It's not often that art, architecture, and wine-making come together as a cultural statement. Unless, of course it occurs in France, which prides itself on its own special savoir vivre. Ironically, the person behind this sensual conjunction at Ch'teau La Coste in Provence, where a winery has been enlivened with works of architecture and sculpture, is an Irishman, Patrick (Paddy) McKillen. In 2002, McKillen, a real-estate investor and art collector, embarked on a special sort of patronage. He found the old vineyard with a country house dating to the 16th century among the verdant hills near Aix-en-Provence where he could be ensconced with his family for parts of the year. In giving new life to the viticulture of the 495-acre property, McKillen asked French architect Jean Nouvel to create a 30,000-square-foot facility for a two-part gravity-flow winery. Nouvel complied with barrel-shaped, aluminum-clad steel-frame structures, completed in 2008. But this was only the first step in a grand scheme. McKillen was soon busy turning the vineyards'where you might stumble over Roman ruins'into a contemporary art-and-architecture park open to the public all year.
According to McKillen, 'The art and architecture projects here originated in response to this landscape, the region of Provence, and the relationship with wine.' He sensed that sculpture and architecture would add a robust ambience to enrich the terroir (the particular soil and climate) that gives Ch'teau La Coste wines their distinct personality. So now oenophiles and cultural cognoscenti can see artworks by Louise Bourgeois, Richard Serra, Andy Goldsworthy, and Sean Scully, among others, interspersed with buildings designed by Tadao Ando, Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry, and Jean Prouv', while savoring blends of Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.
To create the proper physical framework for this tripartite endeavor, McKillen called upon Ando (whom he had known since the 1980s) to come up with the master plan and design an art center as a gateway to the park. The 32,000-square-foot poured-in-place concrete building, V-shaped in plan, contains orientation spaces, a caf', and other services. Completed in 2011, it juts out over a large reflective pool that sits atop a parking area for 120 cars. Additionally, Ando restored a centuries-old stone structure, enclosing it in glass for a chapel, and designed a timber shelter for his own artwork 'Four Cubes Contemplate Our Environment,' both finished in 2011. As Ando comments about this unusual enterprise: 'I hope the site will always feel alive'where one will find new discoveries and wonders with every visit.'
Nearby looms the energetic Serpentine Pavilion that Frank Gehry designed as a temporary installation in London in 2008. Gehry was delighted that McKillen, whom he knew, would bring the pavilion to La Coste. 'I could not have been happier with the way it was sited in the new landscape,' says Gehry about the shelter'part amphitheater, part promenade'composed of massive steel columns, a timber frame, and over-lapping glass panels. 'It looks as if it has always been there.'
Historic modernism also has its place among the vines: McKillen purchased two prefab structures that Jean Prouv' had built in 1945 for post'World War II refugee housing in Lorraine. Restored with the help of the designer's grandson, Nicolas Prouv', the cabins face each other across a small pond. Nearby sits an 18th-century teahouse from Vietnam.
Ch'teau La Coste's architectural ensemble is expected to expand over time. A small pavilion designed by Renzo Piano to exhibit drawings is already in construction. Nouvel has come up with a subterranean building that will contain a wine bar and tasting room near his winemaking building. Gehry is working on a three-tower structure to house a sculpture by Tony Berlant. The list goes on: Richard Rogers has another small pavilion in planning, and concepts by Sou Foujimoto, Kengo Kuma, and Junya Ishigami are in development. An auditorium by the late Oscar Niemeyer is soon to go ahead, and a small hotel, Villa La Coste, is expected to open in 2016'designed by the Marseille firm of Tangram Architects.
All told, the enclave is a remarkable testament to the vision of its founder. While McKillen resists discussing his involvement (or the budget), this form of cultural enlightenment suggests a less dry approach to the appreciation of architecture and art: the lure of libation seems to draw the public to a very intense ambrosia of aesthetic experience.
Architects: Tadao Ando, Ateliers Jean Nouvel, Gehry Partners, Jean Prouv'
Associate Architect: Tangram Architects (with Tadao Ando)
Client: Ch'teau La Coste (Patrick McKillen)
Size: 495 acres
Completion date: 2008 and ongoing