Jean-Michel Wilmotte - Architecture with a Human Dimension
One of the foremost architects both in France and around the world, Jean-Michel Wilmotte designs, writes, and engraves his buildings into a perpetually-evolving French heritage. With precise lines, balanced forms, and a subtle use of light, his aesthetic is above all a response to a story - the investors' story, the location's story. Today, Wilmotte & Associates includes 220 collaborators across five offices in Paris, Nice, London, Venice, and Seoul.
"My calling came naturally when I was around fifteen years old, meeting other architects. I started my architecture studies, but when I realized that I needed three or four years to design a project, I left for Camondo (Interior design and architecture school)... in order to better return to architecture later on, feeling too boxed-in. Everything clicked after half a day in the design department - I knew I would be an entrepreneur and nothing else. That's how the Wilmotte agency was born.
Right away, I enjoyed leading a team and being the conductor of the orchestra. From the very beginning, the agency brought together an international team and make different cultures coexist. Today we have almost thirty different nationalities! Little by little over the years, we've won contests that require a lot of conviction (Le Grand Louvre, le mobilier urbain des Champs-Elysées, the Collège de France, etc.). Today, we're lucky enough to be able to choose the projects we're interested in, especially projects we connect with on a human level.
"The most important time is listening." How does one manage so many construction sites at the same time in Paris, Lyon, Montpellier - to say nothing of the ones in São Paolo or Moscow? "To be consistent, you have to be present." Jean-Michel Wilmotte always participates in the initial meeting, which he deems essential: "From the very first meeting with a client, I already have a rather precise idea in mind." He then carries out what he calls "an internal casting," where he assembles team members most adapted project's themes and human relationships. "For a wine cellar, it would be unthinkable to choose an architect who does not drink wine!"
Next it's time for drafts and outlines, each development punctuated with regular meetings to maintain a constant dialogue: Jean-Michel Wilmotte personally goes to the Paris construction sites every eight to ten days. "I know every surface coating, every light switch in my buildings!"
Mutating Paris: Projects Currently Underway
La Halle Freyssinet (13th Arrondissement)
Xavier Niel, the owner of Free, created a veritable idea incubator when he entrusted Jean-Michel Wilmotte with the layout of the Halle Freyssinet.The idea? Bring together about 1,000 startups - or 3,000 employees - in a living space, to be open 24 hours per day. The agency worked in two phases: restore a building from 1928 and anticipate how that many people can coexist in a 34,000 square meter space. "I admire the client, and I really enjoy working on a social project."
La Gare du Nord (10th Arrondissement)
Travelers will soon be welcomed especially well in Paris! Wilmotte & Associates is currently working on three train stations: the Gare du Nord, Austerlitz, and la Défense (linked to Roissy). The complex Gare du Nord itself welcomes three types of train lines: national, international, and Francilien (suburban) lines. The agency is devoted to addressing three essential tasks: fonctionality, serenity, and elegance. With this project, too, Jean-Michel Wilmotte is making sure light plays a major role, making sure natural lighting will fill the space even 20 meters underground. "I was captivated the first time I was at the Kyoto train station: it's a completely unique city with boutiques, restaurants, offices...." A notable inspiration for such a major project: the Gare du Nord will soon be a veritable living space.
The Orthodox Russian Spiritual and Cultural Center (7th Arrondissement)
"What an opportunity to participate in this project!" Yet even if you're passionate about the subject, you can't let your guard down: it's no easy task when it comes to religious services, geopolitics, and cultural aesthetics. "We had to respect the architectural canon, but we wanted to 'Parisianize' the concept." The elegant façade was covered in cut stone and the five domes are enveloped in gold and platinum. A fairytale effect on an exceptional site!
Hôtel Le Lutetia (6th Arrondissement)
This hotel, so full of history, was build in 1910 to house Bon Marché clients. "Here too, we had to breathe new life into a building, honor its history while simultaneously creating a luxury hotel and respecting modern standards." And so Jean-Michel Wilmotte thus played into the building's history, conserving its frescoes while erasing a salon to create an open-air garden.
"An emblematic meeting place for editors in the neighborhood, we also want edo celebrate literature." The building's spaces were totally rethought, especially with gourmet restaurants, majestic salons, and naturally-lit pool. "The rooms are more spacious and decorated with navy blue woodwork. Everything, from the bathtub from the light switches and fabrics are all "Made in France." The Lutetia, a new reference to French savoir-faire, can be discovered in Summer 2017!
Curiosity in His DNA
An architect that inspired you to follow their foosteps?
"There are too many to name, from minimalism to Baroque!"
Three key words to describe your aesthetic?
"Listening, creativity, efficiency."
Inspiration for finding new ideas?
"My trips, the streets, music... everything interests me all the time!"
"To still be as passionate as I was 40 years ago."
"None - I have amnesia!"
Paris, My City
"I love Paris because it's so joyful, so full of light, surprising, and diverse: each neighborhood is different from the next. I love coming back here, being here on Sundays - there's always something new to discover."
A smell? "That of a boulangerie very early in the morning."
A sound? "The honking of a bus horn."
A flavor? "A jambon-beurre baguette."
A sight? "The sun setting behind the Grand Palais, its windows lit up like flames can be seen all the way from the Rive Gauche."
My Places, My Restaurants
A building? "The Eiffel Tower."
A bridge? "The Pont Neuf, brought back to life by Christo in 1985."
A park? "The Jardin des Plantes."
A gourmet restaurant? "Guy Savoy's restaurant."
Hôtel de la Monnaie
A bistro restaurant? "Le Bistrot Paul Bert."
Somewhere to grab a drink? "Until the Lutetia opens - the Hotel Le Meurice."
Somewhere to shop? "Le Bon Marché."
Somewhere to learn? "The Musée d'Orsay."
Somewhere to recharge, dream, and wander? "The Saint-Ouen flea markets."