How SketchUp helps Clé Millet beat the competition

Paul Millet is an architect at Clé Millet, a Paris-based architecture firm that restores European architectural treasures. Paul relies on SketchUp’s flexibility to quickly create competition-winning 3D designs and stunning renderings.

SketchUp views of the Theatre Marigny. Images courtesy of Clé Millet. Click arrow to scroll.

At the Paris-based architecture firm Clé Millet, the team vies for contracts to work on some of Europe’s most iconic cultural buildings, especially theaters. To design these projects, they must enter and win competitions spearheaded by the French Ministry of Culture. These architectural competitions demand efficiency, ingenuity, and creativity.

Portraits of Stéphane and Paul Millet. Images courtesy of Clé Millet.

The architectural arena as defined by the Ministry of Culture

In France, the Ministry of Culture is responsible for stewarding the development and preservation of the kinds of cultural buildings Clé Millet specializes in. The Ministry is a governmental entity whose goals have roots in the pre-revolutionary period. Inspired by Renaissance courts and royalty’s key role in nurturing culture, French leadership has sponsored art and artists for hundreds of years. The modern Ministry was created by Charles de Gaulle in 1959 to establish the “rights to culture” for French citizens. Since then, the ministry has actively sponsored the arts, both in creation and restoration.

Photograph of the exterior of a chapel in Jujurieux France, photograph of renovated interior. Click arrows to scroll. Images courtesy of Clé Millet.

In modern times, buildings designated as cultural landmarks fall under the governance of the Ministry of Culture. Because they are public-facing properties, the ministry must hold competitions to determine the best team for the job.

Structural accuracy through 3D

3D model of Tours Chapel. Image courtesy of Clé Millet.

Design competitors have challenges beyond attempting to outdo other teams through beautiful designs. A building’s documentation doesn’t always evolve with its additions and renovations. This can lead to conflicting information and source materials that are outdated, incomplete, or otherwise inaccurate.

A great example of this incomplete documentation was the competition to renovate the Chaillot National Theater of Dance. The theater, built between 1934 and 1937, is a complex underground building with multiple discrete spaces and rooms for which Clé Millet received floor plans and a few section cuts. When Paul began to build a 3D model, the team determined that the provided drawings did not accurately represent the building. However, Paul had a tool at his disposal that helped him look past the survey’s flaws to construct an accurate picture of how the building worked: SketchUp.

Paul explains, “Building the thing in 3D will help us understand that, ‘Okay, on that floor, that particular element is going to be more structural because, on top of it, you have something else.’ You can’t see this just looking at the floor plans.”

Thinking beyond the competition brief

Occasionally, the source materials aren’t the only things that need correcting. The Clé Millet team sometimes finds reason to challenge the parameters of the competition brief (also known as an RFP in America), often to winning results. SketchUp gives Clé Millet the flexibility to iterate quickly and think outside the box to come up with surprising solutions.

The Chaillot National Theater of Dance, built between 1934 and 1937, is an underground structure with a performance hall and studios for rehearsals. In the brief provided for the renovation, the Ministry wanted to increase the stage size by a third. The competition brief called for reducing the number of seats in the theater to accommodate a bigger stage and ensure comfort for future audiences. The building is underground, and additional construction above ground was prohibited for a good reason: the theater and the buildings that frame it are adjacent to the Eiffel Tower. The Ministry determined no additional building should clutter the area around Paris’ most iconic structure.

Google street view showing the location of the Chaillot National Dance Theater in relation to the Eiffel Tower. Image courtesy of Clé Millet.

Clé Millet proposed a way to expand the theater to increase the stage size while providing comfortable seating for the same number of people who had enjoyed dance performances there for almost a century — all without building additional structures above ground. Their proposed design expands the theater by digging further into the limestone hill. Using a SketchUp model as a reference for the proposed work, they presented a way to excavate safely while improving the structural integrity of the underground building.

SketchUp view of the Chaillot National Dance Theater performance space. Image courtesy of Clé Millet.

After receiving the new project proposition from Clé Millet that presented a better design solution for the upcoming renovation, the jury changed the competition guidelines to allow for Clé Millet to present their groundbreaking idea. Clé Millet won the competition, securing the authorization to renovate a building in an area so significant to France’s culture that it will be the site of the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics in 2024.

