Meet Francoise Raynaud: The Architect Behind Greenwich West
We are so excited about Greenwich West, the new Soho condominium designed by French female architect Francoise Raynauyd. As the founder of Paris-based firm Loci Anima, the Greenwich West signifies the first building in New York City to be designed by a French female architect, and when completed, it will be one of the tallest buildings in the city by a female architect at 30 stories high. Read on to learn more about Francois, including how she is blending classic New York architecture with a French aesthetic.
How did you get into architecture?
I think I always wanted to be an architect. My father was a sculptor and my mother was a painter so I have always been immersed in a creative and artistic atmosphere. I grew up in Carcassonne, a medieval city in the South of France, restored by the architect Viollet-Le-Duc in the 19th century and a listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997. I was fascinated by the architecture of this place.
At 18, I went to Paris to study architecture. After graduating, I moved to Australia to meet Glenn Murcutt, a visionary architect inspired by Aboriginal culture. After that I joined Jean Nouvel and worked with him on several major projects in Asia (Japan, Korea, and China) including high-rise towers.
At the age of 30, I became project manager on "the Infinity Tower," a circular tower 1,400 foot super tall whose slenderness was a world record - the proportions were substantially that of the Vinoly’s tower at 432 Park Avenue.
For that project, I went around the world to study the most famous towers in every continent. I designed several projects in Asia, from the house of the chairman of a Korean electronic group to a tower for the Dentsu Group in Tokyo. These projects have thus matured an architectural reflection on "the towers of tomorrow” where I integrate the ideas of Feng Shui that are in resonance with Jean Nouvel’s ideas.
Tell us more about your firm Loci Anima and what projects you typically work on.
At 40, after an incredible and wonderful collaboration with Jean Nouvel, I wanted to explore my own way of doing things. Today, my agency is one of the top 10 largest agencies in France and I am surrounded by an international team that works on projects in every continent. This inspires a great wealth of thought. Loci Anima means in Latin "the soul of places." I advocate architecture that's very inspired by nature in its quality of adaptability, in the possible evolution, transformation and appropriation by all.
Since the inception of the agency, I began to think of my projects as they related to environmental issues, and the well-being of the inhabitants of the city of tomorrow. I reflect on how to make our urban lives bearable, how to make buildings that do not waste energy and how to make people feel really good.
Today, there is a global awareness of these issues, but my architecture has been concerned for 15 years and I am proud to be a pioneer on these topics. My vision is evident in each of my projects and is concrete - not just a conceptual utopia. At the moment, I am finishing a big urban project at the gates of Paris, a mixed complex including accommodation, social housing, shops, offices, equipment, services, and green spaces in resonance with a magnificent site on the banks of the Seine.
This project won the prize for best sustainable program in 2016. It culminates with an office tower inspired by the theme of the double, all glass, light, transparency and vegetation and currently under construction. We also create smaller, but equally prestigious projects. We have two cinema, retail and office projects on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. We recently redid entirely in wood, light and vegetation the cinema Gaumont les Fauvettes. One true jewel project for us is a magnificent cinema, a classified historic monument that was bought by Charles Cohen, a New Yorker passionate about French cinema.
We are so excited about Greenwich West. Can you share more about the project?
I'm very excited about this project too! It is one of the tallest buildings a woman has built in New York. Any architect in the world dreams of taking a trip to New York or Chicago. These are cities that gave birth to the architecture of towers. The facades were built using a typical New York method, on a "basic" repetition grid, but the proportion of glazed façades is as such quite remarkable and represents 60% of the surface of the tower. We did not want to make an all-glass tower like an office tower and wanted to preserve privacy.
On the other hand, the apartments are designed so that their large openings capture the sight, the light, the wind, the reflections of the Hudson, capturing the specificity of this site. To ensure that all homes benefit from natural light and sunshine, including those facing each other, the architectural approach was to multiply the angles of construction to offer two views, at least one of which the Hudson River. It seemed equally essential that high-rise housing, enjoying a magnificent view, benefit from a double exposure. I make buildings that are inspired by the place, respect their souls and do not disturb or compete with the existing. We insert ourselves with a certain humility. If I had to define this project in New York in two words I would say it's a symbiotic project.
On the one hand, it is designed in symbiosis with its environment to promote the relationship of man with his environment and nature. On the other, it respects the New York fabric and magnifies the beauty of the place.
What it is like to be a woman behind the new NYC skyline?
I am proud to share my philosophy of architecture in a city like New York. There are few women building in New York, few women building in France too. Architecture is said to be a combat sport. Although women's rights have evolved considerably in recent years, there is still an important way to go. Our world must dare its feminine.
If I had to define the feminine, it is for me a holistic vision of the world. It consists in seeing it in its entirety. The approach is at the same time physical, mental, emotional, family, social, cultural, spiritual. It is reflected by a sense of listening and a concern for others. Sociological studies on feminine management have revealed a real specificity. It is a very effective but less brutal management based on empathy, intuition, adaptation. And these are qualities that promote innovation.
What's next for you and the firm?
I will continue to work on the tower of tomorrow, to reflect on the societal evolution of our lifestyles and also the scalability and modularity of projects so that they evolve over time with minimum impact on men and the environment. The firm just won a contest initiated by the City of Paris called Renew Paris, located along the Seine which will energize the neighborhood and create a link between the inhabitants.
The project is itself carried by the residents and we will make it emblematic and zero waste. It's a great challenge that is very exciting and energizing. My goal is to export my vision of sustainable architecture to be respectful to places, people and nature. These are not just words. I want to show that it is possible, that we must build differently. It is vital.