Fressoz (Michel), La villa des cent regards

Do you know La Villa des Cent Regards (The Villa of the Hundred Views), nestled in the district of Aiguelongue, north of Montpellier? Some people disrespectfully call it "the house of the fada". It was built in the 1950’s by a particularly imaginative Italian mason.

Victor Grazzi is born in 1896 in Lombardy (Italy). In 1921 he marries Ida Boldoni, native of the same village. Both leave Italy in 1922, fleeing fascism. For a few years they stay in Isère, before settling in the countryside of Aiguelongue in Montpellier. At that time the people of Montpellier viewed the area beyond the cemetery of St. Lazare as the countryside

Victor Grazzi works as a mason, and in the evening he follows a course by correspondence at the School of Reinforced Concrete in Rome. This mason has a passion for the technique of reinforced concrete: beams, joists, complicated formworks….

Around 1950, Victor Grazzi, meanwhile owner of a piece of land, can achieve his dream house. It will be completely made from concrete, even the doors and the shutters!

Concrete as a unique building material, a mason gifted to make complex forms, this will produce a house with straight lines, with right angles and with repetitive elements: a fine example of Art Déco architecture

Victor Grazzi wants to show his skills, because his diploma is not recognized by his french bosses, who employ him as a simple stonemason.

While during the day he was a mason under the orders of a foreman, in his turn, in the evening Victor Grazzi becomes the boss who gives orders: Ida, his wife, participates in building the dream house: she mixes the cement, fills buckets and hoists them with ropes and pulleys.

All savings of the household go into the construction. Recycled materials do the tric when it for example comes to to cover the floor of the corridor with slabs of stone and miscellaneous concrete tiles. which at first produce an incongruous assembly, but over time become a harmonious whole. During walks, along the roads gravel for the cement is gathered. On the dump scrap metal and other materials are collected. When there is money one overdoses a little, when there is none, one replaces the steel reinforcement with pieces of reclaimed iron and even bed springs!

On this plot of land, planted with vines, a strange house emerges, flanked by a crenellated tower, which has a peak, an arrow or a ship mast on top. From the turret, in the distance one can see the sea. Would our mason dream of being a sailor? Some architectural elements make one think so: the construction of small light houses, an anchor carved beside the engraved name of the villa

Ida dies in 1954, when the construction is not yet completed.

Henceforth, Victor lives alone in his castle and endeavors to finish it, adding decorative elements following his imagination: the Tour Constance and the ramparts of Aigues Mortes [i], a miniature replica of the house with the coquille, located in old Montpellier [ii] , statues, vegetal elements, pine trees like rockets, boxwood balls ... the humble “three-room-and-a-kitchen-castle” gets a magical allure, especially when the sun casts fantastic shadows, that animate the facades .

Day after day, Victor enriches his dream world.

The terrain is covered with vines, as our man makes wine. This is even an important element: the wine press is a construction as such. It is kind of chapel, firmly stuck in the vineyards: the screw of the press has withstood two decades of vandalism.

He names his house "Villa of the Hundred Views". Its owner just has to make a turn around to have one hundred different looks. At another moment hestates that in all contructs taken together one could count a hundred small windows, like so many views.

One morning in 1970, Victor is hospitalized for a mild intervention. He leaves his trowel and all his tools ready to be used again in a few days ... they will not be reused any more...

The house then stayed abandoned, open to all winds.

During the day the site is visited by mothers: their children dreaming of exploring this medieval castle, imagining themselves to be knights ...

At night the site becomes a place to party, a meeting point for adults. Boys and girls discover their first stirrings.

The miniature castle attracts unscrupulous visitors: the decorative elements are pillaged, stolen, looted, vandalized, the boxwood balls are slashed, decorations torn and the walls covered with tags.

In 1984, the city of Montpellier acquires this miniature castle and, to protect it, has it surrounded by a fence. But soon all life at the spot goes extinct and the castle gets a ghostly appearance.

In 2005 it is bought and partly restored with the help of Cobaty[iii] and the Leonardo da Vinci High School, to host cultural activities.

Numerous articles have appeared in the press, like in Télérama of october 7, 1981. In a one-page article entitled "Save the three-room-and-a-kitchen-castle”, it presents Victor Grazzi as a formworker-cement manufacturer, from Italian origin, alumnus of the school of Fine Arts in Rome and it concludes: "For once, the concrete has been cast into the fantasy and mystery of the individual dream”

In the "Journal de Montpellier" of january 8, 1986:

"There are places that are sacred like people, because they give a soul to a city by showing that there should not be imitation or simple repetition. Being unidentifiable, without any reference to art history, and because of lack of definition we call them: art brut ... The Villa des cent regards belongs much more to the heritage of Montpellier than the theater, which is a copy of the Paris Opéra, the Place de la Comedie which is surrounded by a nordic architecture, or the place de Nombre d’Or, which is inspired by the plaza Réal in Barcelona.

After Victor Grazzi died, the uninhabited house got all kind of visits. Lovers, and tramps looking for a shelter, but also architects, painters, writers, filmmakers

In 1980 the magazine Energumène organized there a reading of texts, where writers Renaud Camus, Valère Novarina and Jean Vuarnet were present.Likewise in 1976, twenty Chicago architects produced a report about this house, which can be found listed in books on folk architecture. In 1974 BernardLassus wrote an article in the Nouvelle Revue de psychanalyse

But also in La Gazette, the Midi Libre, Montpellier insolite

Nowadays the site welcomes

-conferences

-workshops on drawing, sculpture, Chinese inkworks ...

-exhibitions

-editions Les cent Regards

Neglected for over thirty years the Villa des Cent Regards found a second life.

[i] Aigues-Mortes is a medieval town, not far from Montpellier. The Tour de Constance is part of the wall around the city, originally having a defensive function, later being used as a prison

[ii] quite a unique house on the corner of a street, its corner part being hollowed in the shape of a scallop, probably to make passage more easily

[iii] COBATY is a federation of associations, which are professionally active in building, urban planning or the environment.