French architect and 2016 Jane Drew prize winner Odile Decq has completed a five-year renovation of Maison Bernard, a "bubble house" in the South of France designed by Hungarian architect Antti Lovag (+ slideshow).
The bright red home in Théoule sur Mer was designed by Lovag for his patron, industrialist Pierre Bernard, who provided the resources for the architect to experiment with his ideas about organic architecture – or "habitology" – for 20 years.
The house, completed in the 1970s, appears to be made of interconnecting bubbles of space. This design was based on Lovag's observations and responses to the local land and climate conditions.
Rather than creating a structure and filling it with rooms, he decided on the room layout and the rhythm of windows and openings first, creating an iron frame that expanded and evolved until the final design was agreed. It was then covered with a layer of concrete to create the house's bumpy silhouette.
"It's a house that was built while being transformed along the way, evolving, and that continues to develop," said Decq, who was invited to carry out the renovation by Bernard's children, who now run the foundation that manages the house.
The architect spent a year and half getting to know the Bernards and the house before making any changes.
"I didn't expect the impact it would have on me because you first arrive from the top then enter little by little and the entire interior circuit for me was like a grand discovery," she said. "In particular the hallway, which is both completely an interior and exterior space, it's an in-between area that at the same time connects the whole house. It was absolutely magical."
"You felt that time had passed there, that the house had a certain age, yet at the same time it was intact, had retained all its objects, everything that had been designed at the time by Antti Lovag," said Decq.
Decq worked closely with Isabelle Bernard to create a new colour scheme, and interior and exterior furnishings for the house, which now hosts an annual artist residence programme and can be visited by the public.
"I began by not daring to go inside and began to design furniture for the exterior, just to become accustomed to the house," said Decq. "To 'tame' it as they sometimes say."
"The work carried out with Isabelle consisted of progressive agreements. We, or she, decided upon each year's series of works to be done."
Decq used colour to structure her renovation of the house, which has a bright red exterior with bulging round and oval windows and skylights.
"The concept of 'too much is never enough' became the colour leitmotif," said Decq.
The architect worked with many of the original craftsmen that had been used by Lovag, who died in 2014, while he lived on site during the construction of the building.
Decq and Bernard chose new schemes for different sections of the house, creating an equally brightly coloured interior, with pinks, yellows, blues, reds and greens among the shades used in different areas of the house.
The renovation started with the living room, entrance, restroom and a guest room.
"The following year, we did her father's bedroom," said Decq. "It was essentially touching upon something iconic."
"Afterwards, little by little, we chose the adapted colours. She preferred pink and purple for her part, so we chose colour scales within that range."
Each room has a different layout, with curving built-in furniture, carpets that extend up over surfaces, and revolving storage units among other features.
A room allocated to Isabelle's brother Jean Patrice Bernard is coloured orange, which Decq said was selected for being a "more masculine colour."
"His room needed to be rather flashy, rather strong," she said.
"We kept the last room for the final stage. It hadn't been completed and needed to be transformed. I suggested to Isabelle that we put all of the houses' colours within it. Together we decided to manufacture a kind of sunrise because this room's space encompasses east and west."
This space features furniture covered in multi-coloured cushions.
"We gathered together the fabrics from all of the other rooms to create a multi-coloured collection of cushions," said Decq. "Ultimately this room is a synthesis of the house."
Decq, who was named as this year's recipient of the Jane Drew prize for raising the profile of women in architecture, is known for her bold approach to colour with projects like the 2010 glass-covered extension to the Museo d'Arte Contemporanei di Roma, which includes a red lacquered auditorium.
Lovag was born in Hungary in 1920 and moved to France in the 1940s, where he began working with Jean Prouve. In the 1960s he worked with architect Jacques Couëlle, developing an "organic" style of architecture that drew its forms from nature. Lovag described his approach as "habitology".
Lovag and Bernard followed Maison Bernard with two more projects – the Côte d'Azur Observatory in Caussols, and another house completed in 1989 that became the home of fashion designer Pierre Cardin and was recently used to stage a Dior fashion show by designer Raf Simons.
Bernard died in 1991 and the house has since been managed using an endowment fund.
Other recent renovations of buildings by significant 20th century architects include a mid-century house in Wiltshire featuring a studio designed by Brutalist architects Alison and Peter Smithson.
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