Lacoste Diary: Did Sustained Opposition and Petty Resentments in the Luberon Drive Pierre Cardin to Build the Palais Lumière in Venice?

“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.”

–Truman Capote

Pierre Cardin was in high spirits Friday as he strolled along rue Basse (photo r) in Lacoste, the Luberon village where in 2001 he purchased the Château once the lair of the Marquis de Sade, and since then bought about 46 other buildings.

After years of planning, promotion and strenuous negotiating, Mr. Cardin is optimistic that he will soon be laying the foundation stones in Venice for his monumental Palais Lumière . He will be back in Venice this week to push for construction permits.

At 840-feet, the Palais Lumière will be the highest structure in Italy. Located on the mainland across the lagoon from the center of Venice, the building sits on the site of an old chemical plant in former industrial area Porto Marghera.

The Palais Lumière features a futuristic design of three fin-shaped towers linked horizontally by six huge steel discs. A veritable city in the sky, it will envelop more than 250 apartments, a hotel, offices, restaurants, a shopping complex, a theater and a conference center. Estimated cost: nearly $2 billion, financed entirely by Mr. Cardin.

The New York Times published an article on December 7: Futuristic Vision for a City Rooted in the Past (see link below) by Elisabetta Povoledo.

Consider this: Did the sustained opposition in the Luberon to any project that Mr. Cardin proposed erode over time his desire to invest there? Did the continual aggravation of resistance and petty resentment drive Mr. Cardin to undertake a signature project elsewhere – Venice?

Virtually since the moment he set foot in the Château, Cardin has endured incessant administrative harassment – legal mind you – from a “Committee” headed by a wine producer, sparking disputes between those locals who envision themselves as protectors of the status quo (buildings in decay) and the wealthy patron devoted to renovating and preserving existing structures and landscapes in the Luberon.

The “Committee” was successful in blocking the construction of an amphitheater within the old quarry where Mr. Cardin holds his annual Lacoste Festival. They even attempted to halt renovations of the Château (Pierre prevailed).

The last major project scuttled by protests was a golf course that Mr. Cardin planned to construct on land he owns near the neighboring village of Bonnieux. He envisioned the course, which was to feature sculptures on each hole, as a boost to tourism in the region.

In an incident not widely reported, farmers staged a lightening attack in the summer of 2010 when they massed their tractors on the streets above the village, threatening to shut down the Lacoste Festival on opening night in open revolt against Cardin’s plans for a golf course. Mr. Cardin relented. In an interview on FR 3 television, he stated that the golf course was not a necessity, nor a need (“ce n’est pas un besoin”).

The golf course would have provided guests for hotels that Mr. Cardin was planning in the village of Lacoste. He extensively renovated two buildings on the rue Basse, the main pedestrian street, converting them to hotels, one with a restaurant. Yet they function today as occasional lodging for friends, associates, invited artists and the staff of the summer festival. Did scuttling the golf course doom the development of the hotels in Lacoste?

In Venice, the Palais Lumière has encountered strong opposition from environmental groups and from Venetians who say it will ruin the skyscape and who question its necessity.

For the cash-strapped city of Venice, the economic benefits are enticing: millions from the sale of land and from development taxes, and the creation of about 5,000 jobs.

As is his desire for design to be experienced rather than explained, Mr. Cardin is bemused at those who oppose him, preferring to address the positive aspects of this and any project. Cardin’s creative inspiration depends upon a knack for defying historical conventions and those who cling to them.

In a sardonic tone, Mr. Cardin quipped to a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, “What else can I do?” (see link to article below)

One distinguishes that in Venice Mr. Cardin has an ‘edge’ that deserted him at times in the Luberon. A final decision on the permits is expected within a month.

Update: On December 4 Pierre Cardin was presented with the Lion of Veneto award in a ceremony and concert at Venice’s La Fenice opera house in honor of his career and accomplishments.

Basics:

Presentation of Palais Lumière: Youtube

Illustrations of Palais Lumière: De Zeen

Article: The Wall Street Journal

Article: New York Times

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