Images of the Southern French countryside conjure up images of green, rolling hills and picturesque little villages, bathed in the Mediterranean light; and sure enough, the landscape around Marseille fits the bill. Yet, hidden amongst the leafy nature, are the industrial remnants of an abandoned lead mine, its old stone columns and arches peeking through the trees. This site, known as the Friche de l’Escalette, was bought by art collector and dealer Éric Touchaleaume, who transformed it into a sculpture park in 2016 to display his collection and temporary shows. 

Touchaleaume cleverly uses the site’s dramatic existing historical architecture to juxtapose, through carefully curated shows, old and new – combining his passion for modern and contemporary art and modernist architecture, and the soft nature of the land; which provided the perfect architectural setting for our ‘Cast away’ fashion story that appears in Wallpaper’s December 2018 (W* 237) issue.

friche de l’escalette abandoned mine

The park is owner by Éric Touchaleaume, a collector and dealer of modernist design and art. Photography: C. Baraja – E. Touchaleaume. Archives Galerie 54, Paris

Temporary shows appear every summer and this past one included the resurrection of two rare Jean Prouvé cabins. One was the Pavillion de Lorraine 6x9, which was a ‘model home commissioned just after the Liberation of France by Raoul Dautry, minister for reconstruction, to house families in the Lorraine region whose dwellings had been destroyed by bombing’.

The other was the, perhaps, more well known Cameroun Bungalow, which Prouvé conceived as a ‘tropical habitat for a wet zone’, in metal frame and aluminium facades. The structures will remain on site until summer 2019. Along with the architecture, the park showcases a range of modern art, including pieces by Gerard Lardeur, Parvine Curie and Shamai Haber.

Ilaria Orsini photography Wallpaper* Friche de l’Escalette

On shoot at Friche de l’Escalette for Wallpaper* December 2018 issue (W* 237). Dress, price on request, by Dušan. Tropical bungalow, 1958-64, by Jean Prouvé & Atelier LWD. Photography: Ilaria Orsini. Fashion: Isabelle Kountoure

The site has slowly become a staple in the architecture aficionado’s frequent pilgrimages to South France, for its rare combination of the natural and the industrial, the modern and historical. And there will be plenty more to see soon at this cultural venue.

Alongside ongoing works for the preservation of the local architecture and flora, the owners are already working on a new exhibition, slated to debut in the summer, featuring more work by Prouvé, as well as a highly anticipated competition on the theme of the cabanon (the local fishermen’s cabins), aiming to celebrate and protect this particular regional typology. §