Tag Archives: france

Jean-Claude Carrière Theatre

Jean-Claude Carrière Theatre in Montpellier, France, by A+ Architecture, 2013

All photographs by Marie Caroline Lucat, courtesy of A+ Architects

Given the 21st-century goal of reducing carbon emissions in everything from manufacturing and transportation to food production and building, architects and engineers are looking to timber structures as a means of reducing the demand for carbon-intensive concrete and energy-intensive steel. Most of the attention is being given to research aimed at high-rise timber structures, some up to 42 stories tall. But this theater at Domaine d'O in Montpellier, France, designed by A+ Architecture, illustrates the potential in smaller structures in wood.

Wood is immediately visible on the exterior of Jean-Claude Carrière Theatre as a diamond-shaped lattice that is variable across the solid facades of the theater. But the use of wood goes well beyond this applied pattern—the exterior walls (tilt-up construction), floors, roof framing, interior walls, glass framing, as well as the facade are all made from wood. The architects put the quantity of wood in the building at 1000 cubic meters (35,300 cubic feet). In concert with the decision to use wood for its low-carbon and low-energy environmental benefits, the project was conceived and built in only 12 months.

Other benefits that the architects give to the decision to build almost entirely in wood include easy prefabrication, a clean construction site (dry, instead of wet), and that 90% of the project can be dismantled and reassembled elsewhere. This last part is important, given the fact that the carbon captured in trees stays there only as long as the material is in use; only until it is burned in a fire, for example. This does point to one concern with timber structures, but "advocates for wooden buildings say mass timber does not ignite easily and forms a layer of char that slows burning," according to a New York Times article on high-rises framed in wood.

Yet even with all of these benefits and the widespread use of wood (visible and not) in the Jean-Claude Carrière Theatre, it's the diamond lattice that commands the most attention, partly because it can be found throughout the whole project. This pattern comes into the lobby through the glass framing; the pattern is more regular here but it is particularly striking, owing to the transparency of the wall. In some places the lattice of the facade extends in front of the diamond openings, creating a layering that recalls the Prairie designs of Frank Lloyd Wright. Lastly, the wood lattice can be found inside the theater itself, where it stands out in front of a black background. From outside to inside, from front door to theater, the project stresses the environmental benefits of wood by making rich and enjoyable spaces where wood predominates.

Water Treatment Plant

Water Treatment Plant in Évry, France, by AWP, 2013

Photo © AWP, Anna Positano

Over ten years ago AWP won a competition for the enlargement of Évry's water purification plant, located on the edge of the Seine River and near the Francilienne expressway. AWP's focus consists of, per partner Matthias Armengaud, "an urban canvas (opening on the Seine), landscape (educational filtration park with six themed gardens), and architectural densification and organization." Part of the latter involves the construction and renovation of four buildings that are featured here, each one tied to the other three through a language of wood screens, or as AWP puts it, "urban scale filters."

Photo © AWP, Anna Positano

Per the architects, "The urban dimension of the equipment has guided us towards a strategy of opening-up and hospitality. Regularly open to visitors, this equipment will become a landmark and a thematic park on the theme of water filtering." This tactic of opening up what was previous hidden usually occurs after the useful life of a piece of infrastructure; think of Park Duisburg Nord and other post-industrial sites that retain some of their form and history even as they are transformed into places of leisure and recreation. But to create a display and experience from the workings of a filtration plant strategically elevates the issue of water (the resource that many think will define 21st-century wars) at a time when its use must be cosidered.

Photo © AWP, Anna Positano

The layering of wood screens over concrete structures accomplishes a few things: it softens the architecture of the plant, it signals the pieces of the plant that are open to the public, and it creates an architectural dialogue across the plant that enriches the place. Each of the four buildings could have strove to create its own identity at the plant ("I clean effluent!", or whatever the case may be), but the shared architectural expression prioritizes the relationships between buildings over any individual attributes.

