Rudy Ricciotti was born in Algiers in 1952, and graduated from the Geneva Engineering School in 1974 and from the Marseille School of Architecture in 1980. In that same year he started his office. He received the National Grand Prize in Architecture in 2006 and has been made an 'Officier des Arts et des Lettres', a 'Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur' and an 'Officier de l'Ordre national du Mérite', three orders established by the French Republic. The opening of the concert hall in Potsdam, and the construction of a footbridge in Seoul (2002), brought Ricciotti international recognition as well. He leads an international team of 29 people.
The Rudy Ricciotti Agency is not situated in a European capital where groundbreaking contemporary architecture is produced. Despite designing many projects across France and the rest of Europe, Rudy Ricciotti has remained faithful to his Mediterranean origins. His agency is based in the small fishing harbour and marina of Bandol a few kilometres from Toulon, which is the historic base of the French naval fleet. His office occupies a large villa in Italian style built in 1906, with an elegant turret that dominates the main volume. 'It was a genuine ruin and had to be fully refurbished, which cost me a fortune,' he says proudly as he lets me in. Right from the spacious entrance hall, dominated by an enormous crystal chandelier bought from the German artist Fred Rubin, Rudy Ricciotti's personality appeared clearer in its complexity.
'Tell me where you live and I will tell you who you are,' as the popular saying goes. In fact, there is something of a symbiotic link between this elegant place, its walls covered with works of art (Bernard Bazile, Jim Shaw), and this 'vernacular dandy'. In the centre of the room, three secretaries work at desks arranged around a fibreglass furniture object – is this by Van Lieshout? – 'Yes, we’ve worked together on many projects, in particular Montmajour Abbey in Arles.'
We continue on upstairs, where his office is decorated by furniture previously owned by the former East German dictator Erich Honecker. There are no ostentatious piles of models on the shelves or perspectives glued on different media attached to different stands to underscore their purpose. Architecture is visible only on the tables and screens of the architects currently working on various projects in the villa's former salons, with blinds half-closed. 'There are ten different nationalities,' he says, highlighting his window on the world, 'Working in Bandol is not an obstacle. Architecture can shine from any hole. At lunchtime, some architects go for a swim while others prefer to fish.' But the main artwork, situated in the garden, is an installation by Fred Rubin, the radical Berlin artist who works on the theme of memory; Rubin collects heritage objects from the communist era, which he 'diverts' and recombines. The glass pavilion is made from fragments from the Communist Party's Central Committee headquarters; reached via an elevator platform, it is lined by shelving and has a large conference table in the centre. 'The communists were fascinated by theatrical modernity,' Ricciotti explains, activating the mechanism that makes a cubist chandelier quietly slide between two lateral rails, hidden behind a steel plate.
Somewhere between an art gallery and workplace, the agency is designed as an artwork, as a narrative of its own creation. Its space, atmosphere and objects illustrate the relationship Rudy Ricciotti maintains with art, culture and more generally with transversality of knowledge. With his 'Latin lover' looks, hinting at both seduction and provocation, this sensitive architect also likes to play with improbable words. There is something about him that is reminiscent of Dada and Dali; he likes insolence, language, words that stand out. Accorded wide press coverage, his open letters are feared by politicians. His collaboration with the poet Julien Blaine resulted in a pamphlet entitled 'The Devil’s Bridge', a work devoted to the walkway recently built by Rudy Ricciotti and his engineer son Romain. 'I think that contemporary poetry is a bomb. Today, it is one of the very few places where there can be rebellious and romantic freedom.'