PARIS – Dispersed throughout the suburbs of the French capital, a trio of structures has ‘dressed to impress’. The three metallic offices adhere to an underlying theme, with elevations clad in geometric patterns of aluminium and stainless steel. Parisian firm Brenac & Gonzalez et Associés completed the projects earlier this year, treating the experience as an exploration into the identity and perception of the typology. Although there are similarities between the three buildings, each project was considered on individual merit.
‘The main common point for the three projects – other than their programme – is that they were conceived during the same time period and, thus, share a common reflection on what an office-building façade should be like,’ the architect comments. ‘That said, the projects themselves are quite different: the context and the client are unique for each of them and so they have their own stories to tell.’
In the south of Paris, the commune of Gentilly hosts the smallest of the buildings. Three of the elevations wear an opaque skin patterned with anodized aluminium and bright stainless steel which creates a highly-reflective finish. On the south façade, a splash of colour faces the low-rise housing of the neighbouring community; a green cladding to relate to the domesticity of the context. The bright terraces are equipped with large planter boxes that will, in a few years, see the south side of the building adorned with vegetation.
With a more central location, A11 sits on top of the SNCF tunnel with a front-row view of the neighbouring railway track. The eight-storey office block has no determinable front or back but is inspired by constant movement of the traffic around the building. A pattern of aluminium tubes, layered at angles, creates a moiré-style appearance: the shadows and reflections make the surface appear to move according to changes in the light and the weather.
‘We were searching for ways to build a strong identity for this kind of architectural programme,’ says the architect. ‘We worked on variations around the idea of folding, bending, reflections and creating origami-like forms which cast shadows, in order to create a bold image in the urban context.’ This is shown particularly in the renovation of Quai Ouest; a building from the 90s in the western suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt that was no longer fit for purpose.
Although the structure itself was in good condition, the exterior has been given a new, double-ventilated glass skin which better protects the interior from street-traffic noise and solar gain. The project’s close proximity to the river inspired a ‘sparkle’ effect, which is realised by the overlaying of 9-sq-m glass panels, folded diagonally, to create two triangles that reflect the sky and the water respectively.
Although the three buildings appear to have aesthetic similarities, the design of each conceptual cladding is determined by the individuality of the urban context. Despite their size, the office buildings are unobtrusive and inconspicuous amongst their surroundings, which is an important factor given that the final user of each project was unknown at the time of planning.
Brenac & Gonzalez et Associés took this unidentified variable into consideration when designing the pattern for each façade: ‘we could speak of a metaphor where the façade of the building is like a garment; let’s say a ready-to-wear designer dress,’ the architect concludes. ‘The buildings are conceived as large spaces to rent and we don’t know who the final users will be, so we must create a dress that can be worn by many different types of people.’