Trends Booklet / 19 February 2018
Maison Albar Hotel entrusted the keys to the Imperator of Nîmes “worksite” to Marcelo Joulia. The architect accepted the mission and our interview, and, with any luck, this interview will not self-destruct after you’ve read it. Now we’re off for a guided interview.
Marcelo Joulia, is it true that you have been bestowed the immense task and privilege of returning all its splendor to the mythical Imperator of Nîmes?
Affirmative! My agency Naço* and I have the honor and responsibility of bringing the Imperator hotel back to life under the 5-star brand Maison Albar Hotel. My challenge is thus double, to both not disappoint the people of Nîmes and accompany the brand in its first trip to Provence. More precisely, what I feel is that the expectations of Nîmes’s inhabitants are high and “touching” this hotel is like touching a princess that one has never seen!
The collective imaginary around this hotel resonates in the entire region. On the one hand, the experience of the residents of Nîmes who have gone to parties and celebrated the significant moments of their life in the gardens with their marvelous ginkoes. On the other, the evanescent memory of what happened in the hotel long ago, but that, in the end, besides Hemingway or El Cordobes, few people had really lived… The Imperator is all that, and it’s on this history that the identity of the new Maison Albar Hotel Nîmes Imperator is based.
So, don’t crack under pressure, as David Bowie would have said?!
Yes, and come to mention it, I wonder if David Bowie didn’t come to the Imperator… You know, near the end, before Maison Albar Hotel bought this place to bring it back to life, the region’s inhabitants and people felt deprived of their hotel. Things had really changed. That’s the entire challenge of this transformation: returning to the sources, the origins, the soul of this great house. By looking at the project in this way, it all becomes obvious.
“The hotel had kept its soul and was just waiting for us!”
And the source, how did you find it?
Would you believe that while breaking down a wall we came across documents dating from the hotel’s construction. That’s a very good sign, isn’t it? The hotel had kept its soul and was just waiting for us!
Indeed, the hotel was constructed in 1929 by the famous company Wagons Lits. In Arles, the Jules César had the same owner. At the time, one constructed hotels to have a place to stay after taking the train. We found photos and postcards from the time, the hotel’s original very art deco logo, the bar, the tiles, the wall patinas, the colored ambiances of the gardens, as some of the postcards were painted. The hotel was relatively simple, but it had strong architectural forms: a grand staircase, arches, ironwork, gardens.
The new Imperator will rediscover its luster of yesteryear with all the specificity of today’s 5-star hotel, signed Maison Albar Hotel.
And what is a hotel today?
We’ve been living a very special moment these last few years with the emergence of boutique hotels. The common areas have become essential. The rooms and the new villas that we’re creating are the private part of the hotel, the place where one escapes, reposes. Once out of this room, one expects places of seduction, ambiances, open to the city. There is a great permeability between these two spaces. And no member of the family, nor any instant of life must be forgotten.
“I come from the South”
Concretely, what can the future guests of the new Maison Albar Hotel Nîmes Imperator and the region’s inhabitants expect?
I don’t want to unveil all the surprises we’re working on with the region’s artisans for fabrics, furniture, wickerwork, ceramics, photos. There will be wood, natural stone, large, old-fashioned mirrors, openings, so that the Provençale light circulates. A library. The grand staircase and the very beautiful elevator will still be there, faithful to the memory of the place, just like the restored, embellished arches. The ironwork will set a theme, an ambiance between the lobby, the gallery, the bar, and the brasserie. Not to forget the gastronomic restaurant with a famous chef. Transparency will be key, with open bays and places to take advantage of the show at any time. A spa, a covered and open-air pool, reception rooms… The gardens will obviously be preserved in order to stay in the heart of the Feria. The Maison Albar Hotel Nîmes Imperator will once again be a unique living space that will highlight the region’s artists. And trust me, I know, I come from the South!
You come from what South?
From several! From the southern hemisphere, Cordoba in Argentina. But my father was French, from Aveyron to be exact, and my mother Castilian. I arrived in France at the age of 17 in 1976, before the military coup d’état. Light, festivities, corrida flow in my veins. I know Nîmes well, and I have a house 20 minutes from the Maison Albar Hotel Nîmes Imperator. Nîmes is Provence, a lower city, with tenuous architecture, in which light and space are omnipresent. Do you want to understand this city? Visit the central market place (the “Halles”). You will see how the residents of Nîmes are gourmand, and Nîmes a city infused by pleasure and desire, but with complete discretion. The Imperator will be faithful to this spirit; I make a commitment to it.
*Naço means “intuition” in Guarani, an Amerindian language spoken notably in the north of Argentina.