industry de-memorialized

On occasion, powerful memories are best preserved when space is de-memorialized and a site’s former uses become apparent by means of minimal intervention.

In Saint Nazaire, France, Lin Architects have converted a former German submarine base that was in service throughout World War II into a venue for experimental music and culture. Known as the Saint-Nazaire Alvéole 14, the site is designed to serve as the nexus for the new Ville-Porte plan, in other words, to symbolically connect the urban center and the troubled industrial port.

A large part of the monolithic building is renewed with minimal intervention (the building structurally stabilized, circulation in the form of street-like linear routes established, entrance and exits demarcated). One floating dock is transformed into the LIFE room for emergent art forms (a large, flexible open space). The center also contains a VIP room, which is a generously scaled open space for concerts and exhibitions. Three levels high, it connects to the cafeteria and recording studios. A sphere, recuperated from a German airport tower and is called “think tank”. It is installed on the roof to serve as urban signage, as well as a space for artistic experiment.

LIN’s intervention reads as strategically humble, relishing the idea of minimum intervention. Allowing the building’s remarkable structure to retain its original presence, the architects make very few structural additions or breaks in the cement shell. Most successfully, there are no overt references made to the building’s prior use. While the base was built during the glum years of Nazi occupation, the fact is neither erased nor underscored. This de-memorializing approach renders the memorial quality of the space all the more evocative.

– Anya Sirota