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Lyon apartment that updates renaissance architecture for modern living

Nestled in the city’s old quarter, it’s a colourful tribute to the concept of perfect geometry

razavi architects home in lyon
Gaelle Le Boulicaut

Five centuries since French physicist Nostradamus practised calculus and the art of prediction, a modern mathematician is bringing a fresh logic to the renovation of this historical apartment in Lyon.

A visit to the city’s old quarter, with its hidden passages (or traboules) that date back to Nostradamus’ time, is like walking through a living artwork by the graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher – all vaulted tunnels, zig-zagging staircases and repeated arches. For Andoni Briones of Razavi Architects, the studio behind this project, it’s these features that became the inspiration for a new, modern interpretation of Italian renaissance style.

razavi architects apartment lyon
Gaelle Le Boulicaut

‘We’d had many discussions about design even before the owner found the property,’ says Andoni. ‘There was lots of talk about the golden ratio, Pythagorus and Fibonacci.’ For the non-mathematicians among us, this pertains to naturally occurring perfect proportion. ‘It’s why we avoided using walls and doors,’ he adds. ‘We wanted to create a free-flowing, complex space. You can’t imagine the amount of geometry involved just to decide how to do the internal arches – what dimensions? Where to place them? There had to be an ordered complexity that promoted harmony.’

The apartment had been abandoned for more than a decade, with several previous renovations having hidden many of its original architectural features. During a first walk-through with the architects, the client was clear: he wanted it stripped back to the bone. The interior walls, built in the 15th century, were restored using an ancient lime-bagging technique, with Andoni and fellow architect Federico Mächler adding storage units crafted from deep green Valchromat wood to the main open-plan living area.

razavi architects apartment lyon
Gaelle Le Boulicaut

‘Our client is not a collector of things,’ explains Andoni, ‘so he wanted a home that was uncluttered but, importantly, didn’t look empty. That’s why we added colour. It makes the space feel like it’s inhabited, meaning there is no onus on him to fill it with anything that’s not essential.’ The effect is a kind of practical minimalism.

Local legend has it that 500 years ago, in this area, a wealthy merchant hid a huge diamond behind a stone as the houses were being built. It’s romantic to think that this apartment is that old jewel, finally uncovered beneath layers of neglect. Of course, this is the home of a mathematician, a man of reason, but it would inspire even the most logical of souls to dream. studiorazavi.com

For the full house tour see ELLE Decoration June 2020

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