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Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal
Sumit Singhal loves modern architecture. He comes from a family of builders who have built more than 20 projects in the last ten years near Delhi in India. He has recently started writing about the architectural projects that catch his imagination.

PALOMA in Nantes, France by Tetrarc Architectes

January 27th, 2013 by Sumit Singhal

Article source: Tetrarc Architectes

At the eastern approach to Nîmes, on the Remoulins and Avignon road, between town and country, motorway and suburbs, aerodrome and hills, the new contemporary music venue is going to magnetize the citizens of Nîmes, Marseilles, Avignon, Montpellier and Arles, with its striking architecture, a concentration of manifest energy. First amongst the performances that take place here, it mesmerizes the passer-by with the dynamism of its dramatic forms and immerses the spectator in a sculptural and colourful universe spread out beneath its angular shell.

Image Courtesy Stéphane Chalmeau

  • Architects: Tetrarc Architectes
  • Project: PALOMA
  • Location: Nantes, France
  • Photographer: Stéphane Chalmeau

Image Courtesy Stéphane Chalmeau

Crossing universal and local boundaries, Paloma’s architecture is also a sophisticated piece of engineering, with quarter tone practicalities for the delivery of the material to the performance, the live TV recording, the artist show case residence, ‘everything runs smoothly’ at all times.

It resembles a concentration of the South and its music: so alluring, deeply sensual, perfectly skilled and ‘exhilaratingly’ laid-back

Triangular tensions and erupting forces: a telluric power seems to inhabit Paloma, wanting to get out, stretching the walls, distending the structure, cracking the skin, tearing the membrane apart, swallowing the no man’s land of the square and taking over the world with its giant’s eye.

Image Courtesy Stéphane Chalmeau

The interior softens the sensation without contradicting it: it is a magnificent celebration in vision as well as something of extreme intensity. The bullfighter is evoked, in his formalities, his protocols and his colours, the rituals and improvised killing and the triumphs. Paloma unmasks the analogy as much as it brings it to life: the walls of the big hall are clad in a thick protective coat evoking that of the Picador’s horse, the seats reconstruct the coloured pattern of the crowd in the arena, the banderilla pierce the sides of the patio, the yellow and purple of the muleta wash the interior spaces, the walls come to life with a series of gestures which illustrate the perfect geometry of the bullfighter’s movements.

And, just as in the arena, the action alternately crosses over dark and light spaces, extreme fear and sublime relief.

Image Courtesy Stéphane Chalmeau

Galvanizing the suburbs

Just like the ‘feria’ in the historical district, this building electrifies the outskirts of the town. It is a vibrant landmark in the indeterminate nature of the suburban territory, between the flat vastness of the aerodrome beyond which the ants’ trail of the Languedoc motorway unwinds, together with the sprinkling of commercial businesses where the modern world retails its gates, swimming pools, cars, windows… the emptiness of an existing mythical national road reduced to a simple transit track between the centre and the outskirts, and a broken line of housing wavering between barricaded individuality and a gesture of collectivity. Paloma, with its power, its personality, its originality and its capacity to unite and bring together, gives this urban margin its life force back. With all the strength of its slender triangles it seems to want to deliver a resounding punch to the indeterminate nature of the outlying districts, to unite them, to bring them back to life and to town.

Image Courtesy Stéphane Chalmeau

A touch of Franck Zappa

Such a star, Paloma is a concentration of mythical images, indispensable memories, a combination of perplexing, inspired ideas to create the feeling of total freedom and continuous improvisation disguising extreme discipline.

The architecture has its own references, from the structures overhanging the banks of the Meuse by Claude Parent and Paul Virilio to outline the Charleville-Mézières cultural centre at the heart of the 1960s, to the unending search for the lightness of the materials associated with engineers such as Jean Prouvé or Peter Rice. The entrances devised by Jean Nouvel, compressing the space by their low height in order to quickly release that space into the scale of the foyer, the stripes, scarifications, mouldings, engravings illustrating an ongoing work on the skin of the edifices. The origami used to form the stairs links two levels of a Nantes furniture design shop to the complex geometric forms developed by international architects at the beginning of the 21st century, not forgetting the jambs which support the balcony of the big hall, evoking those used by Gaudi in many structures that are examples of Catalan Art Nouveau.

