In Paris, two office buildings reaffirm the role of architecture as an expressive force of the urban context

In the design of office complexes, and not only in European cities, we are now accustomed to seeing architectural proposals based on maximum utilization of the lot, with regular forms based on curtain wall façades formulated with the monotony of protruding metal profiles.

A ‘playtime’ of the new millennium – to borrow a term from the famous and sagacious film by Jacques Tati (1967) – with buildings derived from a mechanism driven by efficiency (of costs and performance), where we find no lack of elevated trees and vegetation placed here and there, as a reference to the need for apparent sustainability.

Considering the issue of boredom in the repetition of façade portions, Rudy Ricciotti comments: “The simplest thing to do is to repeat the same module. Some people are amazed by this, making it the signature of projects with prison-like lines, in their games of light and shadow.

It is nothing more than a return to the repressed, the monumental, the raw, the Nazi rationale. The regressive desire for regularity bears witness to the cynicism of an era that has nothing left to do except cut and paste.”

With respect to this depressingly repeated and lauded vision, the research of Rudy Ricciotti – as demonstrated by the two projects examined here – acts as an intentional antagonist.

He replaces the ‘rational’ exploitation of straight lines with the charm of the curve, the variety that already in the mid-1700s was applied by William Hogabrth as the basis of his “The Analysis of Beauty”, and has characterized a large part of modernity until the present.

As opposed to modular glass façades optimized in terms of dimensions and costs, enhanced with overhanging profiles aimed (without success) at disruption of rigid monotony, Ricciotti suggests a glass skin with undulated sunscreens (the Kanal offices at Pantin), or a magical exoskeleton that reminds us of the weaves of threads in fabrics, the material that in this case sustains the client (the 19M complex, Manufacture des Métiers d’art de la mode of Chanel at Paris-Aubervilliers).

To better understand the research conducted by Ricciotti in these two projects – the rejection of dependence on technology, of high-tech emphasis combined with the terror of minimalism – we also need to go back to what Gottfried Semper asserted in 1851 regarding the value of fabric, specifically of carpets, as a basic gesture of architecture to enclose domestic space.

For Semper, the weave is the originating element, the essence of the wall in any construction, even after the rise of masonry.

And the value of the weave as a compositional tool, as a design element capable of disrupting the sad logic of the curtain wall 2.0, seems to represent a path considered and demonstrated to be possible by Ricciotti.

Describing the effective kineticism of the façades of the sinuous, seductive Kanal offices, featuring vertical sunscreens composed of 305 modules of corrugated sheets in batch-colored glass, the architect explains: “The dismal fans of contextualism, in the ennui of their passive demonstration, might see this as an impression of waves, but the muddy water of the [adjacent] canal of the Ourcq doesn’t have the magic of this glass perspective, this sea of ice.

Circling and detouring, transparent snakes and panels generate a syncretism of Alexandrine charm, subtly asserting that it is still possible to invent new things. With certain refinements, here we have the optimistic enterprise, of the euphoria of form. An aristocratic insurrection in the midst of architectural villainy, that sees the weave only as a pretext to announce the twilight of the rare mannerists.”

And if “norms and standards lead to crime,” as Ricciotti remarks, the value of the weave emerges forcefully in the 19M of Chanel.

An innovative exoskeleton of 231 modules of white BFUP filaments, with a height of 24 meters and a thickness of 15 cm, woven in a single piece (a novelty on a worldwide level from a technical viewpoint), acts as an effective filter with variable density, in relation to the direction of the sunlight.

The complexity of the weave of the external façade layer that wraps the buildings – a pattern of concrete threads inspired by those of textiles – is the result of lengthy research on the part of the architect over a span of 40 years, aided by the structural engineering firm Lamoureux & Ricciotti Ingénierie.

The project for the development and support of crafts workshops working in the fashion sector for Chanel is a work of architecture that “speaks of sensitivity, femininity and tenderness, and of the efforts we owe to the memory of the true crafts” (Ricciotti).