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Curtain Call: A simple box, dressed up with a curving metal screen, gives an ancient city a modern monument.
By William Hanley
For more than a thousand years, the building material of choice in Albi, a small city on the Tarn River in southern France, has been a pinkish Languedoc brick. Even the imposing 13th-century cathedral there, with its gigantic nave and 250- foot-tall bell tower, was built from the distinctive masonry, giving it an appearance that’s more fortress than church. But just beyond Albi’s historic quarter, a new building by Paris-based Dominique Perrault Architecture defies the city’s traditional heft. The Albi Grand Theater, a simple box that the architects have wrapped with a curving metal screen, appears to float over a plaza. The scrim’s four sides, which measure 38 feet at their tallest, look like stretched lengths of fabric suspended over each of the building’s elevations. As you emerge from the old city’s warren of crooked Medieval streets, the curtain-like form comes into view with a surprising weightlessness.
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