IBM Research Centre, La Gaude - photobook


IBM Research Centre, La Gaude

Photographs by Leigh Bird / Introduction and archive material by Alexandra L. Gatje

"I know most people think the Whitney is my most successful building, but my personal favourite is La Gaude" - Marcel Breuer

Whilst on holiday in the Cote D'Azure Leigh Bird visited the IBM Research Centre at La Gaude, designed by Marcel Breuer, and found an abandoned and seemingly unloved unloved masterpiece from one of the Masters of Modernism.

Finding the gate unlocked she wandered in and photographed this sleeping giant.

"Designed by Breuer with Robert F. Gatje, an associate and soon to be partner, this remarkable building elevated on Y-shaped concrete stilts or “pilotis” remains in fine condition, and that’s despite suffering an earthquake in the early 2000’s (hence the steel bracing) and being vacated in 2015. This is testament to the cleverness of the design, the deftness of touch and the sheer ingenuity of construction. 

For me, looking at the empty building, I felt no hint of melancholy. Perhaps my rose-tinted view was aided by the renowned Cote D’Azure light or the way the surrounding greenery frames and softens the site. Sure, it’s overgrown, but not to the point of strangulation. The planting akin to a whisper of a hug. Personally, I think it’s how proudly and harmoniously the building stands under the butte of Saint-Jeannet. 

On my first visit, the circular bicycle store and sweeping arc of the B1 building were tantalisingly out of reach, forcing me to resort to photos taken through the barbed wire and locked gate. On the next of my two subsequent weekday explorations, the gate was thankfully open, and I was free to explore and marvel at the sheer scale of the structure and how the light played on the facets of concrete. 

My last trip was to scratch an itch and find the B2 and B3 structures – built in 1968-70 - which were a delight, nestled in the ground and kissed by the dappled shade of mature trees.

With each visit, the site yielded more surprises, just as my contact with Alexandra L. Gatje (Robert F. Gatje’s daughter who, aged four, was famously posed by her father underneath one of the pilotis ‘for scale’) has done. I happened upon Alex on Instagram, via that famous photo (opposite, published here in colour for the first time). Since then, she and her family have far surpassed our request for a photograph or two and shared enough of the family’s archive to fill ten books. 

I hope the images convey what I’ve seen at La Gaude; a vibrant building, ripe and ready to be occupied. A brutalist wonder in the landscape yet one that’s wonderfully human. I’m in no doubt that Alex’s introduction, the images from the Gatje family archive, and the extracts from Bob’s personal memoir will help bring the building even more alive for you. 

My thanks go to Alex and the Gatje family for their generosity, enthusiasm and friendship.” 

- Leigh Bird 2021 

42 pages

Full colour

£7 plus p&p

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