AUBUSSON – With its fabric façade of brightly coloured vertical stripes, Terreneuve’s design for the Cité Internationale de la Tapisserie in Aubusson references the town’s tapestry-making tradition. Aubusson is on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list in recognition of its artisanal legacy, although the industry is now in decline: the central French town currently has fewer than 150 people working in tapestry-making, compared with 2000 a century ago, and unemployment is high. As a centre for exhibitions, conservation and know-how, the Cité, which opened in July, is intended to reinvigorate Aubusson, as well as the industry.
The centre occupies the former National School of Decorative Art, which was built in the late 1960s. The €8.5 million renovation project involved excavation that resulted in a new basement level and increased the size of the building. Of the 5000-sqm floor area now available, 1600 sqm is occupied by exhibition space and 600 sqm by a nave. Other facilities include a documentation hub, a space for contemporary creations and classrooms for training weavers.
The aim was to give a ‘new visibility’ to Aubusson’s heritage, says Nelly Breton of Paris-based Terreneuve. ‘All the ingredients were there to do something directly related to the image of tapestry,’ she continues, adding that the designers had a ‘moral obligation’ to insulate the façade, originally constructed with the use of asbestos. Within its slatted ‘cage’ of timber – made from Douglas firs grown locally, in Limousin – the striped fabric skin incorporates a solar filter that protects the tapestries inside the building. The fabric’s pale-grey inner surface shields the interior from the sun.
‘The building is a real success,’ says Emmanuel Gérard, director of the Cité Internationale de la Tapisserie. He says that the people of Aubusson, who used to hate it, seem quite pleased with the metamorphosis. ‘Now, it represents their future.’ One sticking point is the car park directly in front of the centre and next to a school. Curator Bruno Ythier and Terreneuve hope to have the car park relocated, a move that will transform both the site and its surroundings.