Image Courtesy Stéphane Chalmeau

It also makes use of a long relationship with abstract sculpture, matching the town sculpture projects of the artists in the 1960s and 1970s by the creation of a mega sculpture on an urban scale, to the tight lines and multiple facets which fit into each other to create an entrance, and straighten up to give way to glass windows illuminating a collective space, protecting a full crowd in an allegory of primitive shelter.

Constructed in the country of the Support-Surface creators, it flaunts the colours (the purple and yellow of a Viala observer of bullfighters) and the obsessive repetition of a simple design being systematically applied to a surface (diagonal stripes on the sides of the patio, the alternative white and blue paving stones of the floors and ceilings on the first floor). As with the furniture set out in some of the spaces its origin is in the sixties: it also draws on the visual effects used by Yaacov Agam to animate the vertical lines – which change depending upon where the observer is standing – the flamboyant style of the small hall which has been given the name of The Club: it combines simple squares in ten sparkling colours to identify some of the collective spaces: it gorges on the geometry of the abstract visual artists for the decor in the large recording studio and the sound recording cabin: it opens out the monochrome areas of the linking foyers like a young sculpture would do.

Image Courtesy Stéphane Chalmeau

Sounds and images have a rich common past: the walls of the big hall have even more life in them when adorned with striking motifs which reverberate like the gears in ‘La Bête Humaine’ (a film by Jean Renoir), the mechanics of Chaplin’s Modern Times or the machines of Konrad Klapheck.

But all this only exists in relation to the music, and more particularly to the great liberating figures of the 1970s: the spirit of Franck Zappa, the initial link being with the green grasses suggested for the patio, creeping into the furnishings of the resident performers’ accommodation and their meeting spaces. And it is not unusual for the curve of a wall in the spaces reserved for the musicians to mock the curve of an electric guitar.

Image Courtesy Stéphane Chalmeau



  • personal memories (playing music, going to concerts, the central place held by musical performers in our personal memories from adolescence….),
  • cultural (p)references (modern architecture and its recent history, the work of the engineers, the visual arts, the cinema….),
  • the legacies of southern Europe (the colours, the amphitheatres, light and shade, the heat and the coolness, the interior and the exterior, living together, the vibrant emotions…),
  • experience in the conception of contemporary music venues (from the SMAC I’île Seguin in Boulogne-Billancourt competition to the construction of The Factory in Nantes).

Image Courtesy Stéphane Chalmeau


Eloquent, it throws together the physical and symbolic tensions to produce ongoing poetry from tranquillity to expressionism:

  • physical tensions in the triangular forms which make up the exterior shell: in the cantilever rising up above the square: the tears and the gaps incorporated into the exterior membrane: streaks across the patio walls…
  • symbolic tensions of the purple and yellow “bullfighter”, the “blood” colour of the entrance foyers to the halls, the angular line of the rail which streaks across the space of the big foyer, the frontal area taken up with the monumentalism of the stage in the big hall…

Image Courtesy Stéphane Chalmeau


Origami, the unending Japanese art of paper folding, finds itself translated into architecture:

  • the square unfolding into big triangles of swept concrete, assembled and arranged on a slope enabling the rapid draining of rainwater to the retention pond;
  • Paloma’s brown shell is made up of a collection of triangles that are linked, that are continuous, meeting each other in order to deliver the general form of the SMAC. They separate in order to create openings, a covered terrace… They stretch out to form the roof protecting a section of the air conditioning equipment… They contract, expand, soar into the space to form the yellow saraband of the large foyer. They suddenly reveal a bar corner, the front of a restaurant area, the perforated separation restricting access to an area…

Image Courtesy Stéphane Chalmeau


Rounded or surging, Paloma’s brown shell appears, from a distance, to be totally homogenous. However, when observed from close quarters it reveals the diversity of its epidermis:

  • the brown cladding of the triangles facing in different directions forms a continuous and complete skin, energized by the continuous expression of the vertical joints of the copper plates of which they are made;
  • the structural elements, brown triangulated lead beams which have been laid bare to show the exterior screen or to support the opening of the training space;
  • the vertical panelling netting grey in colour, supported by braces of varying lengths, are dressing for the rear façades of the geometric forms;
  • the discreet resonance of the solar panels which also cover the shell.

