CNAP - National Center for Visual Arts

Accompanying government support to contemporary art

The Centre national des arts plastiques (National Center for Visual Arts, Cnap) entrusted the development of its new offices to Philippe Chiambaretta in 2014. In the extremely restrictive context of a single floor of a high-rise building in La Défense, the project meets the principle of an economy of means to translate the mission of an institution that is responsible for supporting contemporary art. Through a project that sublimates these constraints, it reveals the work of transfiguration that artists undertake on a daily basis.

Embodying an institution of cultural promotion

Created in 1982, the Centre national des arts plastiques (National Center for Visual Arts, Cnap) is an agency of the ministère de la Culture that provides financial backing to foster and support contemporary creation in all areas of the visual arts. In 2004, it chose to locate its headquarters at La Défense, on the first floor of Tour Atlantique, in the vicinity of the Fonds national d’art contemporain (the National Foundation for Contemporary Art, FNAC). He entrusted its fitting-out to Philippe Chiambaretta. The architectural project had to reflect the public service mission of the Cnap in the world of creation, to welcome and inform a wide audience (artists, foreign visitors, committee members and such), and to express a desire to open up both to civil society and the business world. The objective was threefold: to implement the program (putting in place some twenty working stations, a reception and consultation space for public use, a 35-seat room for committee panels); to rehabilitate an entire floor of an office tower block built in the 1970s to modern standards; to reflect the organization’s mission of support and promotion of contemporary creation.

In situ artistic collaborations

Given the strong budget and time constraints, as well as the highly restrictive technical specifications (France’s IGH standards), we resorted to simple visual devices that draw on the theme of the pixel, envisioned as a metaphor of the artist’s approach as an encoder and decoder of reality. The project elicited specific collaborations with the photographer Stéphane Couturier and the graphic designer Michèle Gubser. The solutions brought to the table to build a functional, human, and open space, are placed under the sign of Conway’s “game of life,” which is the first element that visitors encounter when they arrive at the landing of the elevator. Each new user that enters the premises generates a unique combination of pixels derived from the acronym “Cnap” on a computer screen placed in the entry. With this, PCA-STREAM reinterprets the scientific model of cellular automata—research instruments on the complexity of living beings and systems with the capacity to model it and to recreate it—and applies it equally to the 3D drawing of the lobby ceiling and on the outside of the openings of the corridor, which let light penetrate in a random manner via films bearing the colors of Stéphane Couturier’s photographs.

Enlivening perception

This series of devices, which involve the notions of gaze, framing, perception, and trompe-l’oeil, are also deployed in the signage that is printed out on the carpet tiles. To extend these perceptual dynamics, a large, red-tinged glazed door balances out the spectrum of colors inside the offices. Three “cardinal views” taken by Stéphane Couturier drive the gaze to the immediate surroundings of Tour Atlantique, giving rise to a paper chase that confronts the inside and the outside. These additional layers of aesthetics and information confer an artistic and experiential dimension to the space, echoing Cnap’s very nature.


Client CNAP - Centre National des Arts Plastiques
Program Office design ; Curating of in-situ art works
Location Atlantique Tower, La Défense
Mission Full mission
Surface area 600 m2
Cost 517 000 € HT
Status Completed in february 2006

Caption(s) image(s) from the page header

  • © Jean-Philippe Mesguen