CLAMART – Dominique Coulon & Associés has a self-confessed signature style of oblique, bold volumes that distort depending on the viewing angle. The newly completed gymnasium Les Closiaux, just outside Paris, is the epitome of the studio’s work in France. The raw concrete building includes units for staff accommodation and a pupil information and guidance centre – but it is the large sports hall, with two elevations exposed to the southwest, that is the project’s prominent feature. The angle of the sports hall’s placement in relation to the neighbouring road opens up a generous space and brings maximum light into the interior.
‘The hall benefits from natural lighting on all four sides,’ explains lead architect Dominique Coulon. A double translucent façade of Pilkington UGlass and Okapane – a light-diffusing insulated glass – creates the ‘glowing crown’ around the top half of the hall and delivers the desired opalescent effect of a uniformly soft light. ‘The ceiling appears to be in a state of levitation and the lower part of the hall comprises spaced vertical slats – one side grey, the other in black – which hide the technical services and feature an acoustic treatment.’
When the firm took on the project, an ancient gymnasium still existed on the site – built as part of the 1950s reconstruction of the southwestern Paris district after World War II – but the structure portrayed no particular architectural interest and was fully demolished without influence on the design of the new building. Instead, a diagramming process was the main driving force in relation to the shape and positioning of each of the built volumes.
‘The dynamic shape loosens the usual relationship between street and site,’ Coulon continues, ‘and the architecture ceases to be a border between public and private spaces.’ The project was cast entirely on-site without a single pre-fabricated concrete panel – a common choice made by the architect across his work. The floating concrete slab over the main entrance was also an important consideration in tying the scheme together. As well as providing external protection from the elements, this is intended to blur the line between the interior and the outdoors.
In a previous issue of Mark (issue#62), Coulon spoke about his love for building with dynamic interlocking concrete elements: ‘We try to surprise the visitor and generate spaces that can be enjoyed from different angles,’ he revealed. ‘It is important to preserve moments of discovery and not reveal everything at a single glance.’ These are elements that can certainly be seen in the design of the new gymnasium building, which varies in height and direction with a clear angular distinction.
Plan – Ground Floor