Built entirely in concrete, it is a spectacular construction, albeit one already in need of renovation. Although a material derided by many, the church truly shows the capacities of concrete to produce the monumental. V-shaped columns shoot skywards around the structure, supporting a roof which is only 8cm thick. Spiral staircases and sweeping balconies complete a building which impresses through it's somewhat austere simplicity.
As with many architects, the career of Guillaume Gillet was marked not so much by what he built but also by the projects that never made it off the drawing board. Two of the most significant of these were planned for riverside spots in Paris. The first was a proposition for a permanent Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace alongside the Seine at the very edge of the city. Based very much on his Pavillon de la France which was built for the 1958 Universal Exhibition in Brussels, it would have made an impressive addition to the Paris skyline in a position where finally nothing has ever been built.
|Sketches for a proposed Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace, © Fonds Guillaume Gillet|
An initial rather banal plan for a headquarters building for the Air France company was not developed, but a design for a luxury hotel and conference centre did later win a competition (ahead of an even more radical project from Le Corbusier among others). However both changing tastes and a financial crisis put paid to the project before work could begin. The station was eventually given protected status, and a decision was made to preserve it and transform it into a museum.
|A proposed HQ building for Air France dating from 1957 (top) and the much more daring (and accepted) proposition for an international hotel from 1961. © Fonds Guillaume Gillet|
Gillet's proposed building is not a bad one (and certainly more interesting than the hotel and conference centre he did later build at Porte Maillot), but it would have radically changed the left-bank skyline. However, the Eiffel tower had of course also done something similar a century earlier.
It will remain though an architecture of the invisible, a ghost structure that will now haunt me when I pass by the Musée d'Orsay. To remember Gillet though, it is far better to return to Notre Dame de Royan, as he himself was to do.
Guillaume Gillet, architecte des trentes glorieuses
Until 21st June 2012
Musée de Royan
31 avenue de Paris