Inside the story of SCAD’s Provençal campus in the French village of Lacoste – SURFACE

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The Savannah College of Art and Design celebrates 20 years of excellence in design education at its French satellite campus.

by Jesse Dorris

June 16, 2022

Library of the SCAD Rue du Four. All photographs courtesy of SCAD.

In 1979, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) opened in Georgia and quickly established its eponymous coastal city as a global design destination. In 2002, the college similarly transformed the medieval French village of Lacoste. Bathed in the famous light of Provence, the campus comprises 16e-century farmhouses (one of which was used as a gambling den by the infamous Marquis de Sade), medieval caves, existing bakeries and the region’s first art conservatory created by American painter Bernard Pfriem . SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace oversaw the curatorial team and was awarded a Chevalier in the Order of Academic Palms for her work. SCAD Lacoste is now home to two immersive programs, Pre-Bee and After SCAD, an artist residency for graduates, The SCAD Alumni Atelier, and has hosted everyone from Pierre Cardin to Carrie Mae Weems for talks and master classes .

This year, SCAD Lacoste celebrates its 20th anniversary. The university will inaugurate two additions to the campus, and in October the campus sculpture garden, SCAD Lacoste Promenade de Sculptures, will feature ten permanent outdoor installations from the SCAD community. The Lacoste campus offers a rich program, even in summer. On June 27, SCAD FASH will inaugurate “Azzedine Alaïa: The Art of Fashion”, which is the first exhibition of the work of the late master couturier in Provence. From July 1 to 4, the SCAD Lacoste Film Festival will take place, with a special tribute to Agnès Varda and the awarding of the SCAD Etoile for lifetime achievement to actor Jeremy Irons.

In the following conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, Wallace recounts Surface how to bring 21St-the technology of the century in 10e-century structures, the promise of adaptive reuse and the pleasure of outside.

Fashion classes at the SCAD Lacoste campus.

How did the SCAD make the decision to open a campus in Lacoste?

SCAD Lacoste started in 2002. The former Lacoste School of the Arts had heard of SCAD’s mastery of historic preservation and adaptive reuse, and they approached us about taking over their Lacoste campus because their enrollment had dropped dramatically . They needed help and came to SCAD – and we saw an opportunity to establish a permanent study location abroad, where students and faculty could live and work in the environment perhaps the most inspiring on the planet.

SCAD Lacoste welcomes students, graduates and guests to a dreamscape of Roman ruins, medieval stonework and fields of lavender and poppies – an idyll that has inspired some of the world’s most beloved artists and designers. What did Mark Twain say in The Innocents Abroad? “You have to travel to learn.” Studies show that travel infuses the traveler with curiosity and confidence. Students who travel tend to be more motivated and open to new ideas. Lacoste offers the perfect staging for our bees to spread their wings, see the world and meet new people, all with the guidance and support of our renowned faculty.

A theater on campus.

Preserving the character of the village must have been more difficult than simply retaining the facades and updating the interiors; What do you think SCAD has done particularly well to ensure that the historical identity of the region is not lost?

The most loved spaces resemble living organisms. They are teeming with life, full of light, color and above all, people. At SCAD, we love the stories of old buildings and add our own stories to them with verve and passion. When we arrived in Lacoste, the buildings entrusted to us by the Lacoste School of Arts were in a state of deterioration and dilapidation. Many structures were only a few centuries old (young by European standards), while others dated back to the 10e century.

We got to work and have been building and improving the SCAD Lacoste built environment for 20 years. We have meticulously restored the exteriors of each SCAD Lacoste building to speak to the vernacular design of the Luberon. Aside from a small sign here and there helping students and guests navigate the vertiginous village, the facades and silhouettes of our Lacoste properties are an integral part of the visual language of the village. You can barely tell the difference between a private residence, a student residence, a Lacoste shopSCAD, for example, or school buildings.

The interiors are another story. We rework and reimagine historic interiors to meet the needs of students. adaptive rehabilitation. SCAD students, alumni and faculty need fast Wi-Fi and Ethernet access. The studios are located to take advantage of the beautiful light of the Luberon. We fill Lacoste SCAD classrooms with the technology demanded by the more than 40 SCAD disciplines: 3D printers, photographic printers, HD cameras, Cintiq tablets and everything in between.

