interview with titan: an emerging french firm on the rise

interview with titan: an emerging french firm on the rise

titan is a nantes-based architecture firm led by mathieu barré, françois guinaudeau, and romain pradeau. in 2018, the firm won the AJAP — a major award for young architects given by the french ministry of culture. later the same year, the practice was also recognized as part of the 40 under 40 award — a prize for creatives below the age of 40. to learn more about the firm, designboom spoke with its founding partners who discussed their creative approach and some of the major projects they are currently working on. read the interview in full below.


DB: can you start by explaining how titan began?


T: it all started after winning a competition for our first project for passive housing units. the challenge was to densify a town center located in the loire valley, while maintaining the level of privacy required in such areas. the aim was to create a place that reflects the need for a more ecological way of living and alternative landscape logistics. in 2011, the project earned us the JAPL award — a prize for young architects and landscape designers, and also led to the forming of our architectural partnership under the name titan.

interview with titan: an emerging french firm on the rise
passive housing | image © titan
(main image: welcome pavilion for the house of george clemenceau | image © julien lanoo)



DB: can you describe your creative processes and how you approach a new project?


T: each new project starts with great attention to the site conditions and its inhabitants, a long period of manipulation of the plan mass, the volumes, as well as the exploration of light and diverse, mainly local materials. we speak with members of the city community, because encouraging a sense of participation is an important part of the process, and observing from various perspectives makes it possible to give shape to an architecture that makes sense.

interview with titan: an emerging french firm on the rise
town hall in chaillé-sous-les-ormeaux | image © julien lanoo
read more about the project on designboom here



DB: even though computer generated visualizations are so common now, do you still make physical models or sketch designs by hand?


T: we use hand drawings and other visual documents to exchange ideas, mainly internally. furthermore, the physical models characterize our creation process, we do a lot of testing and construction of prototype structural elements on a 1:1 scale. as a result, we can carry out an expanding body of research on materials and manufacturing processes. one recent example is our experimental work on a project of the reception pavilion at georges clemenceau’s house in saint-vincent-sur-jard. all the work based on models in different scales in the workshop and on site, the material texture, and the composition and surface treatment of the concrete contributed to its making and informed the final design.

interview with titan: an emerging french firm on the rise
welcome pavilion for the house of george clemenceau | image © julien lanoo
read more about the project on designboom here



DB: you are involved with two projects relating to george clemenceau — a pavilion and a museum. can you explain the design philosophy behind each of these?


T: both projects deal with the same subject, but have, however, two distinct roles. the native house of george clemenceau in mouilleron-en-pareds has now been transformed into a national museum, which will reveal clemenceau’s political and social life, as well as the impact of his decisions on our modern society. through a scenography that offers much more than a singular narrative, the visitor will discover all the facets of a predominant french politician. we were influenced by the multi-layered quality of the space and we’ve highlighted the traditional, domestic character of a house, while the new elements are interwoven into the visitor’s path to activate a new experience — past and present, one hovering over the other. this symbolic approach will mark the identity of this 34th national museum opening on the occasion of the first world war centennial.

interview with titan: an emerging french firm on the rise
national museum of george clemenceau | image © titan



T (continued): the pavilion, meanwhile, reveals to the visitor the holiday home in saint-vincent-sur-jard, where clemenceau lived following his withdrawal from politics in 1920. the resulting building anchors into the landscape like a monolith of sand. its handmade shell built entirely of concrete meets the beach, the dunes, and the esplanade. it acts as a gateway and palisade between the public plaza and the hidden gardens, which clemenceau carefully designed with his friend, the impressionist painter monet. as the saying goes, conceal to better discover.

interview with titan: an emerging french firm on the rise
welcome pavilion for the house of george clemenceau | image © julien lanoo



DB: how do you assess the current state of architecture in france?


T: there is a critical work going on across our discipline, architecture is not confined to cities, established architects, or flagship projects, but is spreading more widely across the country through smaller, and sometimes more ambitious projects. its role is also to solicit one’s curiosity where one no longer expects it, and the numerous channels of diffusion today give our discipline this possibility.

interview with titan: an emerging french firm on the rise
research department of university of nantes | image © julien lanoo



DB: as a relatively young practice, what do you want to achieve in the future?


T: a high-rise in new york – enhancing its already stunning skyline is quite tempting and challenging, of course.


DB: what projects is your office currently working on?


T: we are currently working on two ambitious projects: the signalling station at nantes’ railway station, jointly conducted with SNCF’s research center, to be delivered in 2020; and a 5,000-square meter startup campus for the city of saint nazaire, at the heart of the shipyards and airbus workshop stations — two flagships of the european industry.

interview with titan: an emerging french firm on the rise
housing C air studio | image © titan



DB: which architects working today do you most admire?


T: each one of us has a very personal view on the outside world, and this enhances the architectural discourse in the office. when it comes to influences, we are not limited to architecture — other disciplines can be a powerful source of inspiration and can reveal magical qualities. the work of cinematographer roger deakins, for instance, and the superimposed layers of his narrative landscapes have inspired the design process for the new building we’re designing in nantes; how to use the transitory temporality of light, and, particularly, how to implement it on the use of materials, to make it discrete but strange, to find the right combination of materiality and immateriality.


for the museum of clemenceau, which is now close to completion, we’ve read a lot about clemenceau’s personage, about his life and work. apart from his political visions, he also had an extraordinary ability to understand space and landscape, and we were challenged to create something that encapsulated all these impressions, giving the architecture a new life.

interview with titan: an emerging french firm on the rise
welcome pavilion for the house of george clemenceau | image © julien lanoo



DB: what do you think is the role of an architect in the year 2018?


T: we are living in times when the architect must fight to make a coherent project a reality in a meaningful way, with a strong commitment to environmental and social concerns, but his role is also to illicit people’s curiosity, to show that virtuous practices are possible.

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