Pierre-Louis Leclercq, <br>“Merging Landscape and Architecture”

Pierre-Louis Leclercq,
“Merging Landscape and Architecture”

The villa is one of the old-style homes that line Marseille’s Corniche Kennedy. Residences steeped in mystery, with sunkissed facades that proudly overlook the Mediterranean, eager to tell their stories. The villa designed by architect and artistic director Pierre-Louis Leclercq, of Leclercq Associés agency and Surface Studio, is one of them. Formerly the home of a Breton shipowner, “as close as possible to the elements, nature and the horizon”, this multi-disciplinary designer lives like a sailor would on their boat. Built on an ancient cove, the building seems to be lying in wait, ready to launch itself into the blue waters. But there is more than meets the eye! Its preciously preserved 1901 structure – from the mosaic tiling to the woodwork and mouldings – embodies this École d’Architecture de la Villette graduate’s desire to retain its defining features while furnishing it with essentials only. “A table, a chair, a piano and a bed”. A desire for frugality that’s mirrored in the garden. A few arid-climate plants are dotted here and there. This obsession with the elements and the ability to “fuse landscape and architecture” has become the signature of our host, both in his projects and at home. Armed with his telephone, which serves as his “road book”, the Marseille-born designer examines the potential of each location – its light, its volumes – exploring the “link between image and architecture”. A philosophy of harmony between city and nature that gives us food for thought under the southern French sun (and elsewhere!).

corniche Kennedy en face de chez Pierre Louis Leclercq
Corniche Kennedy vue du balcon de Pierre Louis Leclercq
Calanque à côté de chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq

Pierre-Louis, would you please introduce yourself?


I’m an architect, designer and creative artist living between Paris and Marseille. I explore the links between image and architecture through the city and its uses, working at all scales and with a cross-disciplinary approach, from major urban projects to the smallest architectural details, including the design or identity of a project. It’s all about investigating and understanding situations. You have to sit down and observe, survey, ask questions and listen before you can respond to the problems of the site, activation, decommissioning, destruction, rehabilitation… I like to imagine the aesthetic dimension of the construction process, which is always changing and evolving. This is the time to explore imaginative possibilities before cladding façades and ever-smaller openings. We should be anticipating reversibility, a change of purpose or use of the spaces. Recent times have taught us, for example, to work in a kitchen, sleep in a living room or play sport on a terrace. For me, finishing a place is not an end in itself. And by that, I mean the fact of “completion” in both senses of the word. Simultaneous fulfilment and loss. I always have to leave something as a work in progress or, at least, keep open the possibility of changing something, of improving it. I also find it’s very inspiring to immerse yourself in a place that is changing. To experience the design space on a day-to-day basis, to take note of all its qualities, to observe the shifting light, to appreciate the proportions, and so on. Photography then becomes a tool that allows me to draw up a road map. It’s a way of documenting, memorising, observing and archiving. It’s a very natural pastime that I enjoy pursuing without any pretence or particular technical knowledge, using the simplest of equipment: a mobile phone. Scenography, the arrangement of a space, and the establishment of a dialogue with its environment or with exogenous objects and additions interest me because of its non-final, in-progress dimension, in constant evolution and mutation. This ‘staging’ allows us to take a fresh look at the things around us. This is what I’ve been exploring in Lavandou, on the site of the future Hôtel des Roches, with the aim of prefiguring and embodying the space through the staging and movement of furniture, but also of bodies, dancers and walkers, before the finishing touches are put in place. It’s a sketch of a dreamlike space into which we can project ourselves, and almost inhabit. I’d like to sleep in the open spaces of the office towers at La Défense, to tell myself other spatial stories, and spend a night 100 metres up.

What is your background?


After a degree in visual arts at the École des Arts de la Sorbonne (University of Paris 1), where I studied visual arts, the history of architecture and Land Art under Gilles Tiberghien, I went on to study at the École d’architecture de Paris-La Villette, where I discovered a broader approach to this discipline. The teaching there is highly interdisciplinary and exploratory, open to other branches of knowledge and visions of the world (art history, sociology, philosophy, geometry, photography, painting, scenography, model making, digital techniques), and so on. It carries behind it the heritage of a committed, humanist school, with profound social reflection on how to build for everyone, to offer beauty within the useful, and to integrate architectural form into the city. Particular attention is also paid to the way great architects (Christian de Portzamparc, Roland Castro, Édouard Ropars, etc.) represent and imagine the city. My background and career path have given me an understanding of the city and the landscape as creative worlds in perpetual evolution. I’ve also been very interested in the American movements that question modernism in the direction of symbolism and its iconic power to tell a story using the highway as the only space for wandering. Nowadays, I’m fascinated by the way public spaces are evolving. The densely populated city of the future must be redesigned for pedestrians, cyclists and all forms of soft mobility. It’s a shared space, for everyone, that needs to be transformed first and foremost to make it pleasant and practicable, shaded and permeable. It’s the anchor of life in society, and everything remains to be done, which is a good sign. Twenty years from now, your children will never believe you when you tell them that on the banks of the Seine, in the Place des Vosges or in the Marais, there were cars speeding along and even parked night and day… I’ve dreamt of the Place des Vosges, recently freed from its steel cage, open at all hours and for everyone. I’d even set up an all-night brasserie with a huge terrace.

