Cinéma Le Grand Palais in Cahors by Antonio Virga is located to the North of the historic heart of the city of Cahors, a few steps from the banks of the Lot river. A former military site (now Place Bessières), the project recreates and reinterprets the symmetry of the pre-existing military barracks, occupying the east wing of the complex which was destroyed in a fire in 1943.
Ph. Pierre Lasvenes
The Bessières square, previously used as a parking lot, was transformed into a spacious, generous pedestrian walkway that is protected by an existing tree mass. The square is bounded on the west side by a police station, on the north side by a multifunctional building (Espace Clément Marot), on the northeast corner, by a sports complex and in the East, the new cinema. The square opens to the South to the Charles de Gaulle square and the historic city.
Before. Ph. Pierre Lasvenes
After. Ph. Pierre Lasvenes
In the tradition of the great military ensembles and public facilities of the 19th century, the buildings and the outside spaces that accompany them are organized according to a rigorous and harmonious logic of layout and leveling. In order to restore the historical scale of the site, all the spaces are treated with simplicity and a large unit of materials, furniture, and plants.
The alignment of the project respects a strict logic: the two pre-existing buildings of the barracks are benchmarks. In the search for a strong contemporary aesthetic, the architecture of the cinema aims to go beyond the objectives of reconstructing the morphology of the old barracks, which was requested by the project owner. The building decomposes into two distinct volumes, methodically created and then visually affirmed: one brick and the other in perforated gilded metal, each playing a very precise role in relation to public space.
The brick volume, a mirror of the former barracks’ two buildings, is imagined as a reinterpretation of the old barracks that is at once contemporary and identifiable. Through the direct connection that it proposes with the history of the city, it is the most remarkable element on the square. The choice of the brick is motivated by the desire to touch the collective memory of the cadurcians, avoiding the use of pastiche.
The size of this volume and its presence are reinforced by the unique character of the façade cladding and the roof. Revealing imposing and strong façades, this monolithic volume is lightened on the floors by a moucharabieh composed of small perforations that bring lightness to it and create a more distant appeal in its environment. This alternation of solids and voids follows a functional logic. The perforated skin animates, during the day, the interior spaces, and with a play of light and shade, and at night, the façade gives birth to small sparkles of light. The program continues in the golden volume, imagined as an extension of the volume in brick. The visual contrast with the brick gives the impression of a second building leaning against the first. The chromatic agreement between the light brick and the golden metal reminds the nuances of the historical center of Cahors. Respecting the architectural history of the town, this metallic volume has a sloping roof on the gable overlooking the street.
The new cinema acquires an aesthetics faithful to the territory of the Lot River through the use of brick as a material cladding on both the façade and roof. The use of a natural clay brick seemed necessary to ensure the authenticity and durability of the result. Brick, which is often found in Cahors’ architecture, like the Tower of Pope John XXII located a few meters from the site, thus becomes a hyphen with Cadurcian history, a new element of connection with the city. This material reflects a qualitative image through the natural qualities that it presents.
The main building is a concrete structure with concrete roof and steel structure. It includes façades of the volume on site, insulated from the outside and brick cladding (linea 9001 from Vande Moortel) with backlit air space. The façades are made from perforated aluminum sheet, powder-coated in gold. The roofs follow the façades, creating a pure volume: the technical roof of the brick volume is covered by a VETA panel over-roof clad in bricks. The roof of the metal volume is clad in metal cassettes, unperforated.
Ph. Luc Boegly
The floor of the square is made of terracotta-colored terracotta paving stones by Vande Moortel. The 38-centimeter-high flattened walls (without railings, open towards the South and the Charles de Gaulle square) make up the base of the square (they can be used as seating). The deep steps (bleachers) and alcoves are treated in the same even rough concrete.
DATE: 2020 / LOCATION: Place Bessières, Cahors, France / AREA: 3653 m2 (built) / PROGRAM: Cinema / STATUS: Built / DESIGN: Antonio Virga Architect / PROJECT MANAGER: Miguel Allen / CONSULTANTS: Crane (Landscape), Projex (BET TCE), Diagobat (Acoustics), PhA (Lighting), Stefania Corrado (Graphic design) / PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Cahors Town Hall, Société Cadurcienne d’Exploitation Cinématographique / PHOTOS: Luc Boegly, Pierre Lasvenes (DRONE)