Developer's chateau is monument to art and design

 

Some of the world’s leading architects have worked on Paddy McKillen’s French home, writes FRANK McDONALD, Environment Editor

PROPERTY DEVELOPER Paddy McKillen, who successfully resisted “going into Nama”, commissioned some of the world’s leading architects to embellish his chateau in the south of France.

“Gehry and Ando and Nouvel, oh my! How a sleepy vineyard in Provence landed the biggest names in architecture,” a blog on the New York Timeswebsite gushes. And still to come are projects by Norman (Lord) Foster, Oscar Niemeyer and Renzo Piano.

“Viewed from the country road that winds into Le Puy-Sainte-Réparade, an agricultural village about 10 miles [16km] north of Aix-en-Provence, the rounded aluminium winery of Château La Coste glints silver in a field of sun-baked vines, like a spaceship touched down in Cézanne country.

“What just might trump a UFO sighting for spectacle is the fact that the building is by Jean Nouvel and it is joined on this woodsy 600-acre setting by a Frank Gehry-designed music pavilion, three buildings by Tadao Ando and sculptures by the likes of Richard Serra and Louise Bourgeois,” the website says.

“Begun in 2003 and opened to the public this summer, La Coste is both a cultural theme park and a personal canvas for its owner, Patrick McKillen, the Belfast-born property magnate and intensely private champion of art and architecture”, according to writers Lanie Goodman and Adrian Gault.

“Paddy is our quietest client”, they quote architect Richard (Lord) Rogers as saying, and note that the reclusive Irish developer, who has rarely been photographed, part-owns Claridge’s and two other London five-star hotels, the Connaught and the Berkeley – all part of the Maybourne Hotel Group.

Rogers has designed a pavilion to display drawings at Château La Coste, where there are “more than 20 projects under way”, including the transformation of two 1940s timber pavilions into an art library, organic gardens by French landscape designer Louis Benech and 29 villas in the grounds. “Perhaps even more remarkable than so many stellar names is McKillen’s ability to conjure small-scale projects and unlikely collaborations . . . Next year, Frank Gehry will work with painter Tony Berlant on a sculpture pavilion. ‘Architects are all represented here as artists,’ Nouvel says. ‘And it’s done with grace,’” the website says.

The visitors’ centre, designed by Tadao Ando, has an Alexander Calder steel sculpture ( Small Crinkly, 1976) in a reflecting pool at the front as well as a huge Crouching Spiderby Louise Bourgeois. Ando also did a chapel on the highest ridge of the property, enclosing the ruins of an ancient chapel in steel and glass.

Gehry’s Serpentine Pavilion, a temporary installation designed in his characteristic deconstructivist style for London’s Hyde Park in 2008, has been transplanted to Château La Coste. Mr McKillen has worked on the project for more than 10 years. Sources close to him said he finds it unfortunate that it is completed in a period when other businesspeople are facing such tough times.

PROPERTY EMPIRE: DEBT-LADEN AND FAR FLUNG

PADDY McKILLEN hails from Andersonstown, in west Belfast, and started working as a teenager in the family business, DC Exhausts.

He now controls a debt-laden property empire extending from Dublin to London, Paris, the United States and Vietnam.

After a protracted legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, he successfully resisted the proposed acquisition by Nama of some €1.4 billion in Irish bank loans to 15 companies in his group. This has left the State facing an estimated €7 million in costs.

Mr McKillen’s principal Irish asset is the Jervis shopping centre, which he developed in the mid-1990s. He owns the Wagamama restaurant chain and Captain America’s and was also involved in Beshoff’s fish and chip shops, Champion Sports, Muji, Schuh and Tower Records.

Along with financier Derek Quinlan and U2’s Bono and the Edge, he commissioned architects Foster and Partners to redevelop the Clarence Hotel in Dublin. However, although permission was granted for this ambitious scheme, it hasn’t materialised due to the recession.

Mr McKillen was named in August 2009 as one of the 10 leading clients of Anglo Irish Bank who were secretly given “non-recourse” loans by the bank a year earlier to shore up its tumbling share price by acquiring the substantial stake built up by businessman Seán Quinn.

Ironically, Nama is one of his tenants. The Treasury Building, in Dublin’s Lower Grand Canal Street, where Nama is housed, was developed by Mr McKillen in partnership with Johnny Ronan, of Treasury Holdings, and he still retains a 50 per cent stake in the office block.