We’ve also incorporated many of the unique existing features and eccentricities of Lacoste interiors into cheerful references to previous residents: old beehive ovens turned into cozy reading nooks, a stone sink fitted with a top that can be used as a dining table, extra, a manger topped with glass to make a buffet. Keeping pieces of the past and moving them into the present. As the French say, “Who does not advance, retreats” (“Who does not advance, retreats”). We embraced Lacoste’s historic identity, lifting it out of the ground and ruins as we rebuilt, transformed and replanted.

The interior of the Lower House. Photograph by Adam Kuehl.

Of course, we must mention the Marquis de Sade. What remains of the farm that was once his gambling den? What is it for now?

Ah, yes, the Lower House! The old farmhouse and its outbuildings, which sit at the base of the village, have existed in one form or another for at least eight centuries. When the building was saved and donated to SCAD many years ago by the William Talbott Hillman Foundation, its only history was that of eons and eras of decay. It had no roof. All that remained of its former life as a farm and stable was the old oven and a few stone walls.

We conducted a site survey. We engaged professors and students of preservation design and architectural history from SCAD, as part of their SCAD Lacoste courses, to research, write and publish the history of the site and structure. SCAD is a research university, after all, devoted to applied discovery and its implications for the creative professions. The research helped us understand how the design and function of the building changed over the centuries, which then allowed SCAD to reuse the structure – after adding a few extra walls and roof! – into a residence with classrooms, a dining room and guest rooms. A stunningly contemporary cinema and screening room now live inside what was once a barn. There’s a swimming pool, complete with a few oversized swans that once used to ride in an amusement park, for a little whimsy.

A notable feature is the holes in the walls which held mulberry branches and occupied silkworms in earlier times. We left the holes as a reminder of the farm’s previous function as a silk producer. And when finishing the floor, we found rubble, remains of a Roman temple. It’s so beautiful that we’ve lit it up and covered it in glass so everyone can see it under our feet. There are also several cisterns that are part of artists’ studios, lit and kept behind glass as dramatic visual elements.

The swimming pool outside the Maison Basse.

Interior of the Lower House. Photograph by Adam Kuehl.

Over the decades, what has surprised you about the way students and buildings interact at SCAD Lacoste?

Lacoste sits on a hill above the Luberon valley and, like so many European villages built on rolling alpine terrain, the buildings are full of surprising angles, nooks, narrow staircases and breathtaking views . The front door can be one story, the back door two or three stories higher. It’s anything but boring. I’m sure you’ve experienced the numbing fluorescence of so many poorly designed learning environments at other colleges: the drab architecture, the drab classrooms, the bare walls.

Generally, people expect college classrooms to be dark and gloomy, assuming that truth should be inversely proportional to beauty. Here’s the real truth: the more time our students want to spend at SCAD and in SCAD buildings, the more they learn – and they spend A LOT of time in SCAD classrooms and studios! During the academic year, a SCAD student spends 450 hours in our classrooms (at least!) and 1,000 hours on our premises, and that includes SCAD Lacoste. Because students spend a lot of time in our buildings, we’ve designed warm, cozy environments (lots of soft furnishings and inviting textures) that are very TikTok-worthy, filled with artwork that excites the senses. and arouse curiosity.

Photograph by Chia Chong.

How has Covid changed how buildings function and the campus itself?

Modern buildings – from the last 40 or 50 years, say – look claustrophobic, with windows that don’t open and barely a porch or pocket garden to speak of. Older buildings are often more humane than new ones, with their soaring ceilings and abundant light, verandas and sleepy porches and balconies. These buildings seek light and air and draw them inside. We all needed lots of air and light during the pandemic!

COVID-19 has also reminded everyone how valuable time outdoors can be. I chose each SCAD location, in part, for its climate. SCAD students prioritize their own well-being and love to lay down a blanket and relax or paint outside. Closeness to nature nourishes the soul and the body. Speaking of outdoors, the Lacoste buildings, when they were built, certainly had no heating or air conditioning. Thus, the fresh air so often recommended these days was strictly. And when the mistral arrives, hang on to your hat! Pure, fresh air from the Alps blows through Lacoste all year round, which explains the atmosphere of golden light for which the region is known.

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