Les Archives Départementales
by Kevin Matthews
There is something inherently abstract about the government archive. Storage of old records can too easily be seen as a utility function free of aesthetic aspiration. Compared to a classic library program, an archive might be seen as exaggerating the stacks while minimizing the interacting human element. In some archives this tendency leads to the place where the technical function of storage obliterates the impulse for architecture.
This helps understand how fresh and open the expression is of the Archives départementales d'Ille-et-Vilaine, in Rennes, France, by French architects Ibos & Vitart, based in Paris. Resonating with the glass stacks of Perrault's Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris (1996), yet more immediately frank and rational, the archives here are also sheathed in an upright glass case, which is set behind a transparent, earth-touched slab housing all the human functions of the center.
"These are two sealed worlds, one open and warm, the other black. They are almost incompatible," in the words of Myrto Vitart.
The building name, "Archives départementales," radiates outward from the glass case in four-story-tall red-letter supergraphics, providing both a proclamatory distant effect and an abstract decorative local effect within the building. The dual symbolism expresses at a civic scale the responsibility of a public memory, and at an individual scale the curatorially detached engagement with specific small elements of the memory.
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