French Architect Odile Decq Designs Captivating Museums, Yachts, and Fruit Bowls

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By Erika Heet / Published by Dwell
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The award-winning French architect and urban planner discusses the joy of designing across many platforms.

Architect, academic, and rock star—Odile Decq is a triple threat in the eyes of the global design cognoscenti, who have recognized her bold talent with accolades (a Gold Lion at the Venice Biennale) and commissions ranging from restaurants to museums to banks. Decq has just added education to her CV as the dean of a new cross-disciplinary school in Lyon, France, called Confluence. We spoke with Decq about her layered approach that melds architecture and design.

Do you have certain designers or furnishings that you love to use?

Architect Odile Decq’s array of projects includes the Phantom restaurant, located inside the Palais Garnier, built in 1875 to house the Paris Opera.

It’s difficult because it depends on the project. In my work, I never have preconceived ideas. If a client wants to have something precise, then I say, "Okay, I can find my way in that." But if it’s really, really ugly, I have to find the words to tell them in a very diplomatic way: "No, this is not possible; you will not be happy with that." 

The restaurant has a glass facade that stretches between the building's pillars.

You design across many disciplines. Do you have a preference? 

Decq angled the Alice tray for Alessi to change the way the user holds it.

No, I like to try what I don’t know, what I haven’t done before. I like to do many things; I feel no leanings. Come tomorrow, if someone asked me to design fashion wear, I would think about that. Because it’s enjoyable to design.

For a client in Fano, Italy, Decq clad the deck of the Wally Esense yacht in teak and added built-in furnishings.

How did you transition from your typical projects into designing a yacht—is it very different?

Decq designed the FRAC Bretagne Museum, a reflective glass structure that houses contemporary art, in Rennes, France.

Yes and no. It’s different because it’s very precise. But at the same time, I use the same approach when I’m doing a building or interior design or whatever. I was really glad when the client approached me, because I’m from Brittany and was a sailor when I was young, so I knew a lot about sailing and about these boats.

The GL Events headquarters in Lyon, France is a volume made of steel beams that's wrapped in a glass shell.

Can you share more about the process?

Decq designed the Great Site of Homo Erectus Fossils Museum in Nanjing, China to mimic the surrounding hills.

I worked with them on everything. First of all, we wanted to have space. We wanted a place to dance. I asked [the client], "How would you like to live on the boat?" and he wanted sometimes to go alone on the sea, sometimes with his family, and sometimes with friends. I proposed having sliding partitions, and that way we could reconfigure the space. And we did it. I think this is the only boat where the space can be reconfigured. 

The MACRO Contemporary Art Museum in Rome features subterranean exhibition spaces illuminated by skylights.

What are you working on now?

The Twist Again fruit bowl that Decq designed for Alessi is cut from a single piece of sheet metal.

I’m working on finishing the Pavilion 8, in Lyon. We are building little glass houses in Brittany. We are working on a museum in China for paleontology and archaeology. And we are doing the feasibility studies for a hotel in Venice. We are doing an office building in Paris. And I’m working for Alessi.

"I use the same approach when I’m doing a building or interior design or whatever," Decq says.

What are you creating?

The first thing they asked me for was a tray. And I said, "How can I do a tray?" So, I have designed this tray, and it’s on the market now. It’s called Alice, after Alice in Wonderland, because what you see is not what you are. I wanted to have a big tray so I can bring things to somebody. It had to be a rectangle. Round and square are too easy. I also recently designed a fruit basket for them called Twist Again.