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19.1.05

Equerre d'Argent Awarded

Antoinette Robain and Claire Guieysse
The équerre d'argent is an important prize for architecture in France, sometimes called the Prix Goncourt of Architecture. A recent article (A Pantin, le Centre de la danse couronné, January 17) by Marie-Douce Albert for Le Figaro covered the award's recipient for 2004, the new Centre national de la danse in Pantin, a suburb to the north of Paris. Strangely, this is not a new building, but a renovation and rethinking of an old administrative building, much hated by the people who had to work there (my translation):
There will be Pantin before and Pantin after. In the village in Seine-Saint-Denis, there was once, not so long ago, on the edge of the Ourcq canal, an administrative mastodon hated by the bureaucracy. Last spring, in this gigantic edifice, the Centre national de la danse (CND) established itself in luxury. The happy metamorphosis undertaken by architects Antoinette Robain and Claire Guieysse has today made the building worthy of receiving the 2004 équerre d'argent. This prize has been awarded to a renovation almost for the first time. Given by the Moniteur press group since 1983, it recognizes the best French architectural project of the year, and is therefore generally given to new buildings, with one exception, in 1997, for the extension and renovation of the Musée des beaux-arts in Lille. [...]

But, in Pantin, it is more a matter of recovering something disliked that is being celebrated. The municipal administrative center had been created from raw concrete by architect Jacques Kalisz at the dawn of the 1970s. The bitter building housed cheery institutions like the ANPE, the social security administration, and the commisariat behind its cut-up façade, evoking primitive masks or barcodes. "Kalisz used to speak of it like a piece of lace," recalls Bertrand Kern, current Socialist mayor of Pantin, who is hardly convinced. "It was truly barren. Then it became blackened and parts of the concrete had fallen down." It was in vain that the building had been recognized as an example of "brutalist" architecture: the Pantinese had no respect for it. As soon as the government administration had vacated it, they were ready to tear it down.
The building was sold to the architects for a symbolic franc. They gutted the building, preserving all of the concrete exterior, and created 11 rehearsal studios, a media library, an exhibition hall, and conference spaces, all joined by wide corridors. A lighting specialist, Hervé Audibert, created effects that also helped to lighten up the building's former weightiness.

Another article by the same author (Un duo de gagnantes, January 17) in Le Figaro provides some background on the architects (shown here). They are by no means the only team to be awarded the prize in its history. However, at 48 and 41 years old, they are by no means starchitects in France, although their joint company has been around since 2000. They join another female architect notably honored in 2004, Zaha Hadid, Anglo-Iraqi recipient of the Pritzker Prize. You can also read another article (Des plans à deux, January 17) by Ange-Dominique Bouzet for Libération, which reports that the team is currently working on several new projects: a child-care center in Paris, a library in Massy, and a concert hall in Rennes.

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