The Préau* des Enfants is part of the art centre « Espace de l’Art Concret » that inhabits the Château de Mouans-Sartoux. At the initiative of the founder, the small exhibition pavilion for the art education programme was created shortly after the new museum building opened.
The structure, located in the château’s park, can be reached on foot via different paths. Similar to a large window, it opens toward nature and frames it. The horizontal structure of the light-coloured pavilion, made of exposed concrete, contrasts with the dark, vertical tree trunks.
The solid walls and roof of the Préau converge toward the centre like wings. A free standing wall in the middle, with integrated, weather-protected display cases on both sides, acts as a partition of the open space, so that courses and events can take place simultaneously. Two long, low benches made of solid wood along the open sides provide room for entire school classes and can be used to sit on or as shelf space.
The inside walls are smooth and painted white. On the outside, the concrete is left raw, with an organic texture from its visible wood formwork. In this manner, the object-like building fits into its sourroundings, between contemporary art and nature.
* French for a covered open schoolyard pavilion
The new museum for the Espace de l’Art Concret (EAC) was built on the occasion of the donation of the Albers-Honegger Art Collection, parts of which had been displayed since the 1990s on a rotational basis in the castle of Mouans-Sartoux. The castle rooms will mainly be used for temporary exhibitions in the future. The new museum is the second freestanding annex on the castle grounds, following a children’s painting studio called the Espace Art, Recherche, Imagination designed by architect Marc Barani. A third small building, the Préau des Enfants, was erected shortly after the museum. Both are set in a steeply sloping wooded area within the surrounding park.
The museum building’s minimal, square-shaped ground plan and its tower-like structure with cantilevered elements made it possible to insert it into the wooded site with as little disruption to the existing trees as possible. Its position on a slope enables ground-level access at various building levels. A projecting section forms both the entrance to the museum and a bridge to the path outside. The access area for the public conference space and for deliveries also projects from the main volume of the building.
The museum entrance is elevated half a story above the first exhibition level. The galleries, connected by open stairs, are arranged at half-story level and form a spiral tour through the building. Two closed, sky-lit staircases serve as escape routes and also offer visitors a short path back to the entrance after finishing their tour. In addition to the lift, these staircases form an interior vertical connection between the conference space and the other rooms on the lower levels.
The arrangement of the galleries along the façades, the lateral lighting via the windows, and particularly the proportions of the spaces recall those of a large home rather than resembling a classic museum. Although the windows do not provide the even illumination often thought desirable in galleries, this solution meets the express wishes of the donors, who wanted natural light that would enable the works of art to engage in a vivid dialogue with the world outside and to be seen under a variety of lighting conditions. The windows are placed at differing heights in the galleries. Double-paned and resembling box-type windows, the outer pane of glass is affixed to the exterior of the façade to offer primary protection from wind and rain, while the inner pane, which can be opened, provides thermal insulation. Between the two windows, and thus shielded from the weather, fabric blinds afford protection from the sun. The blinds can be closed if desired, transforming the windows into sources of pure light, like glowing panels.
The building is constructed of poured concrete, which is painted a light yellowgreen, in anticipation of the moss and algae that the nearby trees will eventually cause to cover it. Intriguingly, this color generates two diametrically opposed effects. On the one hand, it glows in contrast to the surroundings; on the other, it forms a harmonious background for the changing colors of the trees.
The donors’ commitment to art education is expressed again in the nearby Préau des Enfants, an open concrete structure in the forest where the children’s drawings and painting studies are exhibited.