“We certainly felt the pressure to design something that could ride out the changes of architecture’s different experimental periods,” says Brendan MacFarlane, principal of the Paris studio Jakob + MacFarlane. He is speaking about the FRAC Centre, a daring architectural museum that recently opened in the French city of Orléans.
Its most expressive structure is a faceted aluminum mound that tucks up against an existing building to the south, like a skin, and explodes upward with three extruded volumes, the glass-capped skylights shorn off at various heights like tree stumps. Evoking a circus tent, the geometric entrance pavilion sits centrally in a new U‑shaped courtyard, which the architects created by opening up a closed-off quadrangle of disused French military ration houses dating from the 18th century.
Clad in Reynobond composite panels of two-ply aluminum sandwiched around a resin core, the intervention was early on christened Les Turbulences. “The name derives from the idea of instability, something in flux, in process,” says MacFarlane. “It reflects this collection of experimental works, tentative but often not necessarily realized.”
Two peaked bulges on the ground level serve as entryways, drawing patrons from the concrete-clad plaza into the calmer, poplar-lined interior, which features a café, a book shop and a video gallery. They then funnel visitors into the more restrained principal galleries, inside the three former ration stockades. These refurbished spaces house some 800 architectural models and more than 15,000 drawings from the 1950s onward, including works by Peter Eisenman, Zaha Hadid and Winka Dubbeldam. As Dominique Jakob says, “In the galleries, it’s all about stepping back and letting the work of other architects and creators take the primordial presence.”
At night, an LED display, designed in collaboration with Paris duo Electronic Shadow (Yacine Aït Kaci and Naziha Mestaoui), dances upon the surface of the tallest skylight tower, which reaches a height of 17 metres. The light show displays dynamic geometric patterns that map such real-time data as wind speed and the position of the sun. The lights may recede as day breaks, but the building itself, with its intelligent knitting of old and new, is designed to endure architecture’s turbulent shifts.