Covering an area of over 100 hectares on land and sea, the site of the Arsenal at Cherbourg, founded by Colbert, is one of oldest State enterprises, and still represents the economic power of Nord-Cotentin even today. Since the launch of the submarine Le Redoutable in 1967, officially launched by Charles de Gaulle, the prime function of the Arsenal (an establishment coming under the Directorate of Naval Dockyards) has been to build submarines intended for the policy of nuclear deterrence. There is no doubt that since the end of the Cold War its purpose and aims have needed to be redefined. What is more, the number of employees has shrunk by almost half in ten years. The industrial future of the site is under threat, and the current employees are worried, wondering about coming developments the shape of which it is hard to imagine. This is the background against which several employees have grouped together to bring in an artist capable of exploring the many potentialities of the place (potentialities of the skilled trades, human, technical and industrial resources), highlighting the value of its historic role as a living place and provoking a debate that may spark ideas both about the future fate of the Arsenal and the general transformation of forms of work. The patrons insist on the idea that the specific know-how attached to the Arsenal should meet up with artistic know-how.
The Arts Platform expresses the meeting between the submarine considered in all its aspects (as a three-dimensional shape, a living space, the product of the Arsenal) and the exhibition space traditionally embodied by the White Cube. All that could be born of this supposedly impossible meeting was a monster, a hybrid form capable at the same time of expressing the possibilities of an evolving socio-economic situation and welcoming the many different current forms of artistic creativity. The first impression passers-by walking along the quayside have of Faustino's vessel is of its wide black, smooth, austere façade, like the hull of a submarine. But this wall screen, constructed of black steel and glass, can in fact easily be breached by anyone who wishes to cross it. A hand rail giving access will lead visitors on to the platform behind. It is in the open, and is arranged as a bar area; in summer parasols can be seen there as a playful reference reminding people of the film Parapluies de Cherbourg. Two areas in see-through glass, ice cubes with perfect geometric volumes, are destined to become an enclosed reception unit (surface area 300 sq. m., accommodating 100 people) and a project room respectively. While the construction can be perceived as an uncrossable barrier, it can nonetheless be discovered through a multiplicity of different viewing angles: everything is open to view. This building is not unreminiscent of a type of Russian expressionist architecture combining functionalism and perceptual emotion. Through a process of displacement giving rise to a fertile ambiguity — characteristic of Faustino's work —, the Plateforme des Arts, a multi-purpose floating platform, displays the thinking up of the new forms of work it is henceforth appropriate to create through the emblematic figure of the submarine. The workforce at the Arsenal will be associated with the building of the vessel. The organization of shows and exhibitions, the screening of films inside or outside and discussion forums will be included in the programme.
The mediator suggested bringing in Didier Faustino. After training as a welder, and considering becoming a comic strip artist, he went to the Paris-Villemin school of architecture from which he graduated in 1995. Since then he has worked on a large number of projects and implemented schemes, with a hybrid conception of architecture including art, design and installation. For him, it is not a matter of stopping with the material implementation: architecture's mission today is to produce meaning in order to become aware through creativity of the dangers of the loss of a sense of reality brought about by the glut of information. In 2000 he took part in the Architecture Biennale in Venice. In 2002 his Arteplage mobile du Jura project won him a prize at Expo 02 in Switzerland. This was a huge floating barge 40 metres long, that could be used and transformed at will in many different ways (as a theatre, a discussion forum, an exhibition hall...). In 2001 he set up the Bureau des mésarchitectures with Pascal Mazoyer.