House of Dreams
Welcome to Alain Moatti and Henri Rivière's surreal Paris headquarters for Jean Paul Gaultier
Nadine Frey -- Interior Design, 11/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
When Alain Moatti and Henri Rivière joined forces on a competition for Jean Paul Gaultier's new Paris headquarters, the pair didn't submit a single CAD drawing. "We gave them a CD-ROM filled with fantasy sketches—a dream project, with light streaming down and the sky reflected on the floor," says Moatti. "Instead of presenting plans, we told a story." Gaultier, who often swims against established fashion currents, was immediately taken with this surreal vision for the $9.4 million scheme. "Your proposal was the one that moved me," he told the winning duo.
It was career-changing news for Moatti and Rivière, who immediately formed Moatti & Rivière Architecture by combining their separate practices. Moatti, a trained architect with a passion for the stage, had established his own set-design firm in 1995. His auditorium and galleries for the Musée Dapper in Paris garnered favorable attention in 2000. Rivière, meanwhile, had been a furniture maker before studying interior design at Philippe Starck's alma mater, the Ecole Camondo. Rivière's five-year-old interiors firm had attracted clients and collaborators ranging from Hermès to the Office for Metropolitan Architecture by the time he met Moatti. Both were working on a Paris conference center. Soon, they began entering competitions together—without success until the Gaultier project.
Ironically, the beaux arts 1912 building that Gaultier found to house his decidedly capitalist enterprise—offices, prêt-a-porter studios, haute couture atelier, space for runway shows—had been erected by a socialist philanthropist as a palace of the proletariat. The seven stories, totaling 54,000 square feet, included a sweeping limestone staircase leading up to an enormous ballroom where meetings and fund-raising events were held; mezzanine balconies ran down each side. By the time Gaultier signed a contract in 2001, however, the people's palace had served successively as a ribbon factory, cinema, boxing arena, and nightclub. Once proud spaces had been chopped up or walled off, and large parts had fallen into ruin.
"What we did, in essence, was bring in light," Moatti says of the ballroom, now Gaultier's main showroom and runway area. "We took down partitions and reestablished the original dimensions of the space." The barrel-vaulted volume—130 feet long, 46 wide, and 36 high—is lit by three 320-square-foot skylights, their original glazing replaced by an English system of giant pneumatic cushions made of a thermoplastic polymer. "It's 99 percent transparent, much more than glass. The cushions don't color the sunlight at all," says Moatti.
He and Rivière brought the skylights' views of heaven down to earth by giving the showroom a super-shiny black resin floor, which mirrors the ever changing scene overhead. "You feel like you're walking in the clouds," says Moatti. "The floor also seems to double the space, because it's so reflective."
That element of fantasy evolved directly from close study of Gaultier's fashion shows. "We discovered his aesthetic of excess. That was our start," says Moatti. The label's prodigal style matched the exuberance of the building's neoclassical decoration. "We changed as little as possible of the original interior, leaving even its faults," he continues. "Moreover, anything we added, like the skylights, involved totally modern materials. We just weren't interested in an 'authentic' restoration." Note, for example, a chandelier made of hundreds of Ping-Pong balls.
Inspiration for the chandelier came directly from Gaultier, who collaborated actively on the headquarters. Among his other contributions, many enhance the dreamy atmosphere. In the couture atelier, he shrouded furniture, light fixtures, and some of the walls in plain white spandex, suggesting mystery forms emerging from the mist. Gaultier also asked that the walls in the lobby be faced with the kind of tiles found in the Paris metro; the architects tweaked the effect by giving the tiles a gleaming nickel finish.
"We talked to Jean Paul a lot in the beginning," says Rivière. "Then we spoke to the artisans who work for him, trying to tell a story together." The decorative fairy tale thus conjured evidently cast the right spell: Shortly after the completion of Gaultier's interior, the port city of Calais asked Moatti & Rivière Architecture to design a lace museum, another project filled with magical possibilities.