October 20, 2019

Near Monte Carlo, a Brutalist Abode Unlike Its Neighbors

Near Monte Carlo, a Brutalist Abode Unlike Its Neighbors

Dixon understood that the woman wanted a house with an uncompromising Brutalist edge, in stark contrast to the lavish but architecturally mundane buff-colored, orange-tile-roof mansions found along the rocky promontory. He approached the design as he would a lamp or a chair — as though the home were both sculpture and functional object. “I thought about creating these very basic geometric shapes, then fusing them together,” he says. But he was also cognizant of the setting, with its combination of craggy natural beauty and extreme overdevelopment. “I wanted the house to have the feel of a bunker, to be a statement about the monolithic beauty of the place, like the battlements at Carcassonne,” he says, referring to the sprawling walled fort in Occitanie, which was built in the Gallo-Roman period and restored in the mid-19th century by the French architectural theorist Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.

He also thought that the 11,000-square-foot house, which took nearly five years to finish (the owners moved in six years ago in the midst of construction), should have elements of a nuclear reactor or an observatory — conveying threat and mystery, at least from afar — and crowned it with a 30-foot-tall dome that challenges all ideas of right angles in a residence. (Dixon himself lives with his family in a 60-foot-tall converted 1930s concrete water tower in North Kensington that he transformed in 2005 into a three-story house with a spiral staircase running up its center.) “I am not afraid of round,” he says. “Though it is a bit of a nightmare when it comes to placing furniture.”

A desire to allude to Monte Carlo’s risqué midcentury glamour also inspired the house’s Bond-villain-like flourishes, including a vast, dramatically lit subterranean garage, painted a menacing dark blue, where the couple keeps their collection of sports cars and motorcycles. “We wanted to thumb our nose a bit at the castle,” Dixon says, referring to the city’s dignified, massive Grimaldi family home, built in the 12th century and still occupied by Prince Albert II. “We changed almost nothing from what Tom proposed,” adds the owner. “I felt as though my job was to make it come true.”

AFTER CONSTRUCTING a maquette, Dixon drew up plans with a series of British architects, each eventually “coming to sticky ends” as they threw their hands up in despair at the complexity. The notoriously picayune French zoning laws dictated height and sightlines and eventually quashed plans for the spare, desertlike landscaping that the owner hoped would provide a counterpoint to the lush local vegetation: Authorities did allow a cactus garden that leads up to the street-side entrance, but the rest of the property features maples, mimosas and fragrant herbs planted by the Parisian landscape architect Michel Desvigne, a frequent collaborator of the Italian architect Renzo Piano. Midway through the project, Dixon discovered that they were in an earthquake zone, so they had to triple the thickness of some of the house’s concrete walls, which also doubled the cost.

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