Japan's Shigeru Ban is best known for using humble materials like cardboard and bamboo to build innovative refugee shelters, but when he turns his hand to large-scale projects the results are equally impressive. His recently-completed La Seine Musicale is a ship-shaped music venue that's crowned by an almost egg-like auditorium and adjacent track-mounted solar array.
Ban designed La Seine Musicale in collaboration with local architect Jean de Gastines. The project took three years to build and cost €170 m (roughly US$189 million). The venue was deliberately designed to resemble an ocean liner, which also enables it to fit well in the awkward plot.
A total floorspace of 36,500 sq m (392,882 sq ft) is spread over a large multipurpose concert hall, rehearsal and recording studios, and a second smaller music venue. There's also a covered street with retail and restaurant spaces running through it, and extensive rooftop gardens that visitors are welcome to explore. A large screen has even been installed outside so that passersby can watch shows for free.
The glazed auditorium comprises a spruce wood frame and is part-covered by a "solar sail" (named for its resemblance to a ship's sail, not the futuristic spacecraft propulsion method) that helps shade the interior from direct sunlight.
The solar sail looks like a pretty neat piece of kit, even if we don't have any figures on how much energy it produces. Clad in solar panels and mounted on rails, motors move it to track the course of the sun each day from east to west and catch the maximum possible rays, reducing the electricity required from the grid. The mechanism is self-powered, and moves in increments every 15 minutes. At night, it returns to the starting point.
The interior of the auditorium is accessed through a large glass door weighing 5 metric tons (5.5 US tons) that opens upwards. Inside, the floorplan is arranged into tiered balconies and terraces, plus a gallery boasting 360-degree views of the landscape.
The timber work is extraordinary and includes delicate woven wall patterns and a total of 1,000 wooden hexagons adorning the ceiling. The space is specially designed for non-amplified music, such as string quartets and choirs. There's a total capacity of 1,150 seats.
La Seine Musicale is part of a new arts hub under construction on the Île Seguin, an island in the middle of Paris' River Seine with an interesting history. Over the years, the island's owners have included Louis XV, a pioneering chemist, and an unfortunate banker guillotined during the French Revolution. The most recent occupant was carmaker Renault, which had a very large factory on the site for decades.
La Seine Musicale was completed in December, 2016 and officially opened last month.