CAFÉ L’AUBETTE. 1926 Place Klébe, 67000 Strasbourg, France
Theo Van Doesburg (Other contributors: Francois Blondel, Paul Horn, Andre Horn, Sophie Taeuber Arp, Hans Jean Arp)
“Without colour, architecture lacks expression and is blind” (Van Doesburg in De Stijl, 1928)
The Aubette, situated along the edge of the Place Klébe, was originally designed by the French architect Francois Blondel and completed in 1767, covering 200 m2 of floor area. In 1926, work began to turn this vast, disused building into a leisure complex comprising bars, cafes, cinema/ballroom and function room (Salle de Fêtes). Theo van Doesburg; artist, sculptor, architect and co-founder of the De Stijl movement; was appointed to transform the cinema/ballroom and Salle de Fêtes. This artistic interior renovation was done by applying De Stijl theory of geometry, line and colour. The building was virtually destroyed in the late 1930’s and later restored in the 1980’s.
Van Doesburg imagined the interior as a ‘house of passage’ in which rooms would be interlinked to create a fluidity which would, for example, allow people to watch the films showing in the cinema while outside the room at the bar.
In the cinema/ballroom van Doesburg reacts to the orthogonal layout of the room by introducing a diagonal grid which gives the room a dynamic atmosphere.
The Salle de Fêtes, in contrast, adheres to a composition of horizontal and vertical lines forming a variety of squares and rectangles.
Van Doesburg initially intended to use durable materials for his intervention, however, this proved too expensive and was replaced by materials which would give the illusion of the quality he desired, such as paint. The colour palette is bold, comprising primary and monochrome tones: red, yellow, blue, green, white, grey and black.
A variety of materials are incorporated: concrete, iron, glass, aluminium, rubber, linoleum, enamel, leather, parquet. This range of textures creates a tactile and diverse environment.
The treatment of lighting is very important in the project and is seamlessly designed into the scheme. A square module of 4ftx4ft is used throughout the design as a ‘building block’ which is multiplied to form the larger shapes. This module fits 16 light fittings arranged in an orthogonal array which can be seen in the Salle de Fêtes. There is no central lighting in the rooms, instead indirect light is drawn from other rooms or outside through frosted glass or from the randomly distributed artificial lighting panels.
The even lighting enhances the form, texture and colour of the interior design and allows it to be viewed as ‘fixed furniture’. The room is not simply an empty space but more like a sculpture or piece of art.
3. Critical review
This intervention is an interesting and successful fusion of art and architecture, using the room as a canvas on which to paint in a strict style and explore the three dimensionality. I admire the detail of the design and holistic approach; van Doesburg designed a typeface specifically for the project for advertising, signage, literature and even coasters. In addition, he also designed all the lighting, ventilation and heating units to harmonise with the grid and guidelines set up by the purist De Stijl approach. The result is a space which is not spoiled by necessary additions but rather enhanced by them as everything is taken into consideration and designed meticulously.
- “De Stijl” Paul Overy, Thames and Hutton, 1991
- “Theo van Doesburg” Evert van Straaten, Electa 1988
- “Theo van Doesburg Painting into architecture, theory into practice” Allan Doig, Cambridge University Press, 1986
- “Theo Van Doesburg Projets pour l’Aubette” Imprimerie Centrale Commeciale, 1977