The Var Department

The Department, Creating Culture

By creating an innovative cultural venue in the area, completely dedicated to hosting exhibitions, the Departmental Council has asserted its involvement as a key cultural player.


HDE Var: the birth of a venue

The Département du Var has transformed the former Draguignan departmental archives building into a unique cultural venue, devoted to exhibitions on the themes of “History and Civilisations”.

This building was designed in 1890 as an annexe of the architectural ensemble that then made up the Departmental Administrative Offices, which then became a sub-prefecture. The whole ensemble rounds off the Haussmann appearance of Boulevard Clemenceau, the city’s main road. Built to house the department's archives and transformed into offices, the building can now host exhibitions on history and civilisations. But before that, some significant renovation work had to be done, representing a total amount of 6.8 million euros*.

The original façade of the building, in both a classical and Palladian style, with a very orderly appearance, was preserved. “The idea was to move all the provisions for circulation within the venue to an adjoining building which isn’t visible from the street” says the architect. This building acts as a separate wing, set back from the main façade, “worked with stone principles”. Its main structure is made from concrete and covered in terracotta, and is separated from the existing wall by a glass atrium. The main feature of this voluminous space is an escalator that takes visitors to the various floors of the Hôtel Départemental des Expositions. It is a modern, functional feature, helping to overcome the building’s limitations due to its vertical structure. The exhibition spaces, covering 650m² spread out across three levels, are therefore easily accessible. Visitors will see the escalator only after having passed through the completely restyled reception area. “In a spirit of integration, we have extended the forecourt and recreated a staircase that helps preserve the integrity of the original façade, and at the same time, allows us to distinguish the exhibition space and offers visitors an enjoyable experience, from the moment they arrive”, said Frédéric Pasqualini.

It is essential for the Hôtel Départemental des Expositions to be seen and recognised from the street. Besides the main façade, another original part of the building has been preserved. This section is a key part of the building’s identity, its signature. Called the "stairwell wall”, it is one of the structure’s show-pieces. Originally designed to reduce the floor spans, with the new function of the premises it has now become a decorative feature. Rising up through the three levels dedicated to exhibitions, this stairwell connects the different spaces, acting as a guiding thread for the visitor journey between the works, some of which are actually placed there. Some exhibition showcases have actually been integrated into this central wall.

Fully adjustable as desired, these showcases can be partitioned in different ways or dissembled. The aim being to have a facility that can be adapted for the various events that will be held here. And to be able to satisfy all needs and to host all kinds of artworks, notably large sculptures, the height of the Hôtel Départemental des Expositions du Var has been optimised, by freeing up the entire attic space and removing the top floor. Therefore, in the highest exhibition space, there are five metres between the floor and the ceiling, and the original crossbeams and vaulted ceiling have been preserved. "The floors are made of brick vaults supported by metal beams. This is a typical feature of the architecture from the end of the 19th century. “Rather than hide them behind suspended ceilings, we chose to preserve them”, says Frédéric Pasqualini. “The timber frames are exposed and sanded, giving them a raw charm.” These architectural features have not been removed, on the contrary, they are very much present to remind us of the original identity of the building. They provide a link between history and modernity, between past and present.

They also have a role in creating the building’s new purpose: an internationally-renowned temporary exhibition venue To ensure its position among the great arts venues of France and further afield, to be worthy of their trust and be able to host their works and present them, not only have HDE Var’s set designs been subject to much attention, but also its security. The humidity levels, luminosity, alarm system, emergency exits, exhibition display units, etc. were all considered right from the beginning.

“The less people can see of the installation, the more that means we’ve done our job well”, says Philippe Maffre, from Maffre Architectural Workshop, in charge of the building's development. The Hôtel Départemental des Expositions has also been equipped with motion and shock sensors as well as a completely hidden air-conditioning system, to guarantee the security and proper conservation of the art objects on loan for future exhibitions. It is thanks to the studies carried out prior to the delivery of the major project for the Hôtel Départemental des Expositions du Var, that this building was granted a second lease of life. HDE Var will add to the Department’s cultural offer across the local area, for the benefit of all the local people of the Var. An investment that will also help take the name of the Var and its topquality exhibitions, way beyond its borders. In organising major cultural events and top-quality exhibitions, the Department strives to attract visitors on a regional, national and even international scale.

*Total amount (tax included) including deconstruction, asbestos removal and fitting out, facilities and extension of the existing building as well as the costs of preliminary surveys, diagnostics, project management and various construction site contingencies.

Var Departmental Council: renowned experience in the organisation of exhibitions

For nearly 20 years, the Var Departmental Council has been a key facilitator in the arts in this local area. In 1999, the council created the Hôtel Départemental des Arts in Toulon, more commonly known as HDA Var, the art centre of the Department. Many international artists have had their work shown there, such as Claudio Parmiggiani, Massimo Vitali, Georg Baselitz, Jannis Kounellis, Bernar Venet, Bernard Plossu, Pedro Cabrieta Reis, Harry Gruyaert, Joel Meyerowitz, Alain Fleicher, Enki Bilal and Joana Vasconcelos.

Exhibitions have included photography, painting, digital art, installations, sculptures, architecture, graphic novels and street art. Unique artistic projects, created in situ, have contributed to the excellent reputation of this place, recognized both by art professionals as an extremely qualitative place and by the public, captivated by the clarity of the contents offered. In 2019, 75,000 visitors attended the HDA exhibitions.

Over the last twenty years, the Département du Var has built up a collection of contemporary art, amounting to nearly 600 works, which are the subject of loans and exhibitions. The Musée Départemental du Var, which benefits from the "Musée de France" label, also organises two science-related exhibitions a year, to showcase the 180,000 objects in its collection. La Celle Abbey, a 13th century monument classified as a Historic Monument, located in the commune of La Celle, in the centre of the Var, hosts two exhibitions a year.