Nime, arènes


Contrasting styles in Nîmes: the amphitheater’s stonework and the supple lines of the Musée de la Romanité.
Nime, arènes
Italic wine amphorae (1st century BC), part of a display that ranges from the 7th century BC to the Middle Ages.
Nime, arènes
Among the 5,000 artifacts on exhibit are theater masks made of marble and clay (1st century AD).

An urban planner, designer and architect acclaimed for the transparency of her buildings, Elizabeth de Portzamparc has a bold and luminous style that impresses. Witness her latest design, the Musée de la Romanité in Nîmes.

You’ve made your life here in France but you still have a really beautiful accent. Where’s it from exactly?

I was born in Rio, not far from Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. I began studying sociology there. As a hobby, I designed lamps and furniture for my room and my sister’s. Then came the dark years of the military dictatorship, my political activism, the fear of being arrested and finally fleeing to France. Since then, I’ve obviously been going back to Brazil very often.

What led you to become an architect?

I began studying urban sociology in France. I wanted to work with the people here and study their ways. That’s how I got involved in this profession, and it’s something I’ve always been interested in. I’m still firmly convinced that we need to listen to those we’re building housing and cities for.

Is it hard having such a famous name?

In 1986, I designed a writing desk that I called 24 Hours, because it turned into a dressing table at night. It was exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs and was a big hit. I wanted to use my maiden name, but the exhibitor placed a name card with Elizabeth de Portzamparc written on it. It was too late. So I really had to prove myself! It’s not easy being a woman in the architecture world. You’re looked at with a certain disdain, they suspect you’re incompetent. But I’m a feminist, so I had to fight against the preconceptions. When I met Christian [de Portzamparc, her husband], I wanted to live in the US. I remained in France and we stayed together. For a while we lived in Françoise Sagan’s former house in the 14th arrondissement of Paris. I opened the Mostra art gallery near the Pompidou Center, where I brought architects, artists and designers together. In 1992, the economic slump forced me to close it. I began redecorating apartments. Jean-Marie Colombani, then editor at Le Monde, asked me and Christian to work on the paper’s new headquarters on Boulevard Blanqui. Ever since we’ve been collaborating on various projects (the new Massy district, for example, which has been really successful), because we obviously have a lot in common.

What makes your architecture different from Christian’s?

I’m from Brazil, a modern country marked by whiteness, light and simple forms. Christian is more French. He has lived in châteaux and he likes complexity. We complement each other. I always try to cut costs by reducing the quantities of materials used and simplifying forms so we can invest in areas closer to what the users are looking for. This is exactly the approach I took when developing the Bordeaux tram. My sociology studies imbued me with a passion for how spaces are used and an interest in sustainable development. I set up a small workshop in the agency to explore these avenues further.

You have just designed the Musée de la Romanité in Nîmes. How did you go about preparing for this project?

It was such a great opportunity. I love Rome, and I’ve always liked Nîmes, the surrounding region and the Pont du Gard. I wanted to build a luminous, boldly contemporary building, not a pastiche of the ancient amphitheater. We created a wide interior street and connected the various sites on which the ancient city’s vestiges are or were once located.

What are you most proud of?

Managing to preserve my Brazilian spontaneity, my vivaciousness and my frankness in a milieu that can be so rough at times.

Musée de la romanité

16, bd des Arènes, Nîmes. Tél. +33 (0)4 48 21 02 10.

Gladiateurs, héros du colisée

Exposition jusqu’au 24 septembre.



Exposition jusqu’au 24 septembre.

Pierre Deladonchamps, mode, vêtements