Image Courtesy Stéphane Chalmeau


Paloma is cultivating the bridging concept, making the best use of the dividing space between the ‘concrete boxes’ housing the various work premises (administration, studios…), the residential areas (apartments) and the areas used for the preparation of the performance (dressing rooms, technical areas) and the irregular forms of its shell:

  • the pink streaks on the patio reflect the clarity of the superimposition of the concrete walls, the air supply systems and the skin;
  • the netting on the façade of the car park is another manifestation of this superimposition of elements;
  • the decor applied to the side walls of the big hall is an expression of another dimension of filtration, that of sound, in order to contribute to the acoustic performance over the entire extent of the space.

Image Courtesy Tetrarc Architectes


Paloma manages the spectator’s mounting impatience by means of spatial devices:

  • the spectator stamps his feet in the lowered and dark entrance foyer, impatient to get inside;
  • with beating heart he crosses the foyer whose size unfolds before his eyes, he climbs the long staircase with the complex profile, doesn’t read the screens suspended in the space, crosses an entrance foyer the colour of blood and finally arrives in the impressive space of the big hall which is further increased by the black and boundless stage;
  • or, with beating heart he rushes to the door of the Club which is opposite the general entrance, crosses a blood coloured entrance foyer and enters a flamboyant space from the side: a space of intimate proportions, a space which is familiar with the dark;
  • or, with beating heart, he crosses the foyer whose size unfolds before his eyes, turns straight left and arrives in the enclosed space of the patio.

But no matter where he goes and what his destination is, he knows that he will have the most intense experiences within this architectural space.

Image Courtesy Tetrarc Architectes


The motion of sound and images added to all the convergent bustle of spectators, performers, materials and public transport or cars that the architecture gives structure to, channels, separates, directs or… hides, all of this energizes the building with a thousand crossed circuits.

Sounds and images harnessed on the stage are broadcast into the production room and into the main foyer, the corridors and the waiting areas, into the performers’ dressing rooms and far beyond the Paloma via the radio studio and the TV production vans.


Monochrome or strong, vertical or flat, on the material or on the concrete, the omnipresent colour is part of Paloma’s personality:

  • the monochrome yellow of the foyers,
  • the purple of the staircases,
  • the pink of the Patio,
  • the red of the entrance foyers and the walls of the Club,
  • the grey and black of the recording studios,
  • the blue and white of the work spaces,
  • the multicoloured seats in the big hall,
  • the colourful composition of the collective spaces…


Light and shade, lively colours, Paloma is cultivating the local spirit and is taking its particular characteristics into account:

  • in the dark and introverted soul of the halls against the luminous aperture of the patio,
  • the colour palette is inspired by that of the bullfighter,
  • the atomisers bring an invigorating freshness to the patio,
  • the exterior spaces are designed so that the rain, which is frequently torrential here, is directed towards the retention ponds.


Paloma is revisiting the visual arts of the 1960s/1970s, the founding years of contemporary music, without omitting to demonstrate the contribution made by the performers from Nîmes to the contemporary art and visual culture of today’s youth:

  • the Vasarely years are evoked in the graphic design of the recording studio and its cabin, in the design of the walls of the Club and that of the collective spaces;
  • the Yves Klein years, in the monochrome design of the foyer;
  • the Support-Surface years in the choice of the graphic yellow and purple palette and the repetition of the systematic pink stripes on the patio walls produced by recurrent streaks;
  • the Spielberg years gave birth to the general form of the “ship”, an implicit return to Science Fiction, the dominant literature of the 1960s/1970s and to the research carried out by prospective architects who will invent towns and unconventional structures.


In Nîmes, Tetrarc is enabling Paloma to create the newest landmark in a history of modern and contemporary architecture which adds to the rich historical heritage of the city, marked, in particular, by:

  • René Char’s school complex ( 2007 D. Boyer-Gibaud, F. Percheron, A. Assus),
  • the Alzon college extension ( 1994 G. Cusy, M. Maraval),
  • the bus station ( 1994 M.-C. Dorner),
  • the Art Square (Norman Foster,1993),
  • the “Consultant plus” headquarters (1992, P. Morel / C. Parent / F. Fontès),
  • the Coliseum (1991, Kurokawa),
  • the regional lending library (1991 J.-P. Duval, F. Confino),
  • Ville Active business park ( 1990, P. Lemerdy / F. Fontès),
  • the redevelopment of the Costières’ stadium (1989, Vittorio Gregotti),
  • Nemausus (Jean Nouvel,1987),
  • the Clos d’Orville (1964, Candilis, Josic, Woods).



A monumental space linking the public transport stops and the public car park with the hall, it forms the large white base that enhances the perception of Paloma’s soaring forms. This perspective and the images broadcast by the giant screen intensify the impatience felt by the future spectators prior to getting to the stage.

