Architecture as Sailing

architect Odile Decq
interviewed by Ante Nikša Bilić, Alan Kostrenčić


Paris in the springtime. Regardless of the rain, the charm of Paris is irresistible despite wet shoes. Climbing the stairs of a courtyard building to a huge loft turned into an architectural studio, the impression is similar to ascending towards a party at an unknown address... The somewhat decrepit staircase, as well as the space itself, leaves an impression of Goth Chic, presaging a potentially unusual adventure. Odile Decq definitely does not belong to the stereotype of the European architect; she is witty, cordial, but extremely shrewd. She also dedicated a full three hours to us and to a quite interesting interview. Beside her Parisian charm, Odile Decq is, like her architecture and art, always between extravaganza and deliberate simplicity. Despite the Goth look, her glee and optimism, with a clear awareness of reality, are best captured in her idea of architecture as sailing. It evokes the possibility of a happier architecture, resulting from effort and ease, defiance and collaboration between man and nature, just like architecture. In these times of crisis, it seems this message conveys much wisdom.


ORIS: Maybe we can start with your latest project. We visited it on our arrival in Paris and it is fascinating, when you see it in person, how elegantly it is incorporated in very the delicate context of Paris’s famous Opera house, Palais Garnier. It is architecturally a very daring gesture, but at the same time it is done with lot of respect and understanding for a historical building impregnated with memory. Could you tell us something about how this project started and how you came up with the idea?


Decq: This is a very strange story, because I received a call when away on a weekend, one of my only weekends that I take every year to go to Brittany, so I was on the beach when I received a call. Somebody was asking me whether I was interested in doing the restaurant in Palais Garnier. It was somebody who had had a meeting with one of my clients in Lyon. He was looking at some models from many different projects my client had from different architects, and he asked the client about my model and who I was. We met three days later and he gave me all the constraints from the Ministry or Culture, not to touch anything, to keep the transparency from the outside, not to have the façade inside the arches but something else, and that’s how it started. The first idea when I received the site plans was, since it was forbidden to do the façade, to do windows in the arches, to have this glass wall curve behind the façade arches. I was thinking if we could do that, we could do it with very clear glass and we could make this new envelope almost non-existent. And this is how it started. After that, because of the height – the space is eight metres high, and we wanted the glass membrane to go continuously to the ceiling – I drew a sinuous line of glass, to make it reach that height without additional support. It was really a process started from this first idea of an undulating glass façade behind the existing columns.