SO-IL gives cultural ensemble space in old glass factory
© Iwan Baan

SO-IL gives cultural ensemble space in old glass factory

27 Mar 2023  •  News  •  By Robert Muis

In the village of Meisenthal, located in the French Vosges Mountains, architectural firm SO-IL has given a new home to a number of cultural initiatives in an old glass factory. The three institutions - a museum, workshops for glassblowers and a multipurpose hall - have each been given more and better space. SO-IL also added an undulating, in-situ poured concrete surface that connects the various existing buildings and provides space for additional functions.

photo_credit © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

The northern Vosges region used to be an important site of the glass industry. Heritage of this industry can still be found in several places, such as the village of Meisenthal. Here the historic glass factory, founded in 1704 and closed in 1969, was now in use by three independent but interconnected institutions.

photo_credit © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
photo_credit © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

Museum and makerspace

The former administration building housed a small exhibition on the business history of La Verrerie de Meisenthal, Meisenthal's glass factory. The old glassworks were used by local (glass) artists. Concerts were held in the large, former grand factory hall. This turned the industrial heritage into a cultural center; because the old glass factory is in the center of the village, the location also functioned as a village square, says Florian Idenburg, architect and co-founder of SO-IL.

photo_credit © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
photo_credit © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

The exhibition space has been expanded into a full-fledged museum, the Musée du verre et du cristal, dedicated to the regional glass industry. To the workshops, located in the historic glassworks, SO-Il added two studios. The CIAV (Centre International d'Art Verrier) has thus also become a full-fledged center for glass art; with its combination of craft and modern techniques, it has an international appeal to glassblowers and artists, Idenburg says.

photo_credit © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
photo_credit © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

Factory for music and theater

The factory hall, which already served as a concert space, has been converted into a multidisciplinary space for art installations, events and concerts on several floors. The architectural firm added a nuew entrance on the previously unused basement level and incorporated a "black box" into the factory building, which improved acoustics. The auditorium offers 500 seats or 700 standing.

The stage can be oriented to two sides. "Games can be played toward the black box; then the theater offers an enclosed space," Idenburg explains. "The back wall can also be opened, to orient the stage on the other side. Then the performers have access to a 3,000-seat concert hall."

photo_credit © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan
photo_credit © Iwan Baan
© Iwan Baan

Wavy square
Part of the task was to connect the three separate cultural bodies. SO-IL solved that by, as Idenmburg describes it, "laying a picnic rug over the site." An undulating plane of on-site poured concrete stretches between the existing buildings. The shape gives expression to the glass industry, says the architect: it is a a flowing form solidified, as glass transitions from liquid to solid form in production.

The plane of clean concrete not only connects the buildings of the three cultural initiatives, but at the same time bridges the height differences in the site. The plane functions as roof, ceiling and wall; spaces for offices, education and catering, among others, have been realized under and on this plane. Also, the undulating plane forms a new public space; this square forms a flexible place for open-air theater, concerts and seasonal festivities.

photo_credit © SO-IL
© SO-IL
photo_credit © SO-IL
© SO-IL
photo_credit © SO-IL
© SO-IL
photo_credit © SO-IL
© SO-IL
photo_credit © SO-IL
© SO-IL