Your father, François Leclercq, is the founder of the architectural practice Leclercq Associés, which puts at the heart of its practice the “ability to merge landscape and architecture”. How has this influenced you? Has it shaped your tastes?


I grew up in an architectural practice that was capable of doing everything, understanding everything and imagining everything, like a great ocean liner that was a laboratory for experimenting and understanding the challenges of tomorrow’s design ideas while at the same time observing the creative process of coming to terms with the context as a primary force in the design of a project: “Creating within a context”. Understanding places and situations, appreciating them and, if necessary, improving them in line with changing patterns of use and urban habits. In the future, we’ll need to know how to live in an empty office block, throw a party in a car park or play sports on the ring road.

Façade maison 1901 chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq
Chaises jardin chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq
Moulures façade chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq

The seafront side faces the beauty and power of the Mediterranean and the mistral wind, while the much quieter garden side overlooks the cliffs of Endoume and St. Eugene church.

Jardin avec platane chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq
Salon avec suspension en rotin chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq

You don’t like to be associated with any particular profession, and are as much an architect as a photographer or art director. Which artists and designers inspire you and fuel your inspiration?


I attach a great deal of importance to being multidisciplinary and to mixing genres and influences in my work because more and more professions, skills and passions are becoming wrapped up and working together. The creative worlds are breaking down barriers for the better, with different practices feeding into each other in a rich and delightful dialogue. My inspiration comes essentially from motion and movement. I’m fascinated by the metropolitan city and its relationship with the great landscapes that surround it. My frequent train journeys between Paris and Marseille give me the opportunity to observe the area, to dream, to work and to get carried away. I admire the work of the Archigram movement, a theoretical movement for an informal urban utopia where every space is modular and adaptable, and which inspired Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano to design the Centre Pompidou. That’s a place that appeals to me for its plastic, evolutionary dimension and its ability to accommodate all kinds of activities, from the football pitch to the library. The open-plan structure pushes reversibility to the limit. I also like the work of photographer Cyrille Weiner, the way he observes the emergence or ‘resistance’ of nature in the city. The architect Charlotte Perriand is also a role model for her way of liberating the body in architecture and furniture, combining vernacular know-how and modernity, rusticity and extreme sophistication. I have a great deal of respect for the architect Gérard Granval, designer of the Choux de Créteil, with whom I was lucky enough to work to reveal the aesthetics of one of his first works, the Cacharel house designed for Jean Bousquet. Closer to home, the emerging scene in Marseille is extremely dynamic and inspiring. It’s reviving time-honoured skills and promoting a unique heritage, territory and terroir by breaking away from parochialism and bringing together a wide range of approaches and practices (crafts, pottery, ceramics, embroidery, photography, art publishing, exhibition curating, local agricultural production and winegrowing, re-use, restoration, and making use of the public space). I’m thinking of Franca Atelier, Emmanuelle Roule, Emmanuelle Oddo, Gustave Alfsen with Baïta, Axel Chay, Maxime Verret, architects Simon Moisière and Jean Rodet from the Concorde agency, Erika Blu, photographer Morgane Renou, Yes We Camp, and so many others!

We’re here in Marseille, in your home. Can you tell us about the history of this building?


This house was built by a Breton shipowner in 1901 on the Corniche Kennedy in Marseille. It is built on an ancient cove, which makes it tilt slightly, giving the sensation of being on the deck of a boat. We can see it clearly from the sea, in a row of houses on the corniche, next to a 1980s villa in the arcade style with mosaics by the architect Édouard Sarxian. There is a sea side, exposed to the beauty and power of the Mediterranean and the Mistral, and a much quieter garden side overlooking the cliffs of Endoume and the church of Saint-Eugène. It is orientated east-west. This dual orientation gives rhythm to the day, with a period of shade and respite when the sun is at its highest. I like to watch the movement of water – in moderation, because it’s hypnotic – to capture the intense movement of the light inside, on materials and surfaces, and it changes with the seasons. Above all, I like its proximity to the bustling city, its shops and its strolling pedestrians. It’s a dream for it to be pedestrianised at a time when the sun is sinking into the blue coast, a moment of eternity rediscovered, “the sun mixed with the sea”, to quote Rimbaud’s famous verse.

How have you renovated and redesigned it?


The idea was not to touch it at all, really. To keep the essentials – the woodwork, the mouldings, the tiles – but add clarity with light, slightly tinted paints.

