Theater Simone Signoret la Durance

Theater Simone Signoret la Durance

Philippe Gazeau
Château-Arnoux Saint-Auban , France
Project Year

Theater Simone Signoret la Durance

Philippe Gazeau as Architects

Flying a kite through the windy skies delicately balances the heady delights of controlling the elements. It offers the pleasures of being able to guide this delicate and colourful sail through impeccable trajectories and audacious arabesques to brush against, reveal and finally define a motionless, heavier and imperfect world. There is always the fear of a sudden shift of the wind or a fatal lack of control that will immediately result in the kite plummeting to the ground and ending this escape from the real world’s gravity.

The Château-Arnoux auditorium is located in the heart of a reality that is as dull as it is tedious, that of a Paris dormitory town. The problem of their design is somewhat like the delicate and risky art of kite flying. In these difficult urban situations, the solution is not to impose a successful graft or insertion but rather to attempt a perilous immersion, a skydive into the reality of an environment that has nothing to gain by absorbing the new object. The innovative architectural apparition must, in a certain manner, remain alien to its environment. This attractive, fragile and strange apparition must avoid being tempered by its local context if it is to have any effect on it and break through the indifference and boredom of the local residents.

Located outside the small town of Château-Arnoux on a plateau overlooking the magnificent Durance valley, the site for the Château-Arnoux cultural centre immediately reveals itself as being disappointing. The anarchic town planning around the town’s entry points has completely submerged the magnificent countryside. This disenchantment is further increased by the post-modern neo-Provencal architecture of the existing building to which the auditorium will be attached. Given this context, the extension needed to take advantage of all opportunities offered to powerfully stand out to become the site’s first reactive project.

Paradoxically, the opportunity was presented by the neoregionalist regulations imposing sloped roofs and the level of their gutters when taken against the total height of the constructions. The regulations permitted the installation of the auditorium’s imposing volume on condition that it be covered by a monumental roof with low hung sides. An atypical and particular interpretation of the regulations allowed the auditorium volume to be entirely separated from its roof and to incorporate a great height between the two elements. This transformed what otherwise might have been a normal roof into gigantic wings floating well above the average height of the surrounding structures.

An astonishing and sparkling beacon in its environment, the floating roof discovers and reveals the entire in-situ finish concrete case of the auditorium and its high level technical entrails. These close up and distant views allow the extension to radically stand out from the existing building against which it is virtually attached.

Inside, the black box of the auditorium and the horizontal window set above the stage create a “camera obscura” effect throwing the attractive external landscape into perspective. This is in reaction to the existing context which had reduced the surrounding countryside to insignificance. The new auditorium is a tool able to direct the public’s attention and focus onto the beauty of the site, once again making it into a permanent grandstand attraction.

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