Architecture reflecting the past and present

The Musée d’arts de Nantes has undergone major building work during its 6-year closure. It now complies with current conservation standards and exhibition space has increased by 30%.

The extension and renovation project, overseen by the British architecture firm Stanton Williams, shows off to best advantage the three buildings whose architecture reflects the era in which they were constructed: the Palais, the Chapelle de l’Oratoire, and the brand new Cube.


The Palais

This majestic building conforms to the conventions of 19th century museum design as found, for example, in Lille and Amiens. The building is organised around a central courtyard, the Patio, with a glazed roof and natural overhead lighting. The Patio provides access to two galleries enclosing it on the ground floor and on the first floor accessed via a grand staircase.

Stanton Williams was keen to transform the old-fashioned Palais into a contemporary, light, warm and welcoming museum. This complete make-over shows due deference to the existing architecture and combines old and new, echoing the collections housed there.


The Chapelle de l’Oratoire

The Chapelle de l’Oratoire (Oratory Chapel), located on the Place de l’Oratoire, was built in the 17th century and was originally a religious building. It has no aisles or ambulatory and is based on a simple Latin cross design. It was a place of worship until 1772 and was then transferred to State ownership and for almost 200 years was used for a variety of purposes in succession as a criminal court, hospital, fodder store and police station. The chapel was bought by the city council in 1963 for a token 1 franc payment and opened its doors to the public in 1989. As part of the museum renovation project, it has now been fully integrated into the Musée d’arts de Nantes and hosts temporary exhibitions.


The Cube

This new building, inaugurated in 2017, forms a link between past and present and is wholly devoted to contemporary art, which accounts for a significant proportion of the museum’s collections. It spans over 2,000 square metres, distributed over 4 levels, and is connected to the Palais by a raised walkway. The architects were at pains to achieve a coherent relationship between the old and new buildings, notably through the presence of natural light and the use of white tufa stone. The magnificent translucent curtain wall made of marble and laminated glass suspended along the entire staircase, is a magnificent architectural feat.


Enhanced natural light

In the large galleries on the upper floor of the Palais, the architects chose to exploit the natural light to aesthetic and environmental advantage. The 3,500 square metres of glass roof have been renovated and enhanced with superimposed sheets of glass, stretched canvas and adjustable blinds to control the light while retaining the view of clouds passing overhead, echoing the appeal of artists’ studios of old.

This design choice is combined with measures to improve the natural thermal inertia of the building and thus reduce energy consumption, significantly exceeding the criteria for a High Environmental Quality building.


A more accessible museum

The new museum is more accessible to the city and invites pedestrians to enter directly into dialogue with the works of art from the street. The gate on the frontage of the Palais and the narrow staircase have been removed and replaced by a new open forecourt. This meeting place and relaxation area is now an attractive space which is accessible to passers-by.

This closer relationship with the Musée d’arts is also apparent in the windows located on several facades of the museum. Pedestrians can glimpse some of the collections from the rue Georges-Clemenceau and rue Gambetta. This idea of transparency emphasizes the desire for art to reach out towards the street and for the public to be drawn into the museum.

Visitors are the focal point of this new building project and the spaces and facilities have been specially designed to meet their diverse needs and to make art accessible to as many people as possible. The museum basement now boasts a 144-seat auditorium to host concerts, shows, lectures and creative and experimental educational workshops.

The museum also provides an optimum visitor experience for people with disabilities. A large number of facilities are available to help them access information and interact with the collections: tactile plans, the Ma Visite mobile phone app, large-print information, and hearing loop facilities for the hearing-impaired.

Stanton Williams has reorganised the spaces in order to create a cohesive route around the museum which makes sense in display and architectural terms and accentuates the artworks. The route through the museum’s rich collections allows visitors to stroll around a remarkable variety of architectural spaces, following a continuous path through the history of art from the 13th to the 21st century.

< The Musée d'artsHaut de page