Architecture that claims to disappear but is vividly present and considered

The building form is squeezed inward at points to avoid existing trees. Photo Takuji Shimmura

LES HERBIERS – In the French region of Vendée are eight municipalities which share resources and competencies in the fields of economic development, town planning, environment and standards of living. Atelier du Pont, a Parisian-based architectural practice, was commissioned to design contemporary offices for the purpose of hosting the collaborative efforts of the region. The resultant edifice is a contemporary design which vividly states its position, visually and formally, within the building’s surrounds, without being overbearing.

The building is situated on a slither of green space that follows La Grande Maine river through the township, which lends to a building that has a playful form. The architect approaches the physical context by considering the relationship the form has to the existing nineteenth-century town hall, the presence on the street and the building’s connection to park and vegetation.

In plan, the building looks like a blob of paint that has been thrown to the ground creating a splatter of office space, though the architect’s design is much more nuanced in organisation. Taking the rectangular plan-form of a typical office typology, the architect: folds the form in on itself, to increase and cluster office space for efficient co-working; bends the building around existing trees, maintaining the park’s natural character; and then tweaks the surfaces and corners of the building mass to refine the architectural personality of the structure. The outcome of the diagram is a broken down building that meets the spatial requirements of the brief and avoids dominating the existing building, the park and the street when viewed from all angles. The curves that accommodate the trees guide the circulation spaces, suggesting movement in connecting the offices to the existing town hall.

The new building maintains a consistent height, similar to the town hall it is positioned against. Not visually effecting the existing structure from the outside, the offices are detailed off the town hall­ – separating both buildings as autonomous wholes. The architect decided to contrast the new with the old, using the lightness of glass and metal to juxtapose heavy masonry. Architecture that employs reflective materials often draws attention to itself rather than acting as a chameleon taking the form of its own environment; the well-established park setting with close consideration of the new building’s proximity to the street and the existing building makes for a design that actually does sit well within its context – though not because of the reflections giving a supposed sense of disappearance.

Photos courtesy of Atelier du Pont/Takuji Shimmura

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