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Hotel Fouquet in Paris by Édouard François

An upmarket hotel is reborn as a historical replicant

Known for his architecture of witty subterfuge executed on limited budgets, Édouard François has moved up a gear with this latest project in the upscale and historically protected 8th arrondissement of Paris.

François is more used to working on the margins, jazzing up social housing blocks with planted gabions (AR May 2000) or supersize pots of bamboo (AR September 2004), so when asked to remodel and expand the Hotel Fouquet in a part of Paris where even a simple curtain wall can trigger a planning brouhaha, his options might be regarded as limited. Not so.

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Typically, François has turned historical conformity on its head, wrapping part of his remodeled building in an ingeniously moulded concrete carapace that bears the imprint and rhythm of a typical Haussmann facade.From the rusticated base to the ornate window surrounds, cornices, wrought iron balconies and mansard roof, the detailing is meticulously observed. (It even includes François’ head as a cherubic appendage.)

An adjacent nineteenth-century block served as a convenient template, which was then painstakingly adapted and reproduced through various processes of measuring, moulding, smoothing and cutting. Fabricated from the smoothest precast concrete in deep charcoal grey, the facade is oddly sensual, reminiscent of sculptor Rachel Whiteread’s House (when she made a full-scale cast of a Victorian two-up two down), albeit infused with a certain Gallic chutzpah.

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A series of obviously new windows (the ‘historic ones’ are blind and blocked up) give the facade a jolie laide frisson, but this discordance simply reflects the structural disjunction between the façade and the new floors behind.Stitching together as it does a set of disparate parts, the project was highly complex. The existing hotel was expanded into a neighbouring office building, now remodelled to house rooms and suites, and a spa was added at basement level, inspired by Istanbul’s famous cistern where columns drop directly into the water.

Fouquet’s is at the unapologetically luxe end of the market, with 107 rooms, 55 suites and 350 backroom staff serving the needs of a demanding, high-end clientele.And though François did not design the interiors except for the spa, his are the really memorable moves. The various bits of the jigsaw converge in a new garden courtyard, which is conceived as forest clearing, but with a surreal difference.

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Bright green moss covers the ground and the surrounding jumble of gable walls is adorned with 8000 tree branches sprayed silver to create a delicately sparkling fretwork.Though the Haussmann wrapping paper is obviously fake, it does have a tenderly observed veracity that raises issues of meaning and authenticity.

In this context, the soft option would have been to create a seamless historical replica that blended with its surroundings, rather than attempt to make something clearly of its time.So which approach is more ‘honest’ or laudable? An explicit ‘can’t-see-the-join’ mimicking of history, or a cover version that brings something new to the party by intelligently synthesising past and present? Haussmann lives on, but has been abstracted and transformed into something else.

The rhythm is there and one feels that something unique lives in all these decorations’, says François. Through this funked up architectural alchemy, he makes us see the past with new eyes.

Hotel Fouquet

Architect: Édouard François
Location: Paris, France
Year: 2007

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