This building is older than the United States, which isn’t uncommon for Europe, but still surprises me as an American who grew up wandering around buildings that almost all smelled like new carpet, drywall and paint. This structure was originally built in France more than one hundred years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. The original stone walls in the town of Louviers have been used for a variety of different purposes: a monastery, a prison, a tribunal court, a church, a convent and mostly recently have been repurposed as a music school.
To better serve this new purpose, Opus 5 Architectes has designed a distinctly contemporary addition atop of the seventeenth century stack of stone. The most prominent feature of the addition is a dramatic and boxy performance space with retractable purple seating and an undulating mirror ceiling. The largest window of the addition is also a mirror of sorts, reflecting the surrounding facades on strips of titanium, siliconitride, and chrome embedded in the glass; it makes for an impressive lighting effect at night. But what’s most compelling about the project is simply the contrast between the original structure and the new. Each part of the building exaggerates the other, making the old look older and the new look newer. Maybe this contrast makes it harder to parce out the old prison or courtrooms buried in the historic walls. Still, when music reverberates from the new spaces, the sounds echo off the old walls, and reflect back toward the new addition mixed with the sounds of monks, devout parishioners and even prisoners long since dead.