Europe 40 Under 40 Awards Tell a friend
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.
The design of the square of the future Courthouse deals with the juxtaposition of various scales ans uses : the daily practice of pedestrians, and the monumentality of the 160m tower's Courthouse high. The symbolic dimension of the Courthouse and its square, its strategic position, leads us to organise a metropolitan scale emblematic reflexion. Justice refers to multiple concepts, including power, transparency and democracy. These concepts find their meanings in the urban and architectural scale of the future square, by the choice of the stone as a floor covering that forms a powerful horizontal ground, sustainable and accessible to all. Shades of granite confers nobility and a centenary project's longevity. This mineral composition plays with the idea of daily migration, process and erosion.
The square is structured by three dynamic «rifts», parallel to the diagonal axis. They are metropolitan benches arranged between the main paths of the square, and can manage the slope of the new landcape and create accessibility and total continuity of the ground.
Combined with benches, two plant-covered areas bring porosity and comfort to the users of the square. This treatment symbolizes opening of Justice and offers different uses adapted to different publics.
By night, the light at ground level enhances the composition of metropolitan benches. Above, the tree foliage is highlighted by spotlights integrated into the floor and participates in the staging of public space. The candelabras are similar to polymiroirs abstract monoliths. Mysterious, they promise a timeless sign, an archetypal door. These monumental candelabras whose maximum height reaches 24 meters, represent a particular visual and temporal event from the Paris ring road. These steles resonate with the majesty of the Courthouse. By day, they connect the ground and the sky, the square and the Courthouse, sparking a vertical looking movement. By night, they generate a gentle luminescence which slow changes are orchestrated by ambient noise and cars moving on the ring road, and the square becomes a new metropolitan signal.