Cannes, Cardin and curves: Palais Bulles shows creativity isn’t confined to La Croisette

Creativity and Cannes go hand in hand, but it is far from confined to La Croisette. Perched on the red rocky outcrops of the Estérel massif you’ll find the seductive bubbles of Pierre Cardin’s Palais Bulles, writes Natalie Mortimer.

Nestled in the rocky heights above the Mediterranean Sea sits a building that could look as equally at home on Mars as it does in its French Riviera home. Cavernous and spherical in form, the six-storey Palais Bulles or Bubble Building is the product of a collaboration between visionary architect Antti Lovag and industrialist Pierre Bernard in the mid-1970s.

The first iteration of the building, which looks out over the bay towards Cannes, was completed in 1984, and the radical approach to its design was inspired by early prehistoric dwellings carved out of spherical shapes.

Lovag, who passed away last September, referred to his approach as ‘habitologie’ and to himself as an ‘habitologue’; an architect inspired by the shapes and forms of nature, who believed in designing buildings that would represent the future resident of the space and their movements, trading straight lines in favour of circles and curves. A notion clearly embodied in the terracotta interconnecting domes that weave throughout the house leading to secret rooms via curved passageways, high on the deep red cliff side.

Photography: Louis-Philippe Breydel

It was this unconventional approach to design that caught the eye of celebrated fashion designer and patron of the arts Pierre Cardin. Dubbed ‘the moon man’ for his space-age inspired designs, Cardin was so seduced by the bubbles of Palais Bulles, which are often seen in his own work, that he acquired the building in 1989 after the death of Bernard.

The building was still under construction at the time and so according to wishes left by Bernard, Cardin set out with Lovag to complete the so-called ‘architectural folly’. The pair worked to bring the house to its current state which comprises 1,200 square metres of living space including a reception room, panoramic lounge, two kitchens, a garden, three pools and an amphitheatre which peers imposingly over the cliff edge. The materials used to build the bubble house echo its unconventional nature – a mixture of plastic, foam and polyester form its walls and interior. Its furnishings consist of Cardin’s own creations as well as lesser-known designers including a black TV sculpture in the living room in the shape of an eye and root-shaped seats that he designed and had made by Claude Prevost.

Dior’s spring/summer 2016 cruise collection, shown at Palais Bulles

Today the building is much more than a dwelling. In a book about the house, titled The Palais Bulles of Pierre Cardin (penned by Jean-Pascal Hesse, the director of communications at Pierre Cardin fashion house) the designer describes it as an artistic foundation for young talent and “something of a gallery of living art”.

“From personal taste, and also because I enjoy being a patron of the arts… I also wanted to exhibit works by young artists and designers here,” he writes in an introduction. “And for the fun of it I built an amphitheatre where I could stage openair events. A crossroads of the arts, a centre of exchange and discovery, the Palais Bulles is now a space for living in the image of my own designs, a source of peace and of energy”.

Photography: Louis-Philippe Breydel

Each year Cardin hosts an eclectic festival of music and theatre which has become one of the major events of the Riviera outside of the Cannes Film Festival, and often holds parties and events against the backdrop of the festival for a plethora of actors, models and magazines.

The visionary building, which was listed as a historic monument by the French Ministry of Culture (a rare accolade given its relatively young age), echoes the role Cardin has played at the forefront of fashion design. Having set up his own fashion house in 1950 at the tender age of 23, Cardin became famous for his geometric fusion of fashion and design. In 1970 he poured his passion into a new direction, and built the arts centre, L’Espace Pierre Cardin, on the site of the old Ambassadeurs by the Elysées in Paris. The centre has housed everything from artists’ exhibitions and fashion shows to sales of wine and inflatable boats in between.

Cardin’s hope for the future of the Palais Bulles is that it will continue to serve as a destination to appreciate creativity and artistic expression. “Built through ideology and artistic conviction for the good of humanity, the Palais Bulles is by vocation an artistic foundation. I hope that for many years after my death it will stand as the witness and vibrant sign of civilisation.”

This feature is from the forthcoming 24 June issue of The Drum, which will be guest-edited by Publicis Groupe's chief executive Maurice Lévy.

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