Nestled in lush greenery, in Boulogne-Billancourt (Hauts-de-Seine), the recently restored Albert-Kahn Departmental Museum goes almost unnoticed from the street. But, behind the door, it is an artistic and vegetal universe which was imagined by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Eight pavilions, surrounded by gardens, house photographic works. Interior and exterior are intimately linked and confuse the visitor. Was this choice wise for a museum? Elements of response in a report with Judith Chétrit, and in debate with the critical meeting of the City of Architecture and Heritage, partner of this podcast.
It’s a story. Born French in Alsace, Abraham Kahn (1860-1940) became German in 1871, before emigrating to Paris five years later. At a very young age, he had to interrupt his schooling and work to support himself. But his ambitions are matched only by his curiosity, and he quickly resumes studying law. Having become French again, now named Albert, the young Kahn, a bank employee, went into business. At the end of the XIXe century, a veritable speculative frenzy took hold of the country and exoticism was fashionable. He made his fortune thanks to the gold and diamond mines of South Africa, created his own bank and turned to the Far East from 1898.
The world interests him, as well as the people who inhabit it, rich in their diversity and their culture. He goes to meet them, multiplies his trips, marvels at the parks he crosses. He would like to bring them all home, to Boulogne-Billancourt, to his private mansion! Las… But it is at least possible to reproduce them and if his garden is not enough, he can acquire neighboring properties. In thirty years, Albert Kahn thus bought some four hectares on which he had landscaped scenes laid out. They remind him of the countries visited, even his native Vosges, which he had had to leave.
At the same time, he undertakes to draw up a visual inventory of the world, which he calls “The Archives of the Planet”. They are first based on stereoscopic views taken in 1908 by his driver-mechanic during their world tour – they go to Japan, China and the United States. They are then enriched thanks to the photographers to whom the banker and patron grants scholarships to travel. Ruined by the crash of 1929, Albert Kahn saw his collection frozen. Fixed, but already impressive: it contains no less than 72,000 autochromes, 4,000 stereoscopic plates and one hundred hours of films. This collection is now kept by the Hauts-de-Seine department. This is also the case of the former property of the banker which has become a museum (closed for works since 2016).
Today. To restore modernity and a facelift to this museum, the site was entrusted to the architect Kengo Kuma. The Japanese took over the codes of architecture and culture specific to his country and adapted them to the original building. He also chose to use contemporary techniques and materials. The entrance is in a dead end, facing south, which noise from the noise of the city. A structure evoking the art of folding, origami, allows you to withdraw gently from the city. “In this passage, there is a play on light, a progression towards shadow, and the walls offer acoustic protection”comments Sébastien Yeou, project director at Kuma & Associates Europe.
The visitor then enters the museum itself, which is divided into two: the building in which reproductions of part of Albert Kahn’s collection are exhibited, and the gardens – four hectares of landscaped scenes, unsuspected from the street. . And it is with slowness that the gaze goes from one to the other, allowed by the wide corridor bordered by windows. It is the principle ofengawaone of the key concepts of this project led by Jordi Vinyals Terres. “There is another element that we borrowed from traditional Japanese houses, adds the architect, it’s the sudare. In theory, these are screens made of thin bamboo sticks, installed along theengawa to filter the view. In our case, we used two types of blades: wooden and anodized aluminum. From the garden, the building almost disappears. »
The promenade, unexpected and soothing in the heart of the city, is lined with beeches, oaks, majestic pines – some had been planted before Albert Kahn acquired the various plots –, but also the old houses of the housing complex. , some of which serve as exhibition spaces. The highlight of the stroll is the Japanese garden, with its rivers of pebbles, its maple trees and its bridges spanning the lake populated by multicolored carp. The Japanese zenitude in the middle of the Hauts-de-Seine…
The opinion of the experts. During critical meetings at the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine, architects and journalists discussed the renovation of the Albert-Kahn Museum. “The contribution of Japanese architectural culture in France was not obvious, because the standards and cultural references are different, notes the journalist specializing in architecture Sophie Trelcat. In this magnificent original site, which could have been overwhelming with so much wonder and beauty, Kengo Kuma managed through his work to create details – the trickling of water along the buildings, the pebbles… – that are neither suffocating nor intrusive. And, in the pavilions, he knew how to find a balance between the old and the new. » It raises the practical aspect of theengawa : “Disabled access, firefighter access, are transformed into aesthetic elements and are incorporated into the project with great skill. »
Isabelle Regnier, from World, is bewitched by the place. “We slip into the building as we pass through the other side of the mirror, like at Lewis Carroll’s. We travel in time, we are caught by what is shown, by an imagination. I wish I could live in Boulogne just to go to this place every day! » Prosaic, the architect and journalist Philippe Trétiack observes “the perfect match” between the banker’s collection and the project today. The architect Richard Scoffier is more talkative: “Kengo Kuma is going back to basics. I’m still fascinated by his work on folds and materials, especially what he did in Japan, at Chokkura Plaza. It brings a cultured architecture. »
“Interesting Archi” highlights buildings with remarkable architecture and design. In each episode, listen to guided tours and lively debates, produced in partnership with the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine. Find all the episodes here.
“Interesting Archi”, a podcast produced and directed by Joséfa Lopez for The world, in partnership with the City of Architecture and Heritage. Report: Judith Chetrit. Voice-over: Isabelle Regnier. Directed by: Eyeshot. Graphic identity: Mélina Zerbib, Aurélien Débat. Partnership: Sonia Jouneau, Victoire Bounine.
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