Écomusée du pays de Rennes

Écomusée du Pays de Rennes in Rennes, France, by Guinée*Potin, 2010.

One of the projects included in the book reviewed this week, Architecture: From Commission to Construction, is the Écomusée du Pays de Rennes, designed by Nantes-based architects Guinée*Potin from a 2006 international competition. The book's author Jennifer Hudson describes the broader écomusée as "a new idea for the holistic interpretation of cultural customs and traditions, which allows communities to preserve, interpret and manage their heritage for a sustainable development." At Rennes, the focus is on five centuries of agriculture and rural life in Brittany in northwest France.

For a decade or so the museum had experienced steadily increasing attendance, but after the donation of some ancient vernacular furniture in 2000 it became clear that the growth also had to happen physically. Guinée*Potin's competition-winning design reuses a 1990s gable building for offices and other service functions. In front of it they extended the gable form and placed inside it a store for the museum. Besides this volume is the entrance, which is placed under an organic wood form lifted on tree trunks; inside are more offices. The last and largest piece is the double-height exhibition space to the west of the entry.

Uniting most of the exterior are chestnut shingles whose articulation was inspired by, in Hudson's words, "the exteriors of local vernacular architecture and the tiles and discs of Paco Rabanne's iconic haute-couture 1960s dresses." This fashionable exterior is prominent across the parking lot on the south side of the building, and is accompanied by some pebble-like openings in the concrete base. On the north side, the exhibition space's serrated wall includes rectangular windows that face the cherry orchard. Wood is prevalent throughout the interior, and the form above the entry, covered in wood like the hull of a ship, is particularly important for orienting one inside the building.

Documentation of the project in Hudson's book focuses on the articulation of the forms through computer modeling after the basic plan was determined; the competition-winning drawings; full-scale mock-ups and drawings of the chestnut cladding; and details of construction like the sedum roof over the exhibition space. Not surprisingly, a lot of emphasis was given the building's wrapping and the intersection of forms that combine with the chestnut to give the museum its expression. I agree with Hudson that "Guinée*Potin's organic modern building is a welcome relief from the normal language of farm museums, which all too often falls into rural parody."