Photo © AWP, Anna Positano

Évry and AWP are not alone in opening up their doors to the public and using architectural design as a means to improve the infrastructure's presence within the cityscape. Closer to my home is the Newton Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, a 25-year project that Ennead Architects is overseeing. The project revitalizes the plant in the increasingly popular Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, while also creating a visitor center and art/public spaces along the namesake creek that divides Brooklyn from Queens. Water is the link between these projects, and the world will probably see many more projects of the same ilk, as outdated infrastructure needs improving and the use of reuse of water becomes paramount.

Photo © AWP, Anna Positano

Photo © AWP, Anna Positano

Photo © AWP, Anna Positano

Photo © AWP, Anna Positano

Photo © AWP, Anna Positano

Photo © AWP, Anna Positano

Drawing © AWP

Écomusée du pays de Rennes

Écomusée du Pays de Rennes in Rennes, France, by Guinée*Potin, 2010.

One of the projects included in the book reviewed this week, Architecture: From Commission to Construction, is the Écomusée du Pays de Rennes, designed by Nantes-based architects Guinée*Potin from a 2006 international competition. The book's author Jennifer Hudson describes the broader écomusée as "a new idea for the holistic interpretation of cultural customs and traditions, which allows communities to preserve, interpret and manage their heritage for a sustainable development." At Rennes, the focus is on five centuries of agriculture and rural life in Brittany in northwest France.

For a decade or so the museum had experienced steadily increasing attendance, but after the donation of some ancient vernacular furniture in 2000 it became clear that the growth also had to happen physically. Guinée*Potin's competition-winning design reuses a 1990s gable building for offices and other service functions. In front of it they extended the gable form and placed inside it a store for the museum. Besides this volume is the entrance, which is placed under an organic wood form lifted on tree trunks; inside are more offices. The last and largest piece is the double-height exhibition space to the west of the entry.

Uniting most of the exterior are chestnut shingles whose articulation was inspired by, in Hudson's words, "the exteriors of local vernacular architecture and the tiles and discs of Paco Rabanne's iconic haute-couture 1960s dresses." This fashionable exterior is prominent across the parking lot on the south side of the building, and is accompanied by some pebble-like openings in the concrete base. On the north side, the exhibition space's serrated wall includes rectangular windows that face the cherry orchard. Wood is prevalent throughout the interior, and the form above the entry, covered in wood like the hull of a ship, is particularly important for orienting one inside the building.

Documentation of the project in Hudson's book focuses on the articulation of the forms through computer modeling after the basic plan was determined; the competition-winning drawings; full-scale mock-ups and drawings of the chestnut cladding; and details of construction like the sedum roof over the exhibition space. Not surprisingly, a lot of emphasis was given the building's wrapping and the intersection of forms that combine with the chestnut to give the museum its expression. I agree with Hudson that "Guinée*Potin's organic modern building is a welcome relief from the normal language of farm museums, which all too often falls into rural parody."

“Le Grand Stade”

"Le Grand Stade" in Fontainebleau, France by Joly&Loiret, 2012.

In less than a week the starting ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympics will be underway in London. For two weeks the world's attention will be focused on events taking place in new facilities by Zaha Hadid, Populous, and others. Plenty of attention has already been directed to the architecture of the 2012 Olympics, so I'm heading (figuratively) to France to look at another recently completed sports facility: Joly&Loiret's design of seating, facilities, and landscape for Le Grande Parquet equestrian stadium in the forests of Fontainebleau.

The architects assert that they wanted to "invent a real architecture-landscape, where boundaries between definitions blur and merge." The primary means of doing this was through a pedestrian circuit around the whole site. This public walkway has various characteristics around the site, intertwining both with horses and forest, before it arrives at the new building with tiered seating atop it. The architects actually call the top of the building a "boardwalk," as if it is literally an extension of the walkway surface.

The fusion of building with tiered seating, tiered seating with terrace, terrace with embankment, embankment with path, path with forest edge, forest edge with forest, positions the building firmly in its natural setting. -Joly&Loiret

The focus here is the building, which can be seen to be three-sided: the steps, seating, and canopy atop the building; the canted walls on the opposite side; and the inside of the building. While the realm atop the building is key to the larger idea, it's a pretty straightforward design, made up of standard lumber for the steps and seating surfaces. After ascending from the end in the top photo, people will find themselves under a generous canopy providing lots of shade. Further along,  as the seats curl around the site, the wood surfaces merge with the grass above and below, linking architecture and landscape.

