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  5. Profile - Jacques Couëlle, mythical architect of the Riviera

Profile - Jacques Couëlle, mythical architect of the Riviera

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Profile - Jacques Couëlle, mythical architect of the Riviera

A renowned architect on the French Riviera also known as the "architect of billionaires", Jacques Couëlle has a very distinctive style.

His life

Initially an art draughtsman before becoming an architect, he developed an important business as a dealer in medieval cultural objects in the interwar period. Thereafter, Jacques Couëlle became a self-taught architect. Unclassifiable, he remained on the fringes of the great movements in architecture.

His work

Jacques Couëlle's architecture, with its sculptural forms in projected and sculpted concrete, evokes the architecture-sculpture movement born after the war. Breaking with the Modern Movement, which favoured the right angle, he built houses with organic and sculptural forms, like the ovoid houses of Antti Lovag, his pupil, such as the "Palais Bulles" (1975), the mythical property of Pierre Cardin.

The specificity of Couëlle's architecture lies in his relationship with nature: his houses integrate perfectly into their natural environment because they borrow its forms. They are true "landscape houses". This relationship with nature associates him with the organic architecture of Antoni Gaudí, as in the famous Güell Park (1900-1914) in Barcelona, where the paths carved into the slope like caves follow the contours of the land.

Jacques Couëlle and the formative journeys

It is through what he calls "formative journeys" that Jacques Couëlle forges his ideal and his architectural identity. He travelled throughout Europe and deepened his knowledge in fields as varied as archaeology, botany and anatomy. He became fascinated by the principle of the Romanesque vault and medieval architecture. His first love of medieval art and his activity as a dealer in this field led him to work closely with the Cloisters Museum in New York. This exceptional place is home to one of the departments of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Located in Washington Heights on the north side of Manhattan Island, this museum houses five medieval French cloisters, mainly from abbeys in the south of France, which occupy the majority of the site. The museum provides a harmonious and evocative setting for some 2,000 works of art, artifacts and architectural elements from medieval Western Europe and has the largest collection of medieval art in the Americas.

In parallel with his trade in medieval art to the United States, he founded in Aix-en-Provence the "Décoration architecturale, maîtrise vivante des arts et de la pierre, du fer et du feu" (Architectural decoration, living mastery of the arts and of stone, iron and fire), whose role is to provide architects, decorators and craftsmen with iconographic documentation and examples of concrete decorative elements, intended to reconnect them with the ancestral know-how of Aix. His collection of ancient elements, recovered from ruined sites, enabled him to build up a vast catalogue in real size which he used to satisfy the desires for grandeur and prestige of a few capricious billionaires living on the Côte d'Azur and its hinterland. He built a number of châteaux, like collages of architectural elements of different styles, intended to give their owners the illusion of a centuries-old residence, equipped with modern comforts and arranged according to their wishes. This is how he earned his nickname of the architect of the billionaires. From this period came, among others, the bastide Saint-François, built in Grasse (1926-1936), and the château de Castellaras (1926).

His touch on the French Riviera

Jacques Couëlle's early work includes the Domaine des Penchinades, the Bastides of Fontvieil, Pigranel and Saint François, the Château de Castellaras and above all the Château de Beaumont, a true oasis of greenery and history between Valbonne and Mougins. Thirty years after working on the Château at Castellaras, he designed an autonomous and secure village of ninety houses. Bathed in Provençal, Moorish, Florentine and Spanish influences, each building is unique and protected from the outside by clever interplay of vegetation, the architect's signature element.

His house sculptures

The architectural DNA used in the village of Castellaras evolves, the curve is no longer used as a simple decorative element. It becomes the nerve centre of Jacques Couëlle's constructions. The vault makes its appearance, a true renaissance of the constructive principles he studied and implemented in the "Architectural Decoration". The form is no longer drawn, it becomes modelled.

He then embarked on a second residential project in the hills above Cannes, a project that did not meet with unanimous approval. "Billionaires will pay 700,000 francs to live in (improved) caves", was the headline in Libération on Saturday 15 February 1964. And the newspaper was not the only one to pass a harsh judgment on the idea of the housing estate that was to be built, its fluid style being opposed in every way to that which imposed its diktats at the time: the modern movement and its right angles.

The distinction between the roof, the façade and the ground has disappeared, leaving a continuous skin wrapped around a patio and designed in perfect harmony with the hidden organisation of the garden.

Of the fifty houses planned, only five, for lack of customers, were built and became a manifesto in the work of Jacques Couëlle as well as in the architecture-sculpture movement, of which he is considered the initiator. Facing the Estérel massif and overlooking the village of Mouans-Sartoux and further on the bay of Cannes, Castellaras appears to be the ideal playground to implement his approach to an unconventional habitat. The link with the outside is omnipresent in these custom-built houses, between the vast openings that slide inside the walls and the floors that extend onto the terraces spread over the different levels.

From a distance, the houses of the Castellaras estate look like large rocks - some have evoked anthills - punctuated by irregular openings, themselves clad with wrought iron brambles serving as grilles. From then on, Jacques Couëlle based all his creations on this model. He will evolve his style in search of an ever greater harmony between architecture, man (for whom and in relation to whom the project is designed) and nature (which he always takes care to preserve).

The Beaumont Estate

For his main early projects, he acts as a remplois architect and works in conjunction with his Aix company around the decoration and reuse of medieval elements. In architecture, re-use refers to the reuse of materials (especially columns, capitals and marble slabs) as well as works of art from existing monuments as building materials in a new building.

This is the process that was used on the Domaine de Beaumont, offered for sale by the Private Desk of Côte d'Azur Sotheby's International Realty. The prestigious estate is overlooked by a characterful residence built in 1920 in a typically Provencal style and charm for its time.

Designed by Jacques Couëlle, the castle is a tribute to the Italian, Provencal and belle-époque styles. Its natural stone facades covered with bougainvillea and vines and its tiles in a shade of beige make it a point of light in the ocean of greenery that surrounds it.

In this case, this superb historic residence, a former holiday home of JF Kennedy's family when he was a child, has all the assets of a master's residence. Its position offers panoramic views over the villages of Valbonne, Mougins and Mouans-Sartoux and a clear view to the sea.

Discover the extraordinary Domaine de Beaumont, designed by Jacques Couëlle, this exceptional residence steeped in history is offered for sale by the Private Desk of Côte d'Azur Sotheby's International Realty, 74 boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes.

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Drawing of the western façade of the Domaine de Beaumont, by Jacques Couëlle for Mrs. Carr in 1929