The Bouroullec Brothers: “The career of designer is a career driven by empathy”

Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec
Interview
January 11, 2021

The Bouroullec Brothers: “The career of designer is a career driven by empathy”

François Pinault entrusted the design of the furnishings for the Bourse de Commerce to Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, who are equally responsible for the interior design of the restaurant. The two Breton brothers also designed the exterior fixtures on the now pedestrianized forecourt.

Reading time
15 mn
By Bourse de Commerce,

What was the design remit for the surroundings of the Bourse de Commerce?

We were asked to design the urban fixtures located on the narrow street surrounding the Bourse de Commerce, as well as the forecourt of the building, opposite the main entrance and portico, opening onto the rue du Louvre. With this perimeter, our remit was to highlight, both elegantly and effectively, the presence of a new venue, while encouraging walkers and passers-by to stroll there in complete freedom, and inviting them to rest there for a moment. As is essential today, we also had to demarcate the forecourt.

How did you approach this urban space and design its fixtures?

It is difficult to design a place so that it elegantly responds to all of its functions, even the most banal, such as waiting for someone. We wanted our design to call out to the public and to act as a sign to passers-by, informing them that a new venue had opened. It was also necessary to leave an appropriate amount of space from the street, so that there was a comfortable distance from the hustle and bustle of this lively thoroughfare. To do this, we installed seating, all the while leaving room to circulate, to stand around, and to cross this space. All of this was done by offering a quality layout, implementing simple shapes, made from materials that are both robust and attractive. We created a design of tubular benches made from cupro-aluminium, a copper and aluminium alloy resistant to corrosion and wear, with the same appearance as bronze. We assembled and married horizontal and vertical lines. The tubes therefore, are positioned in a curve, horizontally, becoming benches that echo the circular movement of the street around the Bourse de Commerce; then they rise up to become vertical masts, bearing banners and signs, visible from the street and the forecourt. The benches and masts are structured via recumbent rocks, onto which the public can climb, lean against and sit. These forms are both animal and mineral, a kind of “stone-animal” that will become patinated over time, taking on a brown sheen. It’s an extremely simple system or design. We wanted to create a subtle presence to accentuate the grandeur of the building; something simple and understated, but nevertheless, the design required a handful of elements of high quality.

“With subtlety and elegance, understated.”

Portrait des Bouroullec

What does the visitor see when they approach the monument?

When you approach the facade of the Bourse de Commerce from the rue du Louvre, you can see a bench, onto which a “rock” seems to slide, in turn used to anchor a vertical mast, carrying a flag without a motif, whose effect is almost liquid, shimmering. The colour and material of this metallic banner plays with the light. This unusual fixture strikes the visitor. The metallic hues and bronze finish are also very Parisian: many monuments have golden tips in Paris, such as the railings surrounding parks, certain statues, and of course, cupolas and domes, such as the gold-leafed pyramid cap at the top of the obelisk on the Place de la Concorde. This use of colour and metallic tones is perfectly suited to the blondness of the Oise limestone, with which much of Paris is built, including the Bourse de Commerce. The light reflected against the bench and vertical mast is visible from a distance, but in a subtle, elegant and understated manner. A weather vane accompanies the movement of the flag. This rotating element plays with the wind and the elements. Those waiting for their friend or date on the forecourt will certainly be able to chase boredom here, taking time and space to reflect.

The pedestrian walkway continues on both sides of the Bourse de Commerce, in a semicircle: the tubular bench creates a new circle around the ring already formed by the building that surrounds the inner circle of Ando’s cylinder. A series of concentric circles that expands, unfolds and diffuses like ripples in the water. The new granite paving of the pedestrian street marries this circular form.

“A series of concentric circles that expands, unfolds and diffuses like ripples in the water.”

 

Hospitality is a key aspect and value of the Bourse de Commerce. How did your designs contribute to the feeling of welcomeness?

The newly restored Bourse de Commerce is a game of contrasts, of leaps and jumps between eras, between things that are anchored in a specific period, almost like a “taste”: mouldings, decorations, paved flooring and woodwork dating from the 19th century, combined with more timeless and abstract elements such as stone, concrete, glass, light, and the circle. It was important not to “decorate” these spaces nor to hinder this union of contrasts. Our role was simply to accompany these.

Everything begins in the vestibule, an entrance hall in a neo-Baroque style, where we find a porch (necessary for both thermal protection and security), designed by Tadao Ando. We created a first chandelier for this space. Next, the visitor enters the Salon, which opens onto the right. This is neither a ticket desk nor a hall but a large reception area that is very hospitable and generous, with no other function than that of a lounge or a meeting space. The public does not feel under pressure to continue their visit and move on. On the contrary, visitors can sit here, rest, consult a book or a programme, and learn about the artworks and upcoming events. It was our role to design a space that mirrored this intentional slowing down of the rhythm, without however replicating the type of atmosphere found in a hotel. It was through an attention to sound that we were able to meet this objective and come up with a suitable design. The absorption of shocks and sound provides an immediate comfort.

“It was important not to ‘decorate’ these spaces nor to hinder this union of contrasts.”

