. (© Li­sa Ricciotti). Head of­fice of ITER France

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