Profile - Les Abattoirs

The modern and contemporary art museum "les Abattoirs" is a new kind of establishment which offers many activities. In the frame of its public service cultural missions it has inherited the responsabilities of the former municipal modern art museum, the FRAC (regional contemporary art fund) and the contemporary art centre of Toulouse and Midi-Pyrénées.
The Toulouse slaughterhouse was built in the 19th century. Its transformation into a modern and contemporary art centre requires an analysis and an interpretation of its architecture.

The vacuousness of the surrounding spaces versus the quality of the composition
In 1827, the town council designates the architect Urbain Vitry for the slaughterhouse project. His composition is typical of early 19th century architectural programs adapted from the basilical plan. His inspiration comes from his visits to Paris and is based on the proportions of the nave of the Saint Sernin church which is planned to be restored the same year.
Monumentality, neo-classical simplicity, rationality of the plan, geometrical connections, and the hemicycle ending give this building a higher level of abstraction than an ordinary utilitarian building.
To the quality of the composition and of the built volumes, one must oppose the aridness and the distension of the surrounding spaces. The vine growing on the pergolas, the bull headed fountains, the separation low walls which one can see on Vitry’s plans haven’t resisted against the hard functionality of the place and the unavoidable successive alterations.

The surroundings
The modification of the building’s image must firstly be centred on the change of atmosphere and the quality of the surrounding spaces. We propose a system of continuing courtyards, opened on the town, a course articulated by different ground surfacing. In front of the building, the main courtyard is paved and often hosts monumental sculptures which announce the museum from the street. The side entrances are punctuated by trees, they open the courtyards to neighbourhood strollers.
The library and administration courtyards alternate paving stones and pebbles and they are bordered by trees. Behind them, the reserve courtyard is clear for vehicle manoeuvring and it is bordered by a jardiniere that surrounds the glass roof of the Picasso room. In the back, a half circled courtyard leads to the museum café, the picnic area and the workshops. In the centre of it, a square fountain freshens the whole. Finally the garden portico opens on the Raymond IV garden and the belvedere from where one sees the Garonne river banks and further on, the town centre.

The Museum
The transformation of the building reproduces Vitry’s original volumes. The missing side pavilion has been rebuilt as it was. We believed the transformations should intervene by touches and make the most, in a contemporary approach, of the existing qualities of balance and symmetry.
The entrance occupies the first three spans of the nave with the bookshop on one side and on the other side the palatial stairs that lead to the auditorium. It is lowered by the creation of a second floor and it is only after passing the ticket office that the visitor discovers the main volume of the nave.

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