Turn on, check in, drop out

by MICHELE KOH MOROLLO on Sep 15, 2011 in Architecture , Interiors , Lifestyle
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This little ‘island’ village in France pays tribute to the counterculture of the psychedelic pop era

 In the little woodland commune of Raon l’Etape in Lorraine, northeastern France, is the highly unusual Museumotel – a cluster of white, bubble-shaped cabins that look like a cross between hobbit holes and a space pods. The structures are architectural icons of the Pop Art era, and each is a groovy retro time capsule imbued with the spirit of cool. 

The motel’s history is almost as interesting as its appearance. In 1965, M Thierry, the owner of the Relais Alsace Lorraine hotel at Raon l’Etape, read an article about a young Swiss architect named Pascal Haüserman. A graduate of the University of Geneva, Haüserman was a hippy at heart and a proponent of organic, free-form architecture, an alternative style of design that defied the straight lines, boxy shapes and rigid construction methods of the time.

One of Haüserman’s designs, the ‘bubble house’ – a type of cheap, quickly-built concrete shell structure – piqued Thierry’s interest and he commissioned Haüserman to build a series of such abodes that would serve as a summer annex to the Relais Alsace Lorraine. Originally called Motel de l’Eau Vive (Motel of the Living Water), the annex, which was built on an island surrounded by two arms of a river and connected to the main property via a bridge, had its own distinct identity – that of a small, peaceful village with a quirky bohemian vibe.

From 1967 to 1980, Thierry ran the place with much success, but subsequent owners were not so lucky and the motel closed and fell into a state of neglect from 1995 to 2003. It was then purchased by a family who lived in it from 2003 to 2006, when design enthusiast Bruno Tourman discovered the defunct motel. Enthralled, he brought four friends – Laurence Euvard, Isabelle and Laurent Methot and Joël Morel, a cabal of retro art and design fanatics – back to the site and together, they purchased, restored and reopened it in 2007 as Museomotel, a utopian haven for lovers of the art, design and ethos of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.

Though Haüserman built about 50 buildings in France and Switzerland between 1960 and 1975, his free-form modular style of construction never quite made it into the mainstream, and Museomotel is one of the few remaining structures that bear testament to this innovative style of architecture. 

 Read the full story in the October 2011 issue of Perspective magazine! 


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