Its general profile, composed of large swept concrete, conducts the water runoff towards the retention ponds in order to avoid adding to the increase in the water level at times of heavy rain.


An allegory of expression of contemporary music, it projects its bulk onto space and multiplies its facets. It practises sincerity and the dual game: it draws a life force from its own substance, whilst relentlessly revealing its true size and the forms that it delivers to the eye. It is a multiplicity of states, sometimes exhibiting the power of a brown metal shell, sometimes the tears that reveal its inner self in order to better adopt the light clothing of the ETFE or to deliver a little of its internal personality whilst surrounded by a veil of pink stria. But all of this merely enables it to mask its extreme internal discipline without the performance getting out of control at any time.


A major psychological space: the transition space between everyday life and performance, a space of inevitable tension with the body search, it is the ultimate moment where the senses are gathered together before the rush to be in front of the stage. A reducing space accompanies this contraction of the body.


A performance within a performance, it energizes the look of a space which is enhanced by the contours that appear to have been carved by harnessing the successive strokes of a muleta and by the single colour yellow. Its scale has been designed to match the impatient and frenetic influx of people and their radiant and voluble return. The restaurant and shopping facilities where the performers’ talent can be enjoyed by purchasing associated products are located next to the stairs which have been designed to be scaled quickly, its two steps to the patio and its suspended screens on shining beams: it is more than an ordinary walkway: it is a meeting place, somewhere to get together, to talk over the concert, to share emotions and to arrange to meet for the next performance!


Seated at a table or standing near the stage, one can be close here to a performer’s or group’s first appearance on stage, the fruits of a residence. In order to get even closer one can enter from the side, cross a slope towards the stage, get a little height on one of the steps and the technical grid takes on the dimensions of the ceiling: whatever the intensity of the music, the status of the hall and the stage design here one is in the close intimacy of a little committee. And the red which covers the walls: isn’t it also the colour used in classical boudoirs?


Two levels, telescopic terracing, an imposing stage, walls covered in giant decoration, sophisticated sound systems, a grid: everything is dedicated to the performance here! The entrance foyers painted the colour of blood red, the dramatic opposition of stage and hall, the no man’s land created between them by a protective barrier, the evocation of the arenas imprinted on the seating, the evocation of a gigantic crusher applied to the walls like a caparison to control the diffusion of sounds, everything here denotes that the performance is a challenge, a battle, a fight…


Everything here takes on another dimension: that of the South with its bright light compensated by the shade, its heat tempered by atomisers, its starry dome perfect for conversation. The pink streaks, some tiering, a concrete floor, and a long bar provide the third Paloma performance area. And it is not impossible for performers in residence to improvise some solos from the overhanging terrace!


Six rehearsal studios for resident groups, trainee musicians or local education students coming to practise with equipment available. They provide professional acoustic conditions and concentrate the energy within the black or red spaces, some of which are open to the outside.

They are completed by a seventh studio, much bigger, with sophisticated decor depending on the acoustic work and also the photoshoots or videos or TV. It is linked to an audiovisual recording studio, to produce or broadcast, record an album, edit a DVD, work on a teaser…


These have a dedicated entrance on the ground floor but being the point of departure for the Paloma grand foyer, the offices are spread out upstairs. The pink staircase which leads there separates the general activity of the spaces dedicated to management, planning, communication, operational management and maintenance… They are located around a central space with sofas provided for visitors, allowing the team members to meet on an informal and relaxed basis, unless they prefer to meet on the terrace which forms an extension to it. Cooled by a Canadian well system, they nevertheless can open all the windows, protected from the sun by the parts of the bare boned structure of the building.


Directly connected to the offices, this huge room opening onto the square and extended by a balcony is a reception area for trainees and interns. It is fitted with mobile screens to be adapted for use.


Forming a protected upstairs world the apartments march to the singular rhythm of the performers working within Paloma. Simple but furnished in a playful way, they have a huge terrace dedicated to collective entertainment and access to a restaurant shared with the dressing rooms.


A world of frenetic activity before going on or relaxation after the performance, the dressing rooms all make up a clear, bright and very simple world given a colourful geometric counterpoint by the restaurant facilities. Their audiovisual equipment enables the performers to be in contact with the hall and the stage which are being prepared or which are in the midst of the first part. A stairway and a corridor give direct access to the three stages.

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Category: Cultural Center

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