Conflicting structures by Block Architectes find common ground

ETOILE by Block Architectes. Photos Phillippe Pirron

EVRY – French studio Block Architectes has designed an exciting new multipurpose facility at the joint campus of Télécom SudParis and Télécom School of Management. ETOILE (Espaces