Interview: Denis Montel, the off-road architect


The architect Denis Montel in his Parisian office, near Place des Victoires. His work table has no drawers, "because I have nothing to hide".

Bruno Comtesse

Artistic director, architect and manager of the RDAI and RDAI-Architecture agencies, Denis Montel works as well on a head office, a shop, an apartment as on designer furniture. Interview with a free arch who gravitates to the higher spheres of the planet design.

Denis Montel has just completed the interior decoration and design of the building of the Hermes House of Shanghai. An area of ​​almost 1,200 m2 where offices and shop alongside a Puiforcat bar, a showroom, workshops and a garden designed by Kengo Kuma. Architect Denis Montel likes the mix of people, genres and challenges too. This is undoubtedly what pleased the interior designer Rena Dumas when she asked him to join his agency RDAI in 1999. Nine years later, the duo Dumas-Montel, associated with the architect Nicolas Karmochkine , founded the RDAI-Architecture agency. It has just won the 2014 Équerre d'Argent for the Cité des métiers Hermès held in Pantin.

Hermes House in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles (2013).

Frank Oudeman

When did you want to become an architect?

Denis Montel: As a child, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Then, in high school, I had some friends older than me who were students in art schools. They made me want. In second class, I wanted to become an architect and, after my baccalaureate, I joined the School of Architecture of Paris-La Défense.

Do you remember a feat of arms at the school of architecture?

Denis Montel: I went in as soon as possible and I wanted to get out as soon as possible to put my skills into practice. So if it were necessary to mention a feat of arms, it might be when my diploma director recommended me to the University of Nanterre to redo the campus library. I was still a student and I was not allowed to practice. Fortunately, I graduated in June and the term started in the summer.

What has this first order changed in your life?

Denis Montel: It allowed me to be independent.

In the 1990s, you participated in many architectural competitions. Why ?

Denis Montel: I was looking to get public orders. These are the hardest to get because you have to be shortlisted to be allowed to compete. I still continue to participate in this type of competition. A way to stay in a dynamic, at a time when the practice of architecture in France requires a lot of will.

At the beginning of your archeology career, you also carried out individual house and apartment projects. That's when you came across the road of interior designer Rena Dumas?

Denis Montel: I was friends with his daughter, Sandrine Dumas, whose apartment I had just redone. Rena Dumas saw it and wished to meet me. It was 1998: we had lunch together at the Café Marly in Paris, where she told me she was overwhelmed and she was looking for someone to redo two apartments in four months.

Did you take up the challenge?

Denis Montel: Yes and, in hindsight, I think these two apartments were a way of testing me. Because in 1999, Rena Dumas offered me to join her RDAI agency.

You were then confronted with housing projects but also with designer boutiques, especially for Hermès. This is another job?

Denis Montel: These are different exercises, but I change scale without complex. Same scenario when it comes to putting architecture in parentheses for the benefit of design. I have always worked in this state of mind. Before joining RDAI, I remember having floor on a shop Mikimoto Place Vendome just after completing the construction of a college in Créteil.

These experiences that combine architecture, urbanism and space design served you when you apprehended the huge construction site of the Cité des métiers Hermes in Pantin?

Denis Montel: It is true that for this project of 27,100 m2 of workshops and offices, it was necessary to take into account many parameters. Between the urban planning project, the site and its environment, the problem of the large tertiary space planned for a thousand people, the creation of a street or the image of Hermes, better knew how to be in the compromise. Many refuse this type of bias, but on such a project, showing flexibility and knowing how to take a step back are real assets. "

For this achievement, RDAI has just received the Équerre d'Argent. This price will change something for you and for the agency?

Denis Montel: It will not change the way we work, but it will make us better known and recognized in France. Because today, even if our agency is located in the heart of Paris, our notoriety is rather outside the Hexagon. Too bad.

What are your sources of inspiration when you approach a new project?

Denis Montel: For me, each project has its own creative journey, but I lack a method. When I start working on a project, it becomes obsession: I put the first ideas and I turn around.

Inspiration comes from a set of images, encounters, events that help formulate ideas at the right time. Added to this is the history of contemporary architecture: I refer to certain gestures and some great modern classics such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and the Bauhaus.

Do you have an object that you prefer to another?

Denis Montel: Probably two small wooden objects whose shapes are derived from algebraic equations and that I put on my desk at the agency. They symbolize the fact that a form is generated by a logic.

I am inspired by a collection of tables in limited series that I designed for Pleyel, assuming that we read a math equation as we read a music score.

In high school, were you the best at math?

Denis Montel: Not at all, I was bad! Fortunately, my passion for geometry has made up for my lack of calculation.

You are the only one within the RDAI agency whose office has its windows open permanently, even in the middle of winter. Why ?

Denis Montel: I need air, to breathe. At home, it's the same: I open everything, all the time.

Hermes House in Dosan Park, Seoul (2006)

Masao Nishikawa

Bar Puiforcat in the house Hermes of Shanghai (2014).

Masao Nishikawa

Hermes House in Ginza, Tokyo (2001).

Michel Denancé

Collection of tables "Surface and Volume" realized in limited series for Pleyel (2012).

Claude Weber