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Above: Photo by J. Michael Welton. Below: Photos courtesy of SCAD Lacoste

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Architects and Artisans | SCAD’s Medieval Campus in France

Monday, March 11th, 2013

By J. Michael Welton
Photos by SCAD Lacoste and J. Michael Welton

Last fall, I found myself in Provence, France for a few days, touring the countryside, sipping the wines, and tasting the cheeses. But it was the work there by the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) that made the strongest impression.

High atop a hill in Lacoste, France, SCAD has restored 33 precious stone buildings dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries. For the past decade, architect and SCAD senior vice president Glenn Wallace has conducted a thorough transformation of former homes, shops, and bakeries into studios, classrooms, and libraries for the college’s Provence locale. Local artisans pitched in with the design work, offering up a stylistic continuity that’s true to the location and has been passed down through generations of hands-on craftsmanship.

“It’s been a cultural crossroads for 20,000 years,” says Bob Dickensheets, SCAD’s associate director of external relations. “Byron, Whistler, Sargent, van Gogh, Gauguin, and Picasso all were here.” Nearly 300 SCAD students work on painting and drawing, photography and art history, and sculpture and printmaking at the Lacoste campus, living and working inside and outside their impeccably designed spaces for a quarter at a time. “The college recognizes that it’s an opportunity for students, and a great bonus for the faculty too,” Dickensheets says. “Our attitude is that fine art is a lifestyle and that art education is about quality of life.”

The campus begins virtually at the top of the town. At the crest of the hill reigns a castle surrounded by a now-dry moat. It was originally owned by the libertine Marquis de Sade; it’s currently home to French fashion mogul Pierre Cardin. SCAD’s buildings and grounds meander downhill from there. The campus culminates at the just-restored Maison Basse, a former barn laid in Oolitic limestone at the base of the hill. It now houses a kitchen, meeting space, living areas, studios, and dorms. “You look out the window and it’s almost like a different place every day,” says Eleanor Twiford, SCAD’s academic director.

The college boasts campuses in Savannah, Atlanta, and Hong Kong too, but it’s hard to imagine any more inspirational than SCAD Lacoste, with its ornamental cloud catchers carefully placed on the gables of each of its rooflines. “They make way for the blue sky, bringing good luck upon the houses,” says Molly Rowe, SCAD’s director of executive communications. “Jean Pierre, the village armchair historian who works for SCAD, insists that every building have a cloud catcher on it for good luck.” And what more could an art student ask?

 

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art, and design for national and international publications. He also publishes an online design magazine at architectsandartisans.com.  

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