The villa with a new extension

In France, an Historic Villa Is Reinvented as a Public Library

French architect Dominique Coulon transformed a 17th century villa in the village of Pélissanne into a garden and library for public use.

Pélissanne is a small community in the South of France with about 10,000 inhabitants. The town is distinguished by its dense historic town center, where narrow, cobbled streets are lined by stone buildings with terracotta roof tiles and wooden shutters, some of them dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Walking through the quaint village feels like walking through a postcard.

Many of the historic townhouses and their gardens are well preserved and cared for. Others have been neglected, as was the Maureau Villa, which was built in the 17th century. Since its former owner wasn’t able to come up with funds for the necessary renovations, the house and its beautiful 43,000-square-foot garden was acquired by the municipality. Fortunately, the decision was made to renovate it, transforming the residence into a media library, making both the house and its grounds publicly available. But the rooms of the historic house, which occupies a prime location in the town center, were not sufficient for this use, so an extension of the building into the park was necessary.

the new addition
The contemporary addition houses a media library, as well as comfortable reading areas. Its curved design wraps around a hundred-year-old plane tree, which becomes the focal point of the space.

In 2015 Pélissanne held an architectural competition, which was won by Dominique Coulon, a French architect based in Strasbourg whose design aimed at preserving as much of the historic park as possible. While most of the other participants in the competition placed the extension in front of the existing building, Coulon moved it to the eastern side. This makes the transition from old house to new extension a bit more difficult but preserves almost the full view of the historic facade and thus the connection between the old house and the park. At the same time, the extension creates a lively new public square which connects to the town’s main square in front of the church and the town hall to the West. The gesture of moving the extension to the side also preserved a hundred-year-old plane tree, around which the new building forms a gentle and expressive curve. 

Interior reading room with plane tree view
Readers enjoy the view from the addition to the library. The courtyard below has become a pedestrian link to the city center.

Inside, the renovation retains much of the original layout of the Maureau Villa with its enfilade of smaller rooms. The only significant alternations are on the ground floor, where the architects created a large space for events and a two-story lobby. In full contrast to the old house, the extension features wide open spaces on both floors. Oversized panorama windows give each floor a clear orientation: While the ground floor opens widely towards Maureau Park to the south, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the landscape, the first floor is more closed off and intimate, looking out the curved window towards the west as if placing the readers in the branches of the plane tree just in front of the giant window. The green of the garden is also echoed in the deep green color that appears ion the window shutters, the door canopy, staircases, pieces of furniture, and along the wide curved window that embraces the plane tree.

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In the course of this transformation, the town also decided to open up Maureau Park to both sides, turning it into a new public passage, a highly attractive, non-motorized shortcut through the dense historic tissue of Pélissanne. It is a splendid example of how a private estate can become so much more valuable when it is accessible to all.

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