Nicole Concordet preserves the historical identity of spaces while creating raw architecture and artistic wastelands where the lines between indoor and outdoor spaces are blurred. Her projects are perfectly adapted to residents and users, thanks to her focus on user-centred design, which she calls “maîtrise d’usage”. Without knowing it, you have probably enjoyed life and culture within one of Nicole Concordet’s striking and unforgettable creations.
Architecture is about the High Human Quality (HHQ) of a project, with everyone involved in the project coming together around the pleasure of building.
What do La Machine and Le Lieu Unique in Nantes (Loire-Atlantique), Bègles swimming pool (Gironde), Gennevilliers Theatre (Paris region) and Le Confort Moderne in Poitiers (Vienne) have in common?
The name and vision of Architect Nicole Concordet
Nicole Concordet was born in Chicago in 1967 but grew up in Paris. She started out as an interior designer and trained on the job with the CONSTRUIRE architecture firm founded by Patrick Bouchain and Loïc Julienne. Together, they created the Thomson Multimedia headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt (1997) and transformed the former LU factories in Nantes into a cultural centre, Le Lieu Unique (2000).
This project required scenography, close to architecture, as confirmed by Nicole Concordet: “The lines between interior design and architecture were blurred”. The team is also convinced of the civic potential when citizens get involved in project development. In a special edition of Construire Ensemble entitled Le Grand Ensemble, they defined their architecture as: “the High Human Quality (HHQ) of a project, with everyone involved in the project coming together around the pleasure of building.”
In 2000, Nicole Concordet obtained a diploma in architecture (state-recognised DPLG) “to give [her] the freedom to build”. She moved to Bordeaux definitively in 2006 while renovating the Bègles swimming pool and its Art Deco building.
Her projects often start with industrial enclaves where the architect retains the initial structure. Her work centres on the use of simple materials that blur the lines between indoor and outdoor space. She is driven by the desire to create projects of cultural value with multi-disciplinary teams. During the Le Confort Moderne renovation project, she worked with her team and Guillaume Chiron to create the Fantaisier studio and “designed by weaving in existing features, such as the concert hall, the warehouse/gallery space and permanent art installations on site”. This project was led by Simon Nicaise with students from Camille Guérin secondary school (Poitiers), with a focus on the visible and hidden traces left by craftsmen on a building during its construction.
All projects need to be inclusive so anyone can participate however they can.
User-centred design and dialogue with citizens
Even in the design phases, Nicole Concordet pays special attention to dialogue with users and residents, in what she calls “maîtrise d’usage”, her own twist on user-centred project design and management. She hates the word “co-construction”, which she believes “sidelines real relationships with people. Participation cannot be forced or organised. All projects need to be inclusive so anyone can participate however they can”. She tries to use simple systems to open dialogue and discussion with residents through project meals where anyone is welcome to share their opinion.
Users love her proposals for Third Places and artistic wastelands, as she creates hybrid cultural centres with multiple functions (concert hall, art gallery, bookshop, restaurants, etc.) that facilitate dialogue.
The architect has come back to Le Lieu Unique ten years later to renovate the restaurant and bar, reception and bookshop… Nicole Concordet seems to appreciate the chance to view her work from a new perspective: “We are rarely given the opportunity to re-evaluate the work we produced years ago and look at these spaces from a new perspective. It shows that places are living and evolving, and that architecture is never truly finished.”
Her many emblematic buildings and architectural vision were recognised in 2018 with the French Prize of Women Architects by ARVHA (Association for Research on the City and Housing).
La Galerie des Machines de l’île, Nantes © Martin Argyroglo.
Le Lieu Unique à Nantes ©Martin Argyroglo
Rénovation d’une friche culturelle, le Confort Moderne, à Poitiers, 2017 (source Pinterest)