The Maison W, or “the pleated house”, is a rental housing project located on the slopes of the Pic de Charance, above Gap in the Hautes Alpes in France.
This magnificent region is the link between Provence and the high mountains, and both influences have made a mark on it. The Gap valley, therefore, enjoys generous sunshine and an almost Mediterranean mildness despite being at a high altitude and having to endure regular snows. North of the city, the abrupt outline of the Pic de Charance signals the entrance to the Ecrins mountain range, as if protecting this wilderness of stern beauty. It becomes its facade, showing its powerful minerality and its bewitching surface folds, like a sign of the telluric activity of another age.
This position crystallizes the transition between the urbanized plain and the more natural mountainous area. Its thick green belt and its significant slope cut it from the neighborhood while offering unobstructed views of the valley and the summits opposite. In the upper part of the site, nestled under a grove of white oaks, an embankment outlines a narrow natural platform. It is like a long balcony overlooking Gap that the project will try to emphasize. The client wishes to offer healing residences within an architecture revealing the beauty of this region.
He discovered LUMISHELL, a modular cocoon habitat, the result of the Christophe Benichou / LUMICENE –the company of circular window spaces of the same name– past association. He first planned to install several units on the plot, but the constraints of it lead us to favor a single and larger construction, which would better highlight the assets of the site. My colleague and friend, Virgile Ponsoye, joined us in this adventure in order to conceive a daring and ambitious project together, reflecting the personality of the man behind. While merging into the landscape, the project actively participates in it, mischievously alternating between contrast and discretion, mimicry and abstraction.
The simplicity of its volume – a long parallelepiped inherited from the modern movement – asserts the artificiality of the intervention. On the other hand, the use of rustic sandblasted concrete embeds it in its context, as an additional limestone outcrop from the Charance. Moreover, the deformation of the main facade, which is progressively confirmed when approaching the building, resonates with the overhanging geological folds. Standing as powerful relief of concrete and glass, the pleated house is the fruit of a double hybrid: between city and nature and between mountainous and Mediterranean climates.
The garden demonstrates that same mixture of Mediterranean sweetness and mountainous harshness. The rippling of the land is covered with a rustic meadow and gradually split by the burial of the access road. A green embankment accompanies its meanders, supported by powerful ripraps asserting the minerality of the project. Facing south, a range of solar panels provides the production base for the heating floor of the house, as well as that for heating the swimming pool. They value the region’s significant amount of sunshine, which is the main local energy resource.
Like the building, the pool is located parallel to the slope to merge discreetly into the ground. Its swimming lane offers an astonishing tracking shot from a low angle of the folds of the facade. This cinematographic effect is inspired by the view of the folds of the Charance along the Gap canal – a pleasant walk to discover just a few hundred meters from the Maison W. Finally, between the swimming pool and the building, a mulch of coarse-grained limestone rock blends with the concrete and the riprap to remind of the mountain scree, softened by the Mediterranean plants.
Conception : Christophe Benichou Architectures & Virgile Ponsoye Architect
Circular window space : Lumicene
Text : Christophe Benichou
Photography with courtesy of Christophe Benichou