On the ground, carpets with a fluid, abstract motif cover the terrazzo and this same vibrant material covers low platform-like benches of enlarged proportions, a discreet technical feat of anodized aluminium, based on one of our seating ranges edited by Cassina. Raised higher from the ground, we see a variety of large tables, constructed according to the same principles as the benches, where visitors can rest on the nearby seats. We go from mineral, from hard, cold, sonorous ground to a more enveloping, warm, hushed universe. It is quite a challenge to preserve novelty and innovation in a salon space, to privilege the comfort of the space and its visitors without being ostentatious, while remaining exacting in terms of the quality of the materials and the carpets.

Everything is developed and built around this textile landscape and the height of the landscape. The floor rises, in the manner of a trompe-l’oeil, covering seats and forming tatami-like spaces. The whole flows together in a kind of a vibrant continuum. The weave of the carpets and benches was specially created for the Bourse de Commerce by a textile factory using old Jacquard looms in the north of France. The resulting weave is robust, tight, suffused with a magnificent and noble rusticity. The motif is abstract: evoking at once the barks of trees, a mantle of moss, lichens on a shale rock... It has a highly pictorial dimension, reminiscent of Impressionism in the choice of colours, yet the motif is abstract, indiscernible. The carpet becomes a kind of organic surface, arranged in touches here and there throughout the Salon space, a quasi-mystical fusion of threads with complex and suggestive hues.

Leaving the Salon, visitors enter the Passage, a space no larger than a typical Parisian covered passageway. This separates the contemporary cylinder from the ancient facade. How did you approach the design of this particular space?

Under the Rotunda, in the Passage, we wanted to create an ambiance encouraging visitors to stroll or wander and to do this, we made use of the new “Cord” collection, developed with Artek and presented for the first time at the Bourse de Commerce. This is a very simple chair made from steel tubes: relatively thick rope passes through the steel tubes and when stretched, creates a comfortable backrest. Keeping this design in mind, we also designed a bench for the Passage space. Chairs will be arranged or scattered throughout the Passageway, similar to chairs dotted along garden paths. These “Cord” chairs and benches can also be found on the landings and other “transition spaces” throughout the museum.

What about the rest areas in the exhibition spaces?

We chose to continue the same furniture that was developed specifically for the Salon. Therefore, on the landings and in the exhibition spaces, there are anodized aluminium benches (Cassina) covered with a black and grey material. The aim here was that this material would be neutral so as not to detract from the artworks. Finally, for the 19th-century staircases, themselves quite wide and imposing, we designed monumental chandeliers, about fifteen metres high. These were developed in collaboration with Flos specifically for the Bourse de Commerce, inspired by the lantern. We wanted to create a refined industrial object consisting of very fine glass encased in metal.

Finally, can you tell us about the restaurant at the Bourse de Commerce? What kind of atmosphere did you want to create with chefs Michel and Sébastien Bras?

Although the restaurant is another universe, it needs to be in line with the experience offered to visitors to the Bourse de Commerce. For this reason, we worked in collaboration with Lucie Niney and Thibaut Marca, from the agency NeM Architects to offer the public a harmonious experience. From the restaurant dining room, guests can enjoy views of the city, including a breath-taking panorama of Saint-Eustache, the Canopée (of Les Halles complex) and beyond, the Centre Pompidou and the sprawling capital. Our objective here was to control and magnify the light, which penetrates everywhere because the restaurant is located under the roof on the third floor, under a ridge of overhead light. Furthermore, the personalities of Michel and Sébastien Bras, from the Aubrac region, in love—like François Pinault—with simplicity, innovation and modernity, led us to pay particular attention to the atmospheric quality. Comfort is often associated with ornamentation, thickness, opulence and its outward ostentatious signs. However, for us, like François Pinault and the Bras family, what matters most is the choice of materials, their robustness and quality, cleanness, even a certain minimalism or simplicity … for us, all of this contributes to creating a calm and comfortable atmosphere for both mind and body. Once again, we make use of textiles (carpets, seats and walls coverings) to absorb sound and filter the light, thereby creating a haven of peace.

“We […] absorb sound and filter the light, thereby creating a haven of peace.”

 

On the floor, a tightly woven carpet, with a contemporary, abstract weave creating a slightly worn or faded effect welcomes guests. For the furniture, we chose wrought iron from a pre-existing collection, adapted for La Halle aux grains (in collaboration with Magis). A similar wrought iron in a black hue was therefore used for the lamps, tables and seats, with comfort added by the grey felted wool padding (chairs, armchairs and benches). To soften the space, attenuate sound and control the lighting, we designed a number of light textile walls, in haute-couture guipure lace. We had employed this fabric in an exhibition some time ago and decided to make use of it here for the first time in a public setting. These textile screens consist of finely embroidered canvases, made in such a way as to highlight the graphic nature of the thread. They punctuate the space of the large dining hall area, making it possible to nuance the luminous atmosphere. Finally, items of glassware, specially made in the Venice region of Italy, punctuate the space, in greens and browns, evocative of flowing water, bringing a few touches of light and brightness to this soft muted atmosphere.