Completed in 1956, the covered market in Royan inspired other monumental constructions in France and Europe. The Paris-La Défense center for new industries and technologies and the Bucharest circus in Romania are among them.
The Royan market, a “modernist” feat
For more than sixty years, the architectural mold of the food market has fed the imagination of locals and visitors. No doubt it was the primary intention of its master builders to include their work in a vast register of symbolic interpretations. No doubt it was the primary intention of its master builders to include their work in a vast register of symbolic interpretations.
Overturned shell or parachute stretched from the ground?
More than 60 years after its construction, the structure still impresses. Its bold lines are a strong visual element of tourism in Charente-Maritime. In the early 1950s, however, the project was not self-evident and its realization experienced a few twists and turns. The first idea developed by the architects Louis Simon and André Morisseau was more classic. It involved adorning the perspective drawn by the Astrid-Briand axis of a semi-circular building covered with a reinforced concrete dome.
After 1953, these initial plans changed course and evolved into more complex models. They are inspired by contemporary references imbued with "tropicalities". We find this in Brazilian architecture by Oscar Niemeyer where the curve takes precedence over the right angle.
The rigid half-sphere envisaged at first then turns into a circular building covered with undulations. The plans fix the image of a vault whose thirteen symmetrical folds evoke, according to the sensitivity of each, the morphology of a scallop shell or that of a parachute anchored to the ground and lifted by the wind.
An architectural feat: no interior pillar to support the vault
In 1955, the Union Française d'Entreprise (UFE) was chosen to develop the structure from a reinforced concrete solution.
Its implementation results in the pouring of a very thin concrete veil (about ten centimeters thick of material) to compose the vault. Another first for the time: the type of reinforcement made relieves all of the interior beams and pillars, which frees up space for shopkeepers (4 m² of floor space) and facilitates circulation within the building, illuminated at height by radiant openings in glass bricks.
The Royan market was class Historical Monument in 2002 (a renovation took place the following year and another is looming in the years to come). Under the vault, only one bench is original: it too is the subject of official protection.
The building, one of the first in the world to have experimented with a free form of concrete, more or less directly inspired other constructions in Europe. The center for new industries and technologies at La Défense, erected in 1958, and the Globos circus in Bucharest, which emerged from the ground in 1960, present the most striking kinships with the Royannais archetype.