April 13, 2010

Jo Pillet, Utopix

all pictures courtesy of Jo Pillet

The French language has some nice expressions to denote people who create art environments. One of these is bâtisseurs de l'imaginaire (builders of the imaginary). The expression was introduced by Clovis and Claude Prévost when in 1990 they published a book with that title.

Life and works

Jo Pillet (1947) without any doubt is such a bâtisseur. By profession he is a visual artist who makes surrealistic paintings, but as far as I know in terms of architecture and the construction of real estate he had no professional education.

Nevertheless...... he became a bâtisseur and a very special one.

It all began when in the 1970s he met Dominique Nurdin. They fell in love, became a couple and began dreaming about a life that would be different, like so many young people in their twenties do.

And then these two young people took a step to realize their dream. In 1975 they bought a plot of land of 11 ha on the Causse de Sauveterre, near Champerboux, in the Lozère department.


If you are not from France maybe you do not know about causses. These are sparsely populated plateaus of limestone in the Massif Central area of France.

Because of the limestone soil the water does not hold, so the landscape may be very stony and desert like, the terrain will be mainly fit for herding sheep and houses will typically be built using limestones.

However, it is a wonderful area to be around and live with the seasons.

Constructing a house

In 1978 a permit to construct was obtained and in 1979 Pillet started building. Most of the time he worked alone, although occasionally some friends would help him. He used stones that abundantly were around and structured them in the form of igloo's, which eventually, after many years of constructing, resulted in a creation as shown in the first picture.

The other pictures show how the stones were arranged to make walls, doorways, windows, and so on. The final structure is perfectly blended with the surrounding countryside.

Building the house has been a project of many, many years, accompanied by a lot of hardships.

Around 1992, after more than two decades of constructing, the building had taken shape and some local newspapers wrote about it. This resulted in a lot of curious visitors who walked around and peeped into the not yet properly gated and locked property.

The Pillet family decided to provisionally gate the house and turn the location into a visitor-friendly place, especially for families with kids, Pillet constructed some gadgets such as  an automobile, a dinosaur, a coaster, a mini golf link, and he secluded a separate space to expose his artworks.

The site, which at first was named after the igloo-like constructions, now definitely was named Utopix.

It would take many more years to complete the house. For example, only in 1997 the walls on the inside were isolated to make living in wintertime comfortable and only in 2000 electricity was supplied (by solar panels).

Currently a completed project, Utopix has become part and parcel of the region's heritage. This habitation/sculpture (dwelling/sculpture) surely ranks as an art environment and it deserves it's place in the series of French bâtiments imaginaires.

* The Utopix website, with a version in English and many pictures (such as the building process,  details of the various elements of the construction, paintings and sculptures)
* Utopix on Facebook
* The Hérault Insolite weblog with a serie of pictures (September 2013) 
* Article (May 2020) by Gloria Marchini on website Outsider Art Now, with a variety of pictures
* Article about the site by Sonia Terhzaz on her website Cartographie des Rocamberlus (environnements d'art singulier) with an account of the visit she made in August 2020

* Video (2018, YouTube, 4'51") by Teledraille (Cevennes)

first published April 2010, last revised December 2022

Jo Pillet
Causse de Sauveterre
La Sirvente
48210 Sainte-Enimie, dept Lozère, region Occitanie, France
off the road between Mende and St Enimie
open for public visits, April-October, 10-20 h
see website for info about route, entrance fees, etc


  1. What a wonderful place is it dear Henk, both in terms of aesthetics and sustainability. As a matter of fact, if things and objects have the trait of showing its creator´s mood and will, this house could be a good example by all means, the honest wish of "building" a proper life following one´s dreams and believes. Utopix fits pretty well for such a place, and an Utopia could be no built but by our own hands, no architect on the world would be ever able to catch a huge concept, to leave our hands build what our mind think, without outer interferences or influences, that is the real challenge, and as an old quotation says: "what is the Utopia useful for, if it doesn´t exist??. . .well, for keep on walking. . !!
    Best regards.

  2. Hi Henk... !
    Am so late getting here... all hell broke loose at work as of the 15th of April when the airports shut...

    This place looks fabulous, and though I have visited that area, the Gorges du Tarn, and loved it, I didn't hear about this place. Will just have to go back there. I've done some posts about les Causses which you may have seen...


    It is a truly lovely region of France. The stone car is great too...

  3. @owen
    Hi Owen, I can imagine very well the unbelievable problems you had to face when air traffic was suspended because of the Iceland vulcan. Hope that things are more "normal" now.
    Wrting this post about the causses I had your posts in mind. Just sorry that I could not introduce an abandonned house, but wow, this one must be appreciated by you, or so I thought.
    Take care and all the best, Henk

  4. I did indeed like this one very much. And I passed it on to another french person living in India who also loves the Causses... he does excellent photos btw, the link to his page is in my list of blogs, Random Shots...