Architectural folly by the Bouroullecs lights up the Rennes riverfront

Architectural folly by the Bouroullecs lights up the Rennes riverfront

Designed for the French city’s waterfront, Le Belvédère is the latest example of Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s extensive experimentation on them theme of urban landscaping, featuring their distinctive aesthetic simplicity in a new experiential form

The latest design by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec is a new pavilion for the city of Rennes, which the pair describe as ‘a symphony in space that evolves with its surroundings’.

The project’s origins date back to 2016, when the designers staged an exhibition across three venues in the French city including objects, micro-architecture and public installations. Part of the exhibition was a series of ‘Rêveries Urbaines’ (Urban Reveries), a speculative design exercise that offered ideas for the development of public space, featuring a mix of urban landscaping, green areas and experiential design proposals. ‘[It was] an exhibition that was the result of research around how we could contribute to a city – not particularly thinking of Rennes, but rather cities in general,’ says Ronan Bouroullec.

After three years of discussions and development based on the Urban Reveries’ principles, Le Belvédère has now become a permanent large-scale fixture on the Rennes’ riverfront, with a design referencing 18th century follies, ‘little buildings that served no specific purpose other than to satisfy a fancy.’

Belvedere Rennes pavilion by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec
A night view of the Belvédère, featuring 32 luminous orbs that transform the pavilion into a lighthouse. Photography by Yann Peucat

The design is defined by the Bouroullec’s distinctive formal simplicity, a discreet presence in the town featuring a ‘corolla’ (a base made of a decorative material specially developed for the project, incorporating finely granulated brass elements into coloured concrete) supporting polished stainless steel masts and an intricate lattice design made of slender bars in polished, anodised aluminium. The structure, the designers explain, is also equipped with ‘16 little windmills and 32 luminous orbs that, at night, transform the Belvedere into a lighthouse.’

The delicate design is a practically beautiful solution to the main design challenge faced by the duo: to create an urban object whose presence wouldn’t obscure the views of the city. And in this case, the location was important and carefully considered as part of the design process, with the pavilion positioned on the river, aligned with the trees along with the Quai Saint Cyr. ‘We spent a lot of time walking around the city to identify the right position, the right site,’ continues Ronan Bouroullec. ‘While there are numerous interesting positions in Rennes, the clear choice, in the Vilaine, gives a particular view of the Cathedral, the old town, and of the emblematic modern and contemporary buildings of Rennes: Louis Arretche’s Mabilais, Georges Maillols’ Horizons, as well as more recent residential projects by Jean Nouvel and Christian Hauvette. The proximity of the Mail François-Mitterand, which is a popular new amenity for the people of Rennes, also struck us as important.’

Belvedere Rennes pavilion by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec
An example of Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec’s ‘Rêveries Urbaines’ models from 2016, the project that inspired their pavilion design for Rennes. Photography courtesy of Studio Bouroullec

Standing at 13 m high above the river, the Belvédère is placed in conversation with the elements and the changing of the seasons, moving with the wind and serving different purposes at different times of the year. ‘Fine and virtually transparent, the Belvédère exists without existing,’ continues the designer. ‘It is a significant element that for reasons of symbolism and because of its position in the city, restores interest in an object that is freely open to any use one cares to name: a lighthouse and a landmark in the city, a place for new encounters and a meeting point, a place of contemplation.’ §

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