Given that France was where Richard Rogers’ career took off—when he and Renzo Piano won the international competition to build the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1971—it is fitting that it should end there. This week, the Richard Rogers Drawing Gallery at Chateau La Coste, just north of Aix-la-Provence, was unveiled; according to the Pritzker laureate’s London firm, Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, it is his “final work,” begun before Rogers, 87, retired in June 2020.
The structure is one of many pavilions designed by top architects and artists that the Irish developer Paddy McKillen has erected within the grounds of his 500-acre vineyard in Provence. Rogers’ gallery is located to the south of the winery, looking over the estate towards the Luberon mountains. Close by stand works by Kenzo Kuma and Ai WeiWei.
Concept drawing © Stephen Spence, associate partner and project architect at Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners
Poetically, the structure is a bridge into the French landscape, a rectangular steel frame cantilevering 88 feet out from a hillside, over trees and an old Roman road. Like the best of Rogers’ work, it is an artistic expression of engineering. At the entrance, two sets of steel tension rods act in unison to anchor the structure to the ground. These rods work in concert with two large pivot assemblies, which support the steel frame and, in turn, the open-ended room suspended within that frame.
The structure touches the ground at only four points. Beneath the ground, the cables and the pivots are connected by a link plate which is embedded within concrete foundations, anchored by numerous micropiles, up to 65 feet deep. “The tension rods and pivot assemblies work together, rather like a children’s see-saw, but balanced, allowing the structure to cantilever outward over the site,” says Michael Hasson, a specialist engineer who advised on the project.
It is a delicately poised structure. Within the bright orange steel frame, a rectangular room, 1,290 square feet in size, is suspended, culminating in a 16.5-foot by 13-foot opening and a terrace with a beautiful view. In the artistic, bucolic milieu of the Chateau La Coste, Rogers’ structure presupposes activity, both in the dynamism of its engineering and the way it frames the landscape for making art.
His final, elegant piece of architecture arrives as the one that made him famous undergoes a less-refined process. In January 2021, Serge Lasvignes, president of the Centre Pompidou made the surprise announcement that the arts center would have to close for three years so external corrosion could be addressed and asbestos removed from the interior.
Photo © Stéphane Aboudaram / We Are Contents(s)