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Global Architecture Platform

Camp Memorial

Rivesaltes, France, 2015

When you arrive in Perpignan, that southern French city ideally set between the mountains and the sea, you might think you have finally reached a promised land. But this sunlit paradise produced a hell within: an arid terrain swept by the Tramontane, that cold dry wind from the mountains, freezing in winter and suffocating in summer.

At the end of the thirties, these 600 parched hectares, acquired by the army, were used as a military base to train and acclimatise troops from overseas. This inhospitable facility—several rows of asbestos cement barracks strictly lining a central yard—was to be transformed into an internment camp for Spanish refugees fleeing Franco’s regime in February 1939. Under the control of the Vichy Government, this internment camp gradually changed its function to become a transit camp, destined especially to concentrate Gypsies and Jewish families arrested by the French police in the free zone for deportation to Poland. Abandoned after World War II, the facility was pressed into service again at the end of the Algerian War to intern the Harkis, the indigenous soldiers of the French colonial army who were driven out of their country with their families. Betrayal, collaboration, denunciation and extortion had haunted these abandoned places since the early seventies: the acts committed in the name of the French Republic demanded to be salvaged from oblivion and called for an expiatory monument.

Rudy Ricciotti went straight to the heart of this place of memory, while other participants in the 2006 architecture competition cautiously placed their proposals on the periphery. On the site of the former yard, where rollcalls and counting of prisoners took place, a trench was dug, similar to the mass graves of modern warfare and its summary executions. From this furrow, an oblique mass emerges powerfully: a 220-metre-long ochre concrete monolith. The lowest part, close to the entrance, starts at ground level and rises slowly without ever exceeding the ridge of abandoned buildings. This volume presents no seams or openings, and emerges as a solid, archaic block.

Rather than taking centre stage, his monolith skilfully frames the landscape around it. Like Curzio Malaparte’s villa in Capri, which reveals the island’s pernicious landscape, it allows us to see the camp in a different way. This concrete block, placed at the bottom of a pit—whether dug to bury or to exhume is not known—seems ready to rise up and accuse. It transforms the innocuous run-down barracks into the relentless gears of a machine of exclusion and deportation. The Rivesaltes Camp Memorial bears a very close relationship with the disturbing strangeness of the cenotaphs imagined by Étienne-Louis Boullée, architect and theorist of the sublime in architecture. The emotions generated by this construction, which gives no information about its manufacture or structure, seem closer to fear than pleasure, to astonishment than reason. Everything seems designed to excite wonder and amazement, as the eighteenth-century theorist recommended. The elements of the brief are lined up, one after the other, to create a disproportionately long, crushing block. The ramp leads to a wall. Entry from the light and the sudden glare in the darkness transform the most inoffensive tourist into Oedipus, unmasked and blinded after learning of his crimes, while projectors set into the floor of the exhibition space draw them infinitely close to the ghosts they have come to invoke.


Text by Richard Scoffier, 9th December, 2015

Architects: Rudy Ricciotti Agence, Passelac & Roques
Client: Conseil Régional Languedoc Roussillon and SEAM Rousillon Aménagement
Partners: Koya (scenography), BET Grontmij Ingénierie (Structure), Cholley Minangoy (Economist), Studio Totem (Furniture) and  Thermibel (Acoustic)
Construction area: 4.000 m²
Budget: 22.750.000 €
Photo credits: © M. Hédelin / Région Languedoc-Roussillon and © Kevin Dolmaire

All plans and drawings © Agence Rudy Ricciotti

30.Apr.2019 2700 views
Rudy Ricciotti Rudy Ricciotti

Rudy Ricciotti (Algiers, 1952) holds a diploma from the Geneva School of Engineering (1975) and from the Architecture School of Marseille (1980). In 1980, he found his architecture office Agence Rudy Ricciotti. Awarded France’s Grand Prix National d’Architecture in 2006, Gold Medal of the Académie d’Architecture in 2013 and member of the Académie des Technologies, Rudy Ricciotti is one of the foremost representatives of a generation of architects combining great creative prowess with a genuine constructive approach. Pioneer and ambassador of concrete, Rudy Ricciotti sublimates innovative concrete techniques in landmark constructions.
30.Apr.2019 2700 views
Richard Scoffier Richard Scoffier

Richard Scoffier (Nice, 1955), architect and holder of a Master of Studies in Philosophy. He found his agency in 1991 after winning the Albums de la Jeune Architecture. He works as a curator and critic, being a regular contributor to the journals d’A, Archiscopie and Bauwelt and participating in the Critical Meetings of the Cité de l’Architecture. He is a professor at the ENSA Paris-Val de Seine, and a lively lecturer in the Université Populaire du Pavillon de l’Arsenal since 2011. He is also a member of the Académie d’Architecture et Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.

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