The Paris-based architecture firm Clé Millet works on some of Europe's most iconic cultural buildings, with a special emphasis on theaters. It uses SketchUp to design and collaborate with technical experts to restore architectural treasures to their former glory.
2D plans positioned in SketchUp to build a 3D model. Image courtesy of Clé Millet.
Clé Millet was founded by Stéphane Millet, who began his education with degrees in architecture and engineering and pursued degrees in art history and archeology. His son, Paul Millet, also has a degree in architecture. He started using SketchUp as an architecture student in 2006 and never looked back.
Portraits of Stéphane and Paul Millet. Images courtesy of Clé Millet.
Stéphane has a deep love for the history of architecture and a drive to share the original functions of these historical buildings. He explains that buildings are not created simply through the whims of an architect.
"Everything is function, basically. Every shape, every design is the correct answer to a function."
- Stéphane Millet, architect and scenographer, founder
For his part, Paul appreciates how the constraints inherent to a cultural renovation project — like the need to follow the original building style and the competition guidelines to win these projects — unlock his creativity.
"The more constraints I have, paradoxically, the more fun it is for me, and the easier it will be for me to find a good idea."
- Paul Millet, architect, 3D modeler
Through its work, the team at Clé Millet shepherds architectural and cultural history into the future.
Preserving the spirit of cultural icons
When working on cultural facilities, the team follows the original style of the building. They draw inspiration from the original ornamentation while increasing efficiency and functionality to modern standards. Striking a balance between modern comfort and antique architectural ideas is an exciting challenge. Every building presents singular needs and goals, even when the general architectural style is the same.
The team is currently working on multiple Art Deco buildings from the same period in the early 1930s. The projects share a style sensibility, though their divergent functions require unique considerations.
Le Studio Raspail
Historical documents of Le Studio Raspail. An antique performance poster, followed by photographs of the interior and exterior. Click the navigation arrow to scroll through. Images courtesy of Clé Millet.
One of the projects, Le Studio Raspail, is a former avant-garde cinema built in Paris in 1932. After almost a century since its construction and periods of disuse, Clé Millet was tasked with bringing the cinema to modern standards of comfort and functionality.
To begin his 3D model, Paul pulled 2D plans together in SketchUp and positioned them to give himself an architectural skeleton to build from.
Raw exports from SketchUp showing the 2D plans Paul had positioned to build the model. Click the navigation arrows to scroll through. Images courtesy of Clé Millet.
The Clé Millet team draws inspiration from the building’s history, including the art it housed in the past. In Paul’s model of the renovated theater lobby, he included an antique poster the team found in their historical research of the building.
SketchUp models and renderings of Le Studio Raspail. Click the navigation arrows to scroll through. Images courtesy of Clé Millet.
By combining Paul’s SketchUp expertise with the team’s historical research, Clé Millet could create accurate models of the existing building — and then reimagine its future.
The Ballroom of Le Pecq (La Salle de Fetes du Le Pecq)
Another Art Deco building, the Ballroom of Le Pecq, served for many years as the town’s meeting place and dance hall. After years as a dance hall, it was converted into a theater around 1933. When Clé Millet entered the competition to renovate the theater to modern standards, it was given historical architectural documentation dating to circa 1930.
Historical architectural documents and photograph from La Salle de Fetes du Le Pecq. Click the navigation arrows to scroll through. Images courtesy of Clé Millet.
The historical documentation was not thorough or perfectly accurate. Paul created a detailed model in SketchUp through a combination of the old documentation and new measurements. For tips on how to start modeling existing buildings with limited documentation from reference photos, explore our free course at SketchUp Campus.
Through its research and dedication to accuracy despite the challenges, Clé Millet recaptured the original style and magic of the building while ensuring the theater meets modern comfort and functional standards.
SketchUp view and render of the interior work Clé Millet proposed to renovate La Salle de Fetes du Le Pecq. Images courtesy of Clé Millet.
The universal language of 3D models
"I understand SketchUp as the door into a world which is accessible for many people."
