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Obit> Jean-Louis Véret, 1927-2011
Jean-Louis Cohen reflects on French architect who advanced 20th century urban discourse.
Le Merlier village at Cap Camarat.
Courtesy Catherin Blain

Jean-Louis Véret, who died on September 4 on the French Atlantic coast, was a founding member of the Atelier de Montrouge, an architect’s collaborative based in the eponymous suburb of Paris, and which brilliantly interpreted from the late 1950s to the late 1970s both the language of Brutalism and the urban discourse of Team 10.

Jean-Louis Véret.

Together with Pierre Riboulet and Gérard Thurnauer, whom he befriended at the Arretche-Gromort atelier of the École des Beaux-Arts, Véret designed a project for a university in Fes in 1952, the first modernist thesis ever to be submitted to the Paris academy. Through experience acquired in working with Michel Écochard, then the head urban planner in Morocco, the three young graduates shaped a new agenda in French architecture and planning. Then joining forces with Jean Renaudie, they created one of the few authentically collective practices of the times.

Véret’s trajectory was however more complex. Recruited by Le Corbusier, from 1953 to 1955 he supervised the construction of the Sarabhai and Shodhan houses and the Millowner’s palace in Ahmedabad. His familiarity with the Corbusean syntax reads perfectly well in the most important scheme he built within the Atelier de Montrouge, the holiday resort of Cap Camarat (1959–65), where he brilliantly developed themes shaped in Le Corbusier’s unbuilt Roq et Rob project, playing with concrete and local stone.

In 1959, Véret received the Harkness fellowship and worked with Serge Chermayeff at Harvard University. During that year, he also engaged on a memorable road trip across the Continent, where his path crossed Hans Hollein’s. With his colleagues from Montrouge, and in parallel to the work at the Atelier d’Urbanisme et d’Architecture created by another group including the architect Paul Chemetov and the planner Jacques Allégret, Véret produced alternative designs challenging the then hegemonic model of the French high-rise social housing schemes.

Left to right: Le Merlier village; the head office and shop for Shu Uemurain Paris; and the Film Archives at Bois d'Arcy, France.

Despite the recognition the Atelier’s work received when awarded by the French Grand Prix d’Architecture in 1981, its founders parted ways. Véret engaged then in multiple activities, teaching at Harvard and in the schools of Nancy and Paris-La Villette, and conducting a meticulous restoration of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye (1987–94). In 1985, he curated the landmark exhibition “Architecture in India.” As an independent architect, he undertook a critical continuation of his former employer’s themes, for instance, with the complex combination of Brutalist elements assembled in his scheme for the national film archive at Bois-d’Arcy (1985–92).

More modest in its scale and urban setting on the ground floor of an Haussmannian building, his cosmetics shop for Shu Uemura on boulevard Saint-Germain (1986) in Paris, remains ones of the most elegant and subtle statements of late modernism in all of Europe and a fitting metaphor for Véret’s rigorous yet informed and elegant contribution to architecture.

Jean-Louis Cohen

Jean-Louis Cohen is the Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture at NYU's Institute of Fine Arts.