The stunning stone village of Lacoste has changed hands numerous times over the last few centuries, and some of its oldest buildings date as far back as the 12th century. The region itself boasts over 20,000 years of occupied history, and it’s geographic location has made it a cultural crossroads. Before SCAD’s intervention, Lacoste had its heydey in the mid 1600s, but the buildings were last fully inhabited in the 1880s, after which an economic slump in the area forced residents out, leaving the structures to fall into disrepair. The tide turned once again during the 1960s when the likes of designer Pierre Cardin and artist Bernard Pfriem began buying up buildings in the village and restoring them for occupancy.
Pfriem himself purchase his first building for $50, and then soon after he scooped up several more — again, for the low, low price of $50. Within his newly acquired quarters, he frequently hosted guests such as Dali, Picasso and the latter’s muses, and in 1971 the inspired Pfriem founded The Lacoste School of the Arts. Under Pfriem’s direction, the school counted numerous famed artists os ita teaching roster, including Benny Andrews, Denis Brihat, Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Douglas Duncan, Nene Humphrey, Gjon Mili, and Jean-Pierre Sudre. Quickly, the school emerged as one of the most respected art programs in France.
After Prfeiem’s death in 1996 the school found itself without direction and the buildings had gone into in a desperate state of disrepair. It was then that the board of the Lacoste School decided to transfer ownership of the buildings to SCAD — and thus SCAD Lacoste was born. The school began a near 20 year project restoring and improving the derelict structures of the small village.
To date SCAD has restored 33 buildings, and during the process they have given historians, architects and sociologists a look into the evolution the building vernacular of the immediate area and surrounding region. The restorations have skipped modern architectural additions, instead opting for a preservation approach that maintains as many existing elements as possible. In areas where the buildings have been modernized, the aesthetic is very subdued and there is a concerted effort to bring forth some of the historic elements; brick is slightly exposed in areas that have been re-plastered, windows are placed in the floor so you can view the previous wood and stonework that underlay the home, and the original timber has been kept intact where possible — all materials used in the restoration process were locally sourced or recycled.
Pieces discovered during excavation — including lamps, statues and pots — are placed throughout the interiors as a reference to the site’s incredible history. But student work can also be found alongside these relics, infusing a contemporary language into the environment. One standout building is Lacoste’s former boulangerie, which is now a student library. The walls are lined with the colorful spines of books sourced from around the world, and a large dome-shaped oven serves as a little reading nook with enough room to fit a few students at a time.
Finding a perfect balance between preservation, sustainability and contemporary sensibilities, we were impressed by not only SCAD’s attention to detail and their commitment to restoring Lacoste sustainably, but their efforts to bring students and locals into the process.
Now in its 10th year, nearly 3,000 students have passed through SCAD Lacoste, and 79 are on site today, living, studying and working in the restored spaces. The total population of Lacoste is about 300, 100 of whom are students or staff, and the remaining 200 villagers, guests, tourists or part time residents. Within its ancient walls, SCAD Lacoste offers a variety of modern facilities, including two computer labs and teaching studios dedicated to painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking and photography come well-equipped. Students are not limited to the studio and you can see a number working al fresco with panoramic views of the Luberon Valley right before them. Unsurprisingly this historic locale is still a magnet for contemporary artists and writers looking for inspiration (bit of trivia: Tom Stoppard wrote “Shakespeare in Love” here).
With the revitalization now complete, the nearly 300 students who attend SCAD throughout the year will have the opportunity to live and learn in this unique village that boasts room for studio classes, seminars, demonstrations and housing. Students are able to take courses in architecture, art history, painting, historic preservation, landscape design and more.
Photos: © Inhabitat