-Stéphane Millet, architect and scenographer, founder
SketchUp view of the interior of the Challiot National Dance Theater. Image courtesy of Clé Millet.
Clé Millet must clearly communicate its architectural vision to a wide variety of stakeholders. Beyond the capabilities that allow Paul to create stunning models, SketchUp makes it easy for the Clé Millet team to share the models and their design ideas. Most often, they present the models to clients live in their office, to get real-time feedback from stakeholders. For working with their partners, Paul will usually send a SketchUp file and an IFC export.
Technical experts and 3D collaboration
Paul's models must provide accurate information for Clé Millet's project partners. In addition to the engineers and construction experts expected with any building process, historic cultural buildings have specific functions that require specialized professionals.
In the theaters Clé Millet works on, acoustics are especially important. To ensure a spectacular auditory experience, Clé Millet shares their 3D models with a team of acoustical engineers who analyze the design and provide recommendations for how to create a world-class acoustic experience.
SketchUp section cut of Chaillot National Theater of Dance. Image courtesy of Clé Millet.
The team’s work with acoustics experts on the Chaillot National Theater of Dance, another Art Deco project, has been groundbreaking. They are installing a rare sound system that processes sounds through a computer that then diffuses the sound to many speakers around the room. There are only a few examples of this diffused sound system in the world.
Clé Millet worked closely with acoustic engineers, using SketchUp to diagram ideal locations for the speakers. Clé Millet also used SketchUp to design acoustic panels that matched the building's original Art Deco style, while accommodating modern technologies to create a superior sound experience.
Acoustics studies for the Chaillot National Dance Theater. Click the navigation arrows to scroll through. Images courtesy of Clé Millet.
3D collaborations to preserve culture
SketchUp section cut of the Saint-Omer Theater. Image courtesy of Clé Millet.
Clé Millet hopes to do even more with the power of 3D. It has successfully leveraged SketchUp to reimagine and renovate some of France's most precious architectural icons. Moving forward, the team wants to use 3D models to help ensure that the productions within those buildings can survive.
Photos of Theatre Saint-Omer, historical, to recently (before renovation), and recently (after renovation). Click the navigation arrows to scroll through. Images courtesy of Clé Millet.
Clé Millet considers motorization, lighting, and sound for a completely immersive theater design. The 3D models Paul creates include each of these pieces to guide construction. After the buildings are finished, the 3D models can be used as reference material for stage production companies. Stéphane believes that SketchUp is easy enough for people of any generation to learn, and that stage performance communities could leverage 3D modeling to save time and money in their production process.
Operas, for example, are expensive productions. Stéphane suggests that opera companies could create prefigurations of their shows within a 3D-modeled framework as a part of their pre-production process. The prefigurations would help visualize an opera's staging compatibility in different locations without incurring considerable travel and adaptation costs — making it easier to consider co-productions on a European or international scale. Reducing co-production costs increases accessibility to staging productions from teams with lower means, boosting the breadth of artistic diversity, and keeping the arts alive and well.
Photos of Theatre Saint-Omer: historical, before renovation, and after renovation. Photo credit: Martin Argyroglo. Click the navigation arrows to scroll through. Images courtesy of Clé Millet.
Stéphane and Paul believe in the power of 3D to help preserve cultural traditions, marrying heritage with cutting-edge software. Clé Millet's respect for history and dedication to efficient, innovative techniques help it preserve historical beauty while modernizing cultural historical buildings.
Clé Millet leverages 3D modeling to help preserve the spaces that are home to culture — and the culture itself.
About Clé Millet
Clé Millet takes on both historical renovations and new construction projects. For public-facing projects, the firm uses SketchUp models to efficiently produce competition deliverables. Learn more about Clé Millet’s competition workflows in this blog post, where you’ll also find a Trimble Connect link to view one of Paul’s models of Theater Marigny, another Art Deco project.
Clé Millet has dedicated its 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
You can view more of Clé Millet’s work on its website.