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Europe 40 Under 40 Awards ARCHIVE 2016 40under40
House of Cultures and Memories - Moreau Kusunoki - France
  • House of Cultures and Memories - Moreau Kusunoki - France
House of Cultures and Memories - Moreau Kusunoki - France


Established in Paris in 2011, Moreau Kusunoki Architectes inscribed itself discreetly into the roster of young architects in France. Out of their modesty, the firm deliberately restrained itself from all forms of media attention, in the belief that architecture is best conceived in reserve and introspection, which are favourable to the emergence of poetic visions.

The firm would not have existed without Japan. Hiroko was born there and earned her degree from the Shibaura Institute of Technology in Tokyo. Nicolas Moreau, a former student of the École Nationale d’Architecture de Belleville in Paris, discovered the Japanese archipelago in 2003, almost by accident. It was in Tokyo where the two had their first professional experiences while working with internationally renowned architects: Shigeru Ban for Hiroko; SANAA and Kengo Kuma for Nicolas. They learned a number of lessons having passed through the studios of people they regarded as masters: the art of construction from Ban, programmatic and spatial investigation from SANAA, and the sensibility for materials from Kuma.

In 2008, they left Tokyo for France where Nicolas set up Kengo Kuma’s office in Europe, which was primarily occupied with the Frac project in Marseille and the City of Arts and Culture in Besançon. The French system of public commission, made through the organisation of competitions for young architects, gave them the opportunity to open their own office. The new Théâtre de Beauvaisis, in Beauvais, was the first project they were awarded. They subsequently won the competitions for the House of Cultures and Memories in Cayenne, the Polytech School of Engineering in Bourget-du-Lac, and a plaza for the new High Court of Paris designed by Renzo Piano, which is currently under construction.

Cultural duality of the architects is legible in all of the projects conceived by the practice. From Japan, the architects retained a passion for details. Their projects begin with the infinitesimal – a joint in a wall, a tile – and is carried forward to the scale of an object whose presence necessarily jostles the existing city, in accordance with an entirely Western logic of urbanism. The difference of their maternal tongues creates a sense of “in-between” for Nicolas Moreau and Hiroko Kusunoki, with the distance between them is abolished by the language of design. Rather than creating a building that springs from an abrupt idea, the two partners prefer the attestation of objects, having inherited a Japanese trait: drawings and models allow them to gradually approach the final form. Intuition and feeling, more than reason, provide the justness of the solution.

The concept of “in-between”, or known as ma in Japanese, is often found in the architecture of Moreau Kusunoki. Between two buildings, it lies the space of possibilities, where life must be developed. For the Guggenheim Helsinki, it is the interstices of circulation that brings together and separates the exhibition halls. The appropriation of ma by the users is the sign of success in a building.

Moreau Kusunoki sees the Guggenheim project as an opportunity to elevate their architectural ideas to a new level. For the firm, research into materials and the revival of traditional know-how is crucial: a chance to free architecture from the confinement imposed by regimentation and industry, an act that is both aesthetic and militant.

Project Description
Since XVIII's century, the old hospital Jean Martial houses the history of the city of Cayenne and memories of its people. This observation is the starting point of the project ; the rehabilitation of the old hospital into a museum is the challenge. Place of conservation, exhibition, demonstration, cultural expertise, the House of Cultures and Memories of French-Guiana would be the site of a “living together”, a Guyanese identity made by Native American cultures, Bushinengués, Creole, Hmong and their interbreeding.
The House of Cultures and Memories of French-Guiana brings together in a single place a museum, a documentation center, a contemporary art center, a cinema , and all authorities and services attached to them. The museum, deployed in the two main buildings of the old hospital Jean Martial, is the spinal column. The House of Cultures and Memories of French-Guiana must be a living museum, called to enrich themselves, to evolve, for knowledge, open to all, a place to arouse curiosity and not certainty.
The project deals with landscape and urban scale. The design of a double inclinated panel roof calls back the ancestral technique of the «carbet» ; this architectural choice integrates naturally the project in his context, because Cayenne is a «roof-city». It provides shadow and freshness, the museum becomes a necessary and generous refuge. Secondary shading ceilings, naturally ventilated, are made by green ebony, and compose a monumental claustra. When the under roof is transparent, the light is subtly filtered and creates a shaded and comfortable atmosphere. The roof becomes the envelope, merges interior and exterior limits and generate welcoming spaces.
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