Last month, we featured an article about L’École d’art du Calaisis, an art school which opened recently in the heart of the French port city of Calais. Mark magazine fan and Calais resident Barry Fantoni – noted author, cartoonist, actor, TV host and amongst his latest ventures, architectural critic – reached out to Mark to share with us his first-hand observations of the art school from the perspective of a local stakeholder. Intrigued by Fantoni’s passionate response, we requested he share his insights as a counterpoint to our original article entitled: Arc.Ame's school tantalises the public with a laced copper façade.
Fantoni reveals his thoughts on the school’s new building and the impact of its realization on public stakeholders:
Calais is in the Pas de Calais, officially the most deprived department in France. When it was announced that the mayor had given the go ahead for a purpose built art school to be constructed on the site of the old Monoprix supermarket, incredulity ran rife. I have been living in Calais for ten years and frequently visited the then existing art school, a perfectly serviceable late 19th century building with good light and large studios. Two essentials the new school does not have.
When the plans were shown, along with projected images of the school, many like myself, wondered how the town would benefit. Only six in ten have jobs and studying art is not on everyone's list of priorities. And the degree offered by the school holds little importance. It was obvious that the main two beneficiaries were the builders and architects. To push the idea through council, the mayor demanded that a few affordable small apartments should be incorporated in the design. The inclusion of these homes dramatically reduced the studio space.
When the school was opened, almost a year late, the copper drapes that cover the studio windows caused both ridicule and anger. They cost a small fortune and blocked out the light. It is still not clear what purpose they serve, apart from giving the building a 'modern' look.
One sculptor student I spoke to told me he had signed up for a two year course but because of the poor light and shoddy facilities, he was quitting after the first term. The key point to any building is that it is fit for purpose.
Function must always come before appearance. The design of a great building is that it fits perfectly in the needs that those who work or live it. By the same token, it should provide a visual stimulus for those who don't. Calais' new art school fails at every level. One small example is that the lecture room is on the street level and no provision has been made to prevent people outside gawping in. Sheets of paper have been pasted over the windows.
For those like myself, with a lifetime of experience working with architects on a wide variety of projects, the choice of the school's architects remain a mystery. I have seen better from first year students.