Redesigning a building originally created by celebrated French architect JM Wilmotte is a tall order. The task was bravely taken on by a team of under-the-radar designers and conceptual artists, overseen by French creative agency Aimko.
The building in question is Wilmotte's 1996 Hennessy House museum in Cognac, which is perched on the edge of an existing 19th century hotel and wine store. The outside of the building remains unchanged in respect of Wilmotte's design, while the inside has undergone a thoroughly modern rethink. 'It was both a chance and a challenge to work on JMW's iconic architecture', explains Aimko co-founder Nathanaël Léonian. 'All the buildings concerned by this project (including the historic wine warehouses) were important to us, and we wanted to retain their character.'
Inside, things are a little different. The wine store's interior has been shelled-out, and re-furnished in a selection of materials used in the creation of Hennessy, with oak, copper and glass featuring heavily. This re-fit also comprises a new series of immersive experiences called 'The Visits' (including lots of opportunities for tastings), elevating the museum's offerings to delicious new heights.
'Immersion is not a tool but a goal in this type of project,' Léonian notes. 'The public visits Hennessy House not for pure entertainment but to learn about its history, know how and products.' The contemporary new look provides a clean base for these interactive digital stories, which are dotted around the darkened store room. The installations depict the long history of Hennessy, which was founded just around the corner from the museum in 1765, as well as explaining how that signature taste is achieved.
'I think we succeeded in combining a large number of disciplines, technologies and narrative formats to roll out the story,' Léonian adds. 'For instance, each oak pavilion in the renovated wine store has a specific architecture, technology and a narrative inspired by its video contents.'
The journey wobbles to a close with the Hennessy shop, a luxurious and glamorous take on an off-licence, which displays the full range of Hennessy products, on bespoke shelves designed by Benjamin Graindorge.
'Bringing together architects, designers, scenographers, directors and UX designers in a very open and collaborative process was our aim,' Léonian concludes. 'By doing this, it shows that Aimko's collaborative working philosophy fits perfectly with tricky, contemporary briefs.'