Couloir avec carrelage ancien chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq
Salle de bain bleue avec baignoire sabot chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq
Chaise métallique avec tissu rayé bleu et blanc chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq

It is built on an old creek, which creates a slight list and makes you feel like you’re on the deck of a boat.

Portrait de Pierre-Louis Leclercq chez lui
Dessins encadrées chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq
Miroir avec applique en faïence Dessins encadrées chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq

What about furniture?


It’s mainly furniture that’s been salvaged from here and there, the bare minimum. Table, chairs, piano, bed. Improvements and minor modifications are made as work progresses.

You also decided to convert part of the garden into a vegetable garden during lockdown. Two years on, where are you now?


The chance to be here during lockdown has given me a different understanding of the meaning of a large-scale house, with spaces finding new purposes, often temporary and ephemeral. The garden – part of which was once a vegetable garden – is now a more ornamental “Mediterranean dry garden” with species adapted to the arid climate in a frugal, minimal intervention approach. This means it requires minimal maintenance and, above all, no watering.

What does this place say about you?


This very place tells the story of a life closer to the elements, to nature and the horizon. It’s exhilarating and an absolute gem because of its location. I’ve heard of sailors on the high seas who have become intoxicated by space. The sea and its infinite expanses make you dizzy and give you a feeling of weightlessness. After that, it’s impossible to come back down to earth, so you set off under full sail towards the horizon. But fortunately, I haven’t heard the sirens yet.

Lit et table de nuit métallique chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq
Pierre-Louis Leclercq, <br>“Merging Landscape and Architecture”
Table d'appoint en bois et chaise en corde chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq
Peintures marines chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq
Livres chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq
Piano blanc chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq

What does The Socialite Family mean to you?


It’s a way of travelling through a wide variety of itineraries and specific, creative and inspiring worlds.

Where will we find you over the coming months?


In the coming months, working on a variety of projects, including a beautiful all-wood building near the Bois de Vincennes, the dynamic new Poush Manifesto arts residency in Aubervilliers, which you can visit during the Open House event (200 artists and a packed programme), the first major sports facility in northern France, an art foundation on the Mediterranean coast, and the new Hôtel Présent on Place Voltaire in Arles, designed by my partner Adrien… In bookshops, through the book Le bois dont on fait les villes (The Wood That Makes Our Cities), produced with Cyrille Weiner, journalist Michelle Leloup and graphic designer Jad Hussein. It’s published by Park Books. I’m finishing a series of work on the future Les Roches hotel in Le Lavandou with the PietriArchitectes agency. At the summer photography festival, the Rencontres d’Arles. Through a range of furniture in development, etc.

What places and addresses come spontaneously to mind when you think of Marseille and the surrounding area?


La Bonne Mère (or Notre-Dame de la Garde), its speedy ascent by bike, with the most beautiful view of Marseille that I love to explore and pore over. We understand its entire history and urban planning. A city surrounded by countryside, looking out to sea, with an almost sentimental geography. A self-contained island between the Calanques, the Estaque massif and the Étoile massif. There’s also the corniche at the golden hour, the most stunning travelling shot of the city, and the Frioul islands. Marseille’s flea markets, all full of surprises. You can find absolutely everything here, from motorbike carburettors to exotic fruit and art deco furniture. The A55 motorway over the Arenc basin, which dominates the northern part of Marseille between areas of industrial wasteland and the coastline. The recently inaugurated Plan d’Aou and its new grounds, designed by architects from the Concorde agency, with an uninterrupted view of Estaque. The Belle de Mai cultural centre and events on its stunning rooftop, designed by architect Matthieu Poitevin. Baïta’s festive culinary events are organised by my friend Gustave, who takes over venues for an evening and brings together craftspeople and chefs to create a unique culinary experience. La Cave Ivresse is currently offering La Traverse, one of the best coffees in Marseille, roasted by Gallien in his La Tisserie roasting and tasting workshop. The Vélodrome, for the excitement of the OM matches and the view from the top of the stands over the Calanques, the Escalette wasteland and its magnificent Prouvé pavilions. Buropolis, an artists’ residency and space for artistic production, exploration and encounters, is currently looking for a new venue. The Prado beaches, and, of course, Le Tuba at the end of the day with its magical atmosphere created in a former diving club.

Salon avec carrelage ancien chez Pierre-Louis Leclercq
Croquis chez Pierre Louis Leclercq
Pierre-Louis Leclercq dans son bureau avec étagères en bois murales

As for what keeps me inspired, it’s a sense of shifting, of movement. I am fascinated by metropolitan cities and their relationship with the immense landscapes that surround them.

Pierre-Louis Leclercq, <br>“Merging Landscape and Architecture”
Suspension blanche chez Pierre Louis-Leclercq
Bureau en bois et carrelage vintage chez Pierre Louis-Leclercq

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