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La Maison Basse, located in Provence's Luberon Valley between the villages of Lacoste and Bonnieux, has led many lives over the past eight centuries. Silkworm farm, farmhouse, inn, waylay for bear tamers and, perhaps most notoriously, carriage house-cum-gambling den of the infamous Marquis de Sade. Now, nearly 40 years after its final inhabitants abandoned the five-building, 28-room complex to the French elements, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has given Maison Basse yet another life, this time as a center for the study of art, design and architecture.
SCAD, an international art and design university with global locations in the U.S., France, and Hong Kong as well as an online eLearning program, is a recognized leader in adaptive reuse and historic revitalization. Since the university's founding in 1978, SCAD has revitalized more than 100 buildings around the world, creating inspiring environments for artists and designers. UNESCO, the American Institute of Architects, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, among others, have recognized SCAD for these efforts.
SCAD acquired Maison Basse along with more than 30 other buildings in 2002 from the former Lacoste School of the Arts, founded in 1970 by American painter Bernard Pfriem. Since that time, SCAD has meticulously overseen the site's entire preservation process, including researching, documenting and photographing Maison Basse. This preservation process is unique because it gives historians, architects and sociologists a look into the evolution of a vernacular French country farmhouse and outbuildings that corresponded to a chateau as well as the surrounding region. While many 12th-century remnants have been found, archaeologists and historic preservationists have dated the buildings from between the 16th and 18th centuries.
Treasures unearthed and documented during the revitalization process include:
Significant architectural elements were documented and conserved as well, including:
The revitalization process required ingenuity, thoroughness and care. In one building, a full-grown tree had pushed through the roof, and large vines were driving the stairwell away from the building. Both were removed, the roof beams and staircase stones numbered, dismantled, then rebuilt by hand to preserve as much of the original layout as possible. SCAD students and professors from the historic preservation and photography departments documented the process over the past decade as a part of classroom assignments. This immersive, hands-on approach to learning is a hallmark of the SCAD academic experience.
With the revitalization now complete, the nearly 300 students who visit SCAD Lacoste each year will have the opportunity to live and learn in a one-of-a-kind space with room for studio classes, seminars, demonstrations and housing. Classes offered at Maison Basse will include architecture, art history, painting, historic preservation, landscape design and photography, among others.
Internationally renowned visiting artists from around the world will also be invited to make use of Maison Basse's exceptional resources while working alongside SCAD students and professors. French artist Mohamed Bourouissa will be the first to do so this fall. His solo exhibition, "Le Miroir," debuted at the university's Galerie Pfriem in the village of Lacoste on Sept. 10. The exhibition asks the viewer to consider the image that French society is sending to the youth of African origins. How can one define belonging when trapped in preconceptions and when loyalty to your nation is questioned? Bourouissa's work explores these contradictions and seeks to deconstruct the frozen image of the suspect that "other" has always been. The exhibition is free and open to the public through Nov. 23.
Apart from the eight-week sessions that welcome students each quarter, Maison Basse can be used to organize private or corporate events.
SCAD's residential study-abroad location in Lacoste, France, offers immersion in the rich culture of Provence. Within Lacoste's ancient walls are facilities that date back to the medieval period, yet feature a variety of modern amenities such as computer labs, classrooms, studios, a library, a dining hall and housing for students, professors and guests. Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2012, SCAD Lacoste hosts a series of public programs and exhibitions for students and the local and regional communities. Among the highlights of the 10th anniversary year is the opening of Maison Basse, exhibitions and workshops by acclaimed artists Kiki Smith and Valerie Hammond, a solo show by French artist Mohamed Bourouissa, and the fifth annual Sidewalk Arts Festival in the village of Lacoste.
The Savannah College of Art and Design is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution conferring bachelor’s and master’s degrees at distinctive locations and online to prepare talented students for professional careers. SCAD offers degrees in more than 40 majors.
Dominique de Souza Pinto, Nil Nisi Com
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