CALAIS – Located in the heart of a bustling port city in northern France, Arc.Ame’s  L’École d’art du Calaisis aims to become a catalyst for urban revival in the area. The site combines two distinct functions – a public art school and a residential complex – to benefit the local community. 

The art school's striking façade is an intriguing addition to the main street as its curvaceous form contrasts with the various traditional architectural styles of the neighbouring buildings. A dialogue is established between the building's raw concrete structure and the precious metal elements that adorn it. Magnificent woven sails spread over the front façade, with three laced curtains of copper sifting natural light and offering privacy to the upper classrooms. Arc.Ame explains: ‘The subtle play of transparency and light varies according to the time of day and uses of the school. The life of the building reflects and is part of the city centre.’ In the evening, the interior illuminates to expose the functions of the classrooms through the copper shield, giving passers-by a glimpse into the goings-on inside the facility. Containing sixteen classrooms for artistic methods such as photography, graphics, drawing, engraving, textiles, painting and sculpture, the school also houses exhibition spaces and an exterior courtyard.

A vast gallery that is open to the public showcases the school’s latest masterpieces. Enthused by museum design, the architects assigned a white minimalist scheme to provide a blank canvas for the presentation of student work, while quirky building features – such as the amplified, undulating roof – bring a distinctive textural surface quality. Full-height windows allow for views out onto an enclosed courtyard, designed for outdoor exhibits and performances, as well as an open-air workspace for students. 

Concealed down a quiet side street and accessed via a secondary entrance, the residential complex offers a total of twenty-five new homes. The modular design presents families with a fresh accommodation opportunity at the heart of the city. A succinct palette of materials ties the site together, whilst variations in implementation allow the school and the residential complex to have their own distinct aesthetic. 

Photos courtesy of Michel Denancé

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