A need for speed

In many of the competitions the Clé Millet team enters, there are tight deadlines in which they need to produce many deliverables within two to three months of first receiving the brief. By necessity, Paul builds his workflow around speed and efficiency. He uses SketchUp to create 3D models that communicate the design vision to their internal team and the jurors.

SketchUp view of the Chaillot National Dance Theater performance space. Image courtesy of Clé Millet.

Paul begins his models with the existing plans combined with hand-drawn input from Stéphane. He builds a SketchUp model starting from the bottom up as he imagines construction workers would do. When Paul has CAD plans to work from, SketchUp’s Revit Importer saves him time and allows him to get to the fun of 3D modeling more quickly.

SketchUp’s Shadows feature helps Paul do quick, accurate shadow studies. Knowing how sunlight will enter a building is crucial when designing for maximum efficiency and user comfort.

SketchUp view with shadows of the Chaillot National Dance Theater performance space. Image courtesy of Clé Millet.

Paul is also a proponent of 3D Warehouse. He saves time by using the pre-built and downloadable models from 3D Warehouse to add context. When building out his model for the Chaillot National Theater of Dance, he added the existing buildings adjacent to the theater from 3D Warehouse’s building models.

SketchUp view featuring the underground theater of the Chaillot National Dance Theater, along with the model taken from the 3D Warehouse, showing additional above-ground context. Image courtesy of Clé Millet.

Once Paul finishes the existing building, he models the new design. For the competitions, he produces models, renderings, and 2D CAD drawings.

A need for flexibility

Lighting study made from SketchUp model with Twinmotion. Some assets came from SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse, such as the Grand Palais seen in the background of the video. Courtesy of Clé Millet.

Flexibility is also critical to Paul’s success. Old buildings often have irregularities that are difficult to represent accurately in other, more rigid CAD software. SketchUp provides the flexibility he needs to model accurately.

Clé Millet had the task of working on the Marigny Theater, which was originally built as a panorama, lending it its round shape. The panorama was turned into a theater around 1895 by the architect Édouard Niermans. At the time, the architects created a separation wall between the stage and the audience that jeopardized the balance of the roof framework.

In 1925, the biggest mistake was made: the suspension of a dome with a metallic structure from the wood roof framework. Given the theater’s layout, the dome was not centered on the overall roof structure, leading to the slow demise of the whole roof.

SketchUp view of the interior of Theatre Marigny. Scroll to see a section cut of Theatre Marigny depicting the leaning roof. Images courtesy of Clé Millet.

By the time Clé Millet came on the scene about a century after the retrofit-gone-wrong, the entire dome was leaning. Paul accurately modeled the abnormal lean and the failing structure, which he then overlaid in SketchUp with a model of the proposed solution. The ability to quickly and accurately model both architectural problems and solutions is central to Paul’s winning process.

Communicating details with 3D

Rendering of the lobby of the Saint Omer Theater. Photos of Theatre Saint Omer lobby before and after renovation. Photo credit: Martin Argyroglo. Images courtesy of Clé Millet.

Paul integrates feedback from stakeholders with little architectural experience. The Clé Millet team uses SketchUp as an internal communication tool and to integrate feedback from people with less technical expertise, like some of the jurors in the competition.

In his model of the Hotel Marigny, Paul’s dedication to the details created a stunning, recognizable visualization of the project. He made the statues shown on the building’s exterior in a software called Sculptris, which he then added to SketchUp. Explore Theatre Marigny in Paul’s model at this link. You can share models of your own quickly and easily through Trimble Connect.

Internal and external stakeholders benefit throughout the competition process from the 3D models Paul builds. It is much easier to understand a design in 3D versus 2D documentation. The power of visualization, ease of use, and the ability to share ideas with anyone makes SketchUp key to Clé Millet’s contract-winning process.

Inspired to reimagine a building of your own? You can have every SketchUp tool at your fingertips with a free trial. Get started today to reimagine tomorrow!

About Clé Millet

Clé Millet takes on both historical renovations and brand-new projects.

Clé Millet has dedicated their practice to a global approach to construction, convinced that the architect’s skill rests on their capacity for synthesis; a humanist approach placed at the service of a quality requirement whatever the program theme to which it applies: large public facilities, health facilities, hotels, tertiary or housing in all its meanings from social housing to that of the prestigious individual.

“We continue on these paths and these certainties, in a spirit of openness towards a constantly changing world.”

-Stéphane Millet, architect and scenographer, founder

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