Red and Black

architect Odile Decq
written by Vera Grimmer

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The Piran Days of Architecture, some ten years ago, was the first time I experienced the appearance of Odile Decq that was fascinating in more than one aspect. She impressively presented her project of the macro Museum in Rome, not yet implemented at that time, but she also fascinated the audience with the total design of her own persona. She has realized her self-portrait in a consistent black and white combination: the black punk hairstyle, the radically white powdered face, the intense black makeup around the eyes, the almost black lips and, of course, the black frock. Odile Decq has kept such styling, between punk and a reflection of haute couture, to the present day, albeit somewhat less radically. This staging of her own personality should be seen as part of her complete work, which encompasses different levels and standards. Finding just the right proportion between the size and the final form, which also must meet the needs of use, is what she considers the most difficult part of her work in the field of design.


The decision on two colours, red and black, is constant in all her projects, be it large-scale buildings or the smallest-scale table accessories. The Red and the Black is the title of one of the most important works in French literature. Used in a symbolic sense, red represents the society and the nobility, while black represents the clergy. These colours, at least in western civilization, are indeed charged with symbolism – Eros and Thanatos – the joy of life and the ultimate sadness. For Odile Decq, black comprises in itself all the other colours, and the red of blood makes her feel alive.


Black is the colour of the atom art object (Abris Temporaires pour Oiseaux Migrateurs), a range of temporary shelters for migratory birds. The objects are made of Iroko wood covered in bitumen, and its organic form is manifested in their closed and open shapes. The objects were displayed in galleries, but also as an installation in Paris’s Jardin des Plantes. The artist makes use of the poetic image of floating bird nests to point to the social problems of migrants – people in search of any possibility of existence, without papers or rights, crossing borders, but obviously not as free as birds.


The table accessories for the iGuzzini brand have a completely different character – these red and black objects express that specifically French savoir vivre or, at least, our idea of this commonly used expression. There are also variations of the bread basket: objects with double curved shapes for the presentation of the baguette – the type of bread that is baked all day long in France so that one can enjoy its fresh, crispy crust at all times of day. Also in the service of enjoyment at the table, the compact butter box is designed in such a way so as to enable us to bring the butter directly from the refrigerator to the table. The third element of the set, a glass in different shades of black, should allow the deep purplish-red colour of Bordeaux wines to gradually come to full expression.


The architect often designs accessories for her own projects, such as Rome’s macro, or the Phantom de l’Opéra, the restaurant at the Palais Garnier. Set freely in the neo-baroque building, again, this independent implant is defined by its lively red colour, which for Odile Decq means life, light, vitality. Submerged in red, the soft, curved forms suggest a glamorous and even eroticized atmosphere, additionally highlighted by the specially designed chairs, shaped like soft shells, which will provide a Antonioni’s lady without camellias with more than comfort.