CULTURE

Jean-Pierre Heim’s design touch

From an urban flat at the Trump Residence in New York to the revamping of the Assomption church in Paris via the welcoming premises of the refurbished Yasmina Hotel in Morocco, Jean-Pierre Heim’s globetrotting design labor is defined by eclectic variety. This is because the French architect enjoys a freedom of choice with challenging projects in 15 countries, while maintaining offices in Paris, New York and Athens. Samples of this rich design output were recently collated in a glossy edition. Described by Heim as a «melting pot» of his work, «Jean-Pierre Heim – Architect,» has just been published by Visual Reference Publications. Hosted by French Ambassador Bruno Delaye at the French Embassy earlier this week, the book’s Greek launch came as a reminder of the enduring friendship between the two countries – it also reflected Heim’s special relationship with the country he considers as a «second home.» «I’m so used to coming here, I know the way of life, there’s no conflict of culture when I’m here,» he says. «Greece has a deep culture of architecture and methods. The Cyclades, for instance, have over the years inspired many architects, such as Le Corbusier; the architecture is simply beautiful.» The Cycladic island of Myconos became a vacation and design haven for Heim, who constructed a house overlooking Delos. Featuring the expected whitewashed walls, there’s also a plethora of patios and terraces, awnings and pergolas as well as a 60-foot lap pool with an islet right in the middle. The Greek landscape has sparked other ideas too: Heim is currently working on an ambitious project, «Cinepanorama,» which would involve the construction of a multifunctional, outdoor theater acting as a broader cultural center. «Architects have to be aware of location, history, archaeology – they have to adapt design to local culture,» says Heim, whose «Cinepanorama» idea involves a square, U-shaped structure of stone walls, fabric roofs and a landscaped amphitheater. Educated at the School of Fine Arts in Paris, Heim went on to complete additional architectural studies at the University of Illinois. He founded Jean-Pierre Heim and Associates in Paris in 1980. Since then, he has designed houses, monuments and theaters as well as commercial spaces including hotels and shops. He has a penchant for collaborating with luxury houses, designing outlets for Lancel in Aix-en-Provence, fur powerhouse Revillon and crystalware giant Baccarat in New York as well as silverware cult brand Puiforcat in Paris, among others. Heim is also fond of designing trompe l’oeil surfaces, while venturing into silverware and furniture design as well. (Coming up is an innovative Beach Chair.) «I’m fascinated by objects and, like many of my colleagues, I do not limit design to buildings,» says Heim. «A chair is the most difficult thing to design. We have such a variety, so when you have to design one, it’s a big challenge.» Whether designing objects or buildings, Heim’s success is due to the development of a personal, architectural style. «I like to use historical construction references, such as Greco-Roman (ones) and symmetry. My style has to do with purity and space design, views, materials and organization,» says Heim. «At the same time, branding a building is important for me because while I design according to geography and history; at the same time I have to customize the interiors according to the personality of my client.» Architectural branding? «It’s very good to put yourself out of the crowd by creating your own identity, which is very important for commercial and visual aspects,» says Heim. «At the same time, it’s very delicate to say that because you have a brand, you get to do the same thing systematically.» For the Capitol Music Theater in Offenbach, Frankfurt, Heim was inspired by Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, Italy, developing a flexible auditorium that can be converted into a concert hall venue, even a nightclub. (He also designed the theater’s symbol, a 18-foot sculpture in plaster and gold leaf as the model for look-alike sculptures of varying sizes scattered round the complex.) Alternatively, in New York, a Ground Zero study for the erection of a monument involved a sky garden where people would be able to «walk and remember.» «Nowadays, architecture is a lot about details,» says Heim. «This decade, for example, is about minimalism, transparency, clarity – technology and materials have developed so much that we can see new constructions, completely different than before.» It’s also about celebrity architects, who are sought for their distinctive style. «You go in front of a building and you say this is an I.M. Pei building. But architecture cannot always be branded, especially in our society where we have to deal with historic landmarks,» says Heim. «We really have to blend into a very sophisticated environment which is very historical and, afterward, we have to put the brand on it. You can’t have a Gehry building in the middle of Plaka, for instance. But you could envision one near the Hilton Hotel or the airport.» For the time being, a neoclassical building in Piraeus’s Pasalimani area will carry the Heim renovation seal; the so-called Club of France will host events by French officials during Athens 2004. Meanwhile, the architect is working on a renovation of celebrated Brasserie Lorraine in Paris, a hotel refurbishment in St Barts, a new concept for flats and restaurants in New York as well as a house in the north of Greece. What kind of project is he still dreaming of? «A museum is really the perfection of everything I would like to do: It combines presentation and objects, it’s very important to dedicate a special place for objects, with light and history and especially culture. Designing a museum, I think, is the dream of the architect.» For more information log on to the website www.heimdesign.com.