Villa Arson, The Old 18th and 19th Century Villa

Villa Arson

The old Villa is like a vertical pivot structuring the entire modern construction which is deployed around it following a horizontal plane. In the 19th century, Pierre Joseph Arson, who gave his name to the estate, started a great restoration of the original mansion. He had the inside decorated with stucco and frescoes, and the outside with balusters and antique statues. In 1884, the Villa was changed into a hotel, and then in 1927 into a medical home. This was the start of a long period of decline. To avoid demolition the site was listed in 1943. Under André Malraux in 1962 arose the idea of transforming the estate into a school of art. The old Villa remains the focal point of the architectural ensemble. The façade is of a red ocher color, a mixture of iron oxide and lime, the same chromatic tone as the buildings on Masséna square in Nice and “more generally the color born from the unity of Italy in the 19th century. […] It is the soul of the site, like a ruby or a flowerpot” (Michel Marot). Today it houses the administration.

Digging for lower levels (exhibition spaces, theater) made it necessary to consolidate and to add foundations under the old Villa.

The exhibition spaces of the National Center for Contemporary Art and the old Villa seen from the Bosco (entrance garden) at the north of the domain.

Construction of the western part of building 4, with the foundations of the eastern part in the foreground.

Excavating the slope to create the lower levels and reinforcements for the old foundations of the Villa.
The traces of the previous adjacent buildings, which had been added and were then demolished to restore the historical character of the Villa, are clearly visible on the eastern façade.

Preparing the foundations around the old Villa.
In the foreground are the foundations of the north part of building 3. Level -1 will house the boiler room and part of the exhibition spaces.

The modern buildings are beginning to surround the old Villa (western side of the galerie des Cyprès).

Cypress Alley follows the west side of building 3, the old Villa, and buildings 4 and 5. It has been entirely preserved.

Construction of the study and research library on the southern side of the ground floor of the Villa. Its roof is the terrace encasing the old Villa. One can see the footbridge on level +1 which allows direct access to this terrace.

The construction of the west side is well under way, the east side does not exist yet, and is taken up by storage and the construction site.
The two sides are separated by the great hall, by building 3 and by the central street which traverses building 4 from north to south.

Construction of level -1, west side of building 3 and disassembling the roof to prepare for the addition of a story.

On the north side of the Villa are the future exhibition spaces of the National Center for Contemporary Art.

Ongoing excavation for the east side of building 3 and the theater.
On the left of the old Villa, is the study and research library.
On the right, are the the National Center for Contemporary Art exhibition spaces on level -1.

Old villa, north façade seen from the building 3 forecourt

From left to right:
west part of building 4, with a series of rough concrete volumes that create a maze on its roof terraces;
and west part of building 3, with the library and its roof terrace;
the old Villa before it was raised another level.

In the foreground is the northwest part of building 3 which houses the exhibition spaces of today's National Center for Contemporary Art.
In the background is the passageway to level +1 which allows access to the northern terraces of building 3 from the Villa.

In the foreground, one can see the south part of the pediments of the old Villa. Inspired by the original pediments, they were made of poured concrete. The exterior side was coated and painted, the interior side remained exposed after removal of the formwork.
An attic was added which was used as a studio by the director of the institution. Today it houses the offices of the administration.

The old Villa is crowned with pediments inspired by the original pediments but made of exposed concrete.
Level +1 of the old Villa communicates with the terraces surrounding it by passageways on the north and south sides and by doors on the east and west sides.

Old Villa, north-west façades seen from the terraces on the roof of building 3

The old Villa being renovated (the attic has not been added yet). The southern part of the terraces is almost finished. One can see the walls delimiting paths, patios and hanging gardens.

South façade of the old villa seen from the terraces on the roof of building 3

Upper terraces adjoining the old Villa: the low walls of the garden are built over the roofing of the upper terrace which will be prolonged towards the east.

View of part of the passageways which are now taken up by the contemporary art study and research library.
The floor again uses Veronico tiles, with a rhythm of marble lines reminiscent of the separation structure on the Provencal stone streets.
On either side of the passage leading to the old Villa, patios have been arranged as gardens and receive the light of day coming from the terraces.

Study and research library entrance on the southern side of the ground floor of the Villa

Building the roof structure for the attic which will first be used as a studio for the director. On the left, the last floor of building 3, where one can see the coffered roof of the big gallery before the construction of the pyramids on the roof.

The framework for the added attic (first used as a studio for the director and now used by the administration) with the raising of the existing spiral stairway.

General view of building 4, which is channeled by the preserved parasol pine trees and cypresses.

The Phoenix, the emblem of the Arson family, overlooks the domain that Marot compared to a “lizard looking towards the sea”.

One can see the volumes rising and gradually encasing the old Villa in the new architecture.
The wells of light on the ground have not yet been equipped with the pyramid shaped roof lights illuminating the studios of the school on the level below.

The north – west terrace of building 3 covers part of the exhibition spaces which receive light through windows that were inspired by industrial sawtooth roofs.
Several patios also give light to the galleries.

The main stairway of the old Villa before renovation.
Although it was in very poor state, one can still see the stucco and traces of the frescoes that Pierre Joseph Arson had commissioned to Italian artists in the 19th century.

In the foreground, from left to right, buildings 2 and 1.
In the background is the entrance garden called the “Bosco”.
Further back is building 3 with the old Villa towering over the domain.

The strong contrasts on this photograph accentuate the composition of the volumes.
The old Villa is another version of the repertoire of parallelepipeds it is mounted on, and its raised roof echoes the pyramid-like forms on the terraces.
The architect succeeded in creating a symbiosis between the old and the new.

The concrete volumes encasing the old Villa rise progressively, the Villa being the only touch of color looking over the entire domain.

The old Villa, painted with a mixture of iron oxide and lime that gives it a red hue. In time this traditional technique faded like the ocher, yellow and red colors of the buildings in Genoa and Bologna that Michel Marot loved.

The forecourt of building 3 is a transition between the circular shapes structuring the Bosco and the rest of the domain with its cubic volumes and straight lines.

The Bosco is the only place in the domain where Michel Marot used circular shapes, surrounding each tree with a precious setting.
The forecourt paved with Veronico tiles and marble leads to the great hall in building 3. It begins the north – south axis which runs through and organizes the buildings.

The chiseled volumes, spread out in the greenery, and the variety of juxtaposed textures give a certain elegance to the whole.

Credits: Story

Jean-Pierre Simon

In charge of the project
Cédric Moris Kelly

Legal issues
Alain Avena

Under the guidance of Patrick Aubouin

Editorial staff
Patrick Aubouin
Cédric Moris Kelly

Claire Bernstein

Data entry in Google Cultural Institute interface
Cédric Moris Kelly

Digitalization of spaces by Google Street View team was made possible thanks to the mobilization of Villa Arson technical teams:

Reception, monitoring and maintenance
Joël Jauny

Reception, monitoring & accommodation
Isabelle Clausse
Dave Dhurmajee
Marlène Lebrusq
Jean-Pierre Vitry

Technical / Buildings staff
Jean-Paul Carpentier
Gérard Maria
Pascal Rigaux
Michel Serve

Patrice Lorho
Pascal Pujol
Kévin Serviole

Thanks to Michel Marot for the graceful authorization to use the archives collection Marot Tremblot Architecture (MTA)

With the support of the French Ministry of Culture and Communication and the Google Street View and Google Cultural Institute teams

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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