The living city



Maurice Giauffret



Club Méditerranée in Opio, Palais de la Méditerranée in Nice, Monte-Carlo Palace in Monaco, Résidence Open in Golfe-Juan... Giauffret & Février architects' buildings are part of the Riviera's architectural heritage. Interview with Maurice Giauffret.


Why an architect?
By chance! I wanted to be a consul but life decided otherwise. As my grandfather was Matisse's violin teacher, I think it was mainly music that marked me from childhood, especially Mozart's, so extraordinarily constructed, abstract and perfect. Then there was the thrill I felt at age four when I saw the Pantheon in Rome; for me that is, and always will be, the finest building in the world.


Do you have other benchmarks?
In architects there's of course Charles Moore, my mentor, with whom I worked in the States. Le Corbusier naturally, and Richard Neutra. But I also have a great fondness for southern architects such as Alvaro Siza and Luis Barragán; theirs is a hand-crafted architecture, tremendously simply, in which everything is just light and colour. Obviously there are many more too, in fact that's what has always prevented me building my own house – I'd be incapable of designing something for myself!


How do you see architecture?
You can't be an architect if you're not a humanist, as implying the end-user's wellbeing but also the humanities as we used to be taught in school, a teaching intended to forge your spirit, not your memory. You were trained to be someone who loved life, the arts and literature. If you don't have any references, a certain culture to which to cling, an openness of mind, a broad view of the world and the desire to serve some purpose, you shouldn't be an architect. Then we have to add the educational dimension and pedagogical nature of architecture. If something is beautiful and the client is able to feel that beauty then you awaken their sense of harmony.


Inspiration 9, the project that won in the ArchiCOTE 2013 competition, is sub-titled "Down with the Tuscan Luna Park". Why?
The Tuscan Luna Park is one of my hobby horses because I think certain architects should stop doing fake Versailles, fake Louis XIV – with 60m² apartments we're a long way from the Hall of Mirrors! Yet still we get balustrades and columns and false pediments, and people like that! I fear it may have become impossible to promote an intelligent contemporary architecture that takes into account the fundamental elements, such as climate and materials, inherent in a site. These days we're living in a sort of powdered-wig dream!


So you advocate a resolutely contemporary architecture?
Obviously! And above all a suitable architecture. In what I've built there are many things that haven't aged. For example, the bow-windowed Jardin de Cessole in Nice, built in the 70s, hasn't aged a jot. In architecture longevity is important because that means we're designing buildings that can integrate into the urban fabric or countryside; that doesn't depend on a building's colour or type of shutters or surrounding vegetation, but rather on well-thought-out proportions. All the rest can be changed except that. And I've the impression that hasn't yet been completely assimilated by everyone.


You're talking of architecture that lasts but evolves?
For me, nothing is ever finished, especially in architecture. In my profession there are two main schools. One believes a building can serve every purpose and be transformed. The other believes that what is built is definitive. I belong to the first school. Every building's vocation is to be transformed, to have another life. I'm deeply convinced of that.