[aerial view looking east | photo by Dominique Macel - Ville de Saint-Nazaire]
Instead of destroying the massive building (300m x 130m; 985' x 425') and building anew, the city held a competition for reusing the structure. The winning entry envisioned a design in four parts: International Center for New Art Forms (LIFE), a contemporary music venue (VIP), an internal street, and a rooftop cupola with no apparent function.
[site plan and plan diagram]
What strikes me most about the project is the way the architects handled the existing. While others may have opted to cover-up the structure -- in effect concealing the difficult past of the German-built, WWII-era home for submarines -- the designers instead keep the existing roughness exposed, so the past is not forgotten or glossed over.
[rendering (above) by architects and "finished" view of the rooftop by Christian Richters]
To complicate matters of memory, the architects saved a dome from a radar system at an airport in Berlin to be lifted onto the roof. As mentioned, this space is not assigned a function, but is seen as a destination for visitors and an inspiration for artists, musicians, and others for future scenarios.
[looking perpendicular to the internal street | photo by Jan-Oliver Kunze, LIN]
The greatest contrast between old and new occurs in the internal street, where nearly 400 LED lamps are suspended from above in a regular grid. While obviously helping in navigation, these pinpoints of light exhibit the subtlety of the intervention. What is perhaps the most important new element doesn't really "touch" the existing, as if the concrete structure looks strong, but it is in fact fragile.
[new stair to the roof | photo by Christian Richters]
The project is a good example of how cities can reinvigorate their industrial waterfronts, making them a part of the city as opposed to voids in the urban fabric. The bunker in Saint-Nazaire is more complicated than most, considering its past and the difficult decision in keeping the structure and then what to do with its physical appearance. But it appears the project is a successful one that should give notice to cities all too willing to demolish the demons from their past.
[view from the entry | photo by Jan-Oliver Kunze, LIN]
:: LIN Finn Geipel + Giulia Andi
:: Domusweb feature
:: Pavilion Arsenal (PDF - images culled from this document)