There are people who go to libraries seeking peace and silent surroundings in which to read or meditate, just like the first people who used these places. There are buildings of this kind all over the world, many of them memorable. Some are worth on their own, and others have even been the scene of films. The one in Nice, capital of France’s Côte d’Azur, is an enormous aluminium cube supported by a chin and a neck.
It’s name is direct: La Tête Carrée or ‘Square Head’. It’s just the opposite of what you might expect in such a space: a thinking head, full of reflection. It is 30 metres high and 14 wide, and shatters our established ideas. It was designed by the painter and sculptor Sacha Sosno, a native of this city of some 35,000 residents, and was built by the architects Yves Bayard and Francis Chapus.
But let’s take a closer look at the project and its significance. If we’ve already established that buildings of this kind have a function, and provide a public service, there’s a surprising twist here: not only does the exterior matter much more than the interior, but it’s only open to the people who work inside it. The three levels house the Nice Municipal Library, called the Louis Nucéra, and digital and paper documents that cannot be lent out.
Why? Perhaps we should examine what this city has been throughout history and the role of the designers. Nice, founded in 350 BC, received sailors from all over the Mediterranean and became something a kind of alternate port to Marseilles. But it wasn’t until the beginning of the last century that it became famous. At the end of the 19th century it gained its independence from Italy, which is about 30 kilometres away, and became a resort for royalty and, as a result, underwent an explosion of artistic and cultural life.
Queen Victoria of England chose it to spend her summers, and the tramway grew in length. Gustave Eiffel placed some of his works in the streets. The British, attracted by the beauty of its beaches, began to erect small palaces and art deco buildings on what would come to be called the Promenade des Anglais. The seafront was transformed and today is full of restaurants and hotels with elaborate glass facades.
In this context, there were vanguard creators who imported artistic currents from all over Europe. Sacha Sosno was one of them. Considered part of the New Realist movement, this sculptor and painter was born in Marseilles in 1937 and lived in Latvia until the end of World War II. When he returned to France, one of his neighbours was Henri Matisse, and he began to paint in 1948. Later he went to Paris where he studied political science, law and cinema.
Upon returning to Nice in 1961 he launched the magazine Sud Communications. It promoted a group of artists in the city –the School of Nice– whose aim, influenced by the recent past, was to develop the concept of destruction. His sculptures, the office of tourism states now, “play with a space that’s open or full, which releases the imagination of people who see it.” There are silhouettes of persons with a geometrically hollowed centre, or cubes located in the middle, above or below a body or a head.
In other words, the same shape that’s seen in the Tête Carrée. This archive, which can only be enjoyed from the outside, is five minutes from the port, beside what’s known as the Promenade des Arts. To a certain degree it complements the Place Masséna, a cultural and leisure centre that is notable for its five kneeling figures –which, like the library, are also an invitation to reflect, think or meditate.
Cover photo: Kiev.Victor – Shutterstock