The other two realms of the building -- wall and interior -- make themselves apparent from above, respectively through the guardrail at the rear edge of the seating and the metal guardrails that line the entrance portals that cut perpendicular to the seating. The leaning walls on the opposite side of the building act as trellises for climbing plants, meaning the building will eventually merge with the landscape even more. Inside, the required spaces are sparse like the tiers above, but in a material palette that is lighter, maximizing the effects of natural light. Overall, wood, metal, and landscape work together in the project to create a design sensitive to its surroundings and purpose.

Family Crèche

Family Crèche in Drulingen, France by Fluor Architects, 2010.

Drulingen is a small town in the Alsace region of northeastern France. One of the main routes into town from the nearby motorway is Rue de Phalsbourg, on which this "Family Crèche" (child care center, day care center, kitchen) designed by Strasbourg's Fluor Architects sits. Its site determines much of the building's design, not only since it is at an entrance to the town, but also because it sits adjacent to an old police station. The design melds these three realms: road, edge (of town), and existing building.

The most evident means of relating to the site is found in the wood lattice that covers the long elevation facing the road. Fluor Architects -- the duo of Hervé Schneider and Guillaume Avenard -- treat the lattice with a regular, rectangular grid of timber sticks at 45-degrees to horizontal. Variation is found in the infill -- smaller members at different angles and spacings -- as well as the occasional openings and the way the roofline seems to blindly cut the lattice. The character of the openings is most pronounced at the entrance, where the cut curves up on the sides to the double-door header.

The facility is seen as a cocoon sheltering the most fragile, ... where the child starts his life in society. -Fluor Architects

The relationship to both the edge condition and the existing building on the site is found in the massing of the building, a two-story structure that steps down from the police station to the tip of the triangular plot. Combined with the lattice elevation, this gives the impression that the building erodes or disintegrates towards the south and east. Yet as the photo at left attests, this stepping also creates a series of terraces and brings daylight into second-floor spaces deep within the triangular plan. The stepping responds as much to the sunlight as the shape of the site and other factors.

While the wood lattice veils any indication of what is happening inside -- strengthening the architect's assertion that the building protects its occupants -- the rooftop photo at right gives a better indication of the character of the interiors. Splashes of color are found in both the skylights and the variously sized window openings. A look inside reveals portals lined with colors, enlivening otherwise white spaces for the children. Corridors add even more color, to the point of supersaturation. The result is a building that creatively responds to its site while creating a light-filled interior playfully in tune with the children using them.

Alésia Museum Interpretive Center

Alésia Museum Interpretive Center in Alise-Sainte-Reine, France by Bernard Tschumi Architects, 2012.

Located about 90 minutes southeast of Paris by train is the site of a 53-BC battle between Julius Caesar and the Gauls, the Battle of Alésia. Although it was a a defeat at the hand of the Romans, the battle is a great source of French pride and is an important marker in the country's early history. The MuséoParc Alésia commemorates the battle and marks the site where tens of thousands on both sides fought near modern day Alise-Sainte-Reine in central France.

The MuséoParc Alésia is made up of two buildings: a Museum and an Interpretive Center. Even though only the latter is now built and their sites are about one kilometer apart from each other, they have been designed by Bernard Tschumi Architects as an assemblage. Formally this is rooted in the cylindrical form that each building takes, even though the Museum is covered in stone and is partially buried, and the Interpretive Center is wrapped in wood and perched proudly above the landscape. The circular plans enable panoramic 360-degree views of the landscape, easily the most important aspect of visiting the site, as it enables visitors to understand the battle in its space.

Anyone who regularly takes the Metro, who learns the Paris Underground and its station names echoing the streets or monuments on the surface, experiences a sort of mechanized daily immersion in history that conditions Parisians to think of Alésia, Bastille and Solferino as spatial landmarks rather than historical references. -Marc Augé, from Non-Places, translated by John Howe

The site of the Interpretive Center is below and to the west of Alise-Sainte-Reine, meaning its rooftop landscape blends the wood-lattice building into the surroundings when seen from the town. Entry to the building is oriented to the roadway on the north, but a secondary access on axis leads to reconstructed fortifications and battlements that are also visible from the building. The plan follows logically from the building's form, ringing the program components about a central void with curving stairs.

Comparing the interior and the exterior of the Interpretive Center results in a sort of split personality. Alternating angled wood slats with various spacings and dimensions gives the exterior a fine scale and an appearance that recalls a temporary construction (this contrasts with the future Museum's heavy stone gabions). On the other hand the interior, particularly the central void, is a gray, almost monolithic space pierced by angled, circular columns. Solid walls separate this space from the program spaces and any glance of the exterior lattice, as if inside and outside are two sides of a coin, impossible to be experienced at the same time. One must enter the program spaces or ascend to the roof and its artificial landscape to confront the wood facade again, which now acts as a filter between the visitor and the landscape beyond.

M3A2 – Cultural and Community Tower

M3A2 - Cultural and Community Tower in Paris, France by Antonini + Darmon Architectes, 2011.

Paris Diderot Unversity, which bills itself as "the multidisplinary university in the heart of Paris," is located on the Left Bank of the Seine, just south of the National Library of France, the building designed by Dominique Perrault that opened in 1995. The university is expanding its facilities in this "new fast-developing part of Paris," which it has called home since relocating there in 2007. One of the six original campus buildings is the massive Halle aux Farines (Flour Market), which dates back to the 1950s but was overhauled by Agence Nicolas Michelin & Associés. A small corner lot abuts the market, what is now occupied by the M3A2 - Cultural and Community Tower.

Designed by Paris-based Antonini + Darmon Architectes, the sliver building takes on a strong presence through its height and the articulation of the exposed facades. The main elevation (facing left in the photos here) faces north, so then the narrow elevation on the street faces west. A generous park -- Esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet -- parallels the Flour Market to the north. This open space, combined with the Jardins Grands Moulins Abbé Pierre to the west, ensure that M3A2 is highly visible. At night the building acts as a beacon for the university.

[M3A2] acts as a light, gravitational counterpoint [to the Flour Market]. An architectural dialectic and emulation come into play much like a castle and its keep, both intrinsically inseparable. -Antonini + Darmon

The building, which totals 550 square meters (almost 6,000 square feet), stacks seven enclosed floors above an open ground floor. Eight round concrete columns mark the latter, as does an open stair that lands at the northern end of the building. The north facade of the Flour Market is visible through the base of the building. Above, each floor plate is approximately 6.5 meters by nearly 18 meters. A glass wall enclosure with operable windows occurs at this point, but a perforated corrugated skin projects approximately a half a meter in front of each elevation. This skin is what gives the building its character and presence.

The architects wrap the raised box with dark and light rectangles; as the building rises it shifts, at least on the north and west, from mainly dark to mainly light. The appearance of each section of the facade varies according to one's angle and the time of day. At dusk and later the light and dark blocks of the facade act as a foil to the bands of light that wrap the building; they create variety where it otherwise would not exist. Atop the building is an open floor, which makes the structure for the outer skin readily apparent. It gives the impression that this perforated skin is slid over another object; and to a certain extent that is what is happening.

50 Avenue Montaigne

50 Avenue Montaigne in Paris, France by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, 1993.

Although the idea of a rooftop garden is not new, it is becoming a solution for both architects and city planners in addressing sustainability concerns. Their popularity is not just new buildings, but old buildings as well, the greening of the City Hall roof in Chicago a good example of the latter. In these "green" instances, practical issues (weight, irrigation, drainage, etc.) tend to take precedence over design. When accessible and highly visible, though, a rooftop's design should ideally synthesize the architecture with the raised landscape - and vice-versa - to create a satisfying environment that becomes an oasis in the city.

The garden rooftop at 50 Avenue Montaigne in Paris, France by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) addresses both the practical and aesthetic concerns of constructing a garden on a roof. Regarding the former, many site adaptions were required, including new soil mixtures that would not put a burden on the structural system, subsurface drainage and a complex irrigation system for the rows of trees and plantings. The latter, aesthetic concerns, focused on the visibility of the garden from offices above and pedestrian movement through the garden.

The garden design uses rows of alternating hornbeam and espaliered trees to create an informal setting that belies the formal underpinning of the geometrical plan. Soft plantings are offset by the hard, architectural materials of stone and metal, the latter primarily used in the animal-like benches designed by Boston artist Judy McKee.

Although a simple and modest garden design, the rooftop at 50 Avenue Montaigne provides lessons for architects dealing with issues that are becoming mandated by local governments, mainly the manipulation of roofs for environmental health. By achieving a balance between practical and aesthetic concerns, the finished design places direct human experience (visual and movement) on par with those greater environmental concerns.

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Exhibition Hall

Exhibition Hall in Paris, France by Architecture Studio, 1998.

Often with an exhibition hall commission the architect's job is limited to creating simple, column-free spaces, that allow for large exhibits within neutral surroundings, and clad the exterior in an interesting manner. Architecture Studio's design of an Exhibition Hall in North-Paris, France is not an exception, but its treatment of interior and exterior surfaces sets it apart from its counterparts.

The architects developed their design from the exhibition hall's intention to feature innovative products under the conditions more "tempting" than the typical exhibition hall. With a focus on innovation the use of new materials and new technologies informs the expression of the facade. The undulating, copper-clad facade appears softer than the actual material, resembling a curtain or, along the lines of the architects' intentions, a vertical landscape. Whatever the connotation the image of the facade is strong and memorable, ideal for the client who wants to tempt people inside.

The bi-directional undulations of the facade appeal to the senses but also indicate the various entries and loading access on the main elevation, as the metal "curtain" rises at these locations. Therefore the facade acts like signage, or a map, in addition to its practical (thermal) and aesthetic roles.

Inside the column-free space uses lighting to focus attention on the floor and the exhibits on display, as well as relating to the exterior with the undulating line between light and dark on the wall. Color is used, with the bright red doors, to signal access back outside. Overall the building uses a limited palette of material, light and color to separate itself from other exhibition halls and provide an environment tempting to the industry and the public alike.

Ilôt de Candie

Ilôt de Candie

Ilôt de Candie in Paris, France by Massimiliano Fuksas, 1995.

Director of this year's architecture section of the Venice Biennale, Massimiliano Fuksas posed this theme to international architects: "Citta: Less aesthetics, more ethics”. Unfortunately most entries did not directly address his demand, due to the decreased role in architecture affecting social change ever since Modernism "collapsed". The recent strain of simple designs, popular all over the world, echoes this -ism without concerning itself with the social concerns that Modernism embraced. Architects are fine with this situation, comfortable with society's dismissal of architecture as no more than mere fashion. This generalization is at the root of Fuksas's direction behind the Biennale, giving architects a chance to embrace technology (much as Modernist architects did) towards social causes.

More interesting than analyzing the works of the Biennale is looking at one of Fuksas's designs, to see if his words extend into built form. The Ilôt de Candie, a block+ development in Paris (opposite the Sainte-Marguerite church), is a good project to examine, due to its size and integration with an existing city fabric. The program contains a gymnasium and support spaces, apartments, and offices. The first gives the project its expression: a zinc-clad roof that waves up and down over the gymnasium and then up again to create part of the volume for the apartments.

Looking at the Ilôt de Candie in terms of Fuksas's directive, three important parts of the design stand out: supplying the neighborhood with usable amenities (gymnasium facilities), responding to the context with a similar scale, and creating unique buildings that give vitality and energy to the area. The first part is the most important: part of a development giving back to the community, instead of merely finding a way to maximize profits (apartments and offices solely, for example). Ideally, the two other parts should be balanced to find an appropriate expression of the program (part one), something Fuksas achieved with a simple articulation of the roof line.

Evidently Fuksas does attempt to deal with ethics in his commissions and designs, though naturally it is not an easy position. Typically the commissions architects will receive will be persons and groups that can afford architects: retail, commercial and residential developers. But the cynicism that exists regarding architecture's role in society needs to be reexamined. While Modernism tried to improve society through building and technology, ultimately failing, it should not be assumed that it is not architecture's place to improve lives. The lessons learned should be instructive, not dismissive, so that architecture may someday evolve into a practice that benefits everyone, not just the client and the architect.

[Google Earth link]