To hear Erwan Bouroullec tell it, the two modular 'Kiosque' structures he created with his brother Ronan represent neither architecture nor art – nor strictly an overlap between the two.
'We kind of like to stay in the product design approach,' he tells Wallpaper* from inside one of the compact, oak-panelled units. 'We like to perform architecture which is not meant for one dedicated area or people.'
Hence their first stop in the Tuileries, where Erwan stared down the long allée of autumn foliage while detailing how the project spanned three years, from conception to completion, in order to achieve a remarkably efficient three-hour assembly time.
The concept is no mere folly. The commission came from urban developer Emerige; company chairman Laurent Dumas sought an inspired alternative to a sales centre for its mixed-use buildings in the northwest Batignolles neighbourhood, scheduled for construction next March. Ultimately, Emerige will gift the Kiosques – which have been manufactured by an atelier in Nantes – to the city of Paris as part of its ongoing support of integrating art in public places.
This mutability of function helps explain why the brothers began by envisaging 'empty volumes' rather than inhabitable spaces. Composed primarily of powder-coated steel, they benefit from extra-large windows on three sides, a honey-hued oak interior panelled to accommodate recessed up-lighting, and an overhanging roof that gives the impression of being unfolded like a horizontal screen.
Indeed, their striking utility of form evokes Jean Prouvé’s demountable 'Ferembal House' from 1948, which was reconstructed on this open stretch of the stately gardens back in 2010. Erwan, however, resists any comparisons to a house (for now, the spaces are sparsely furnished with the brothers’ new chairs for Vitra and a television for Samsung).
If the concept of thoughtfully enhanced, compact containers seems straightforward, the considerations they imposed required constant finessing. The ongoing challenge, Erwan continues, boiled down to balancing craftsmanship principles with the viability of industrial production. When he likens the prototyping to small-scale furniture production in one sense and car manufacturing in another, the result seems even more, well, out of the box.
And if Kiosque’s debut among a select group of works featured in FIAC's outdoor programming hints at Emerige’s desire to generate buzz, the end use as an indeterminate cultural hub sits well with the brothers. 'Ronan and I always look for strategy which is based on a certain freedom. Things are not definitive,' Erwan says. 'So I feel quite relaxed about the use. It is something definitely movable.' Notwithstanding, of course, the fact it weighs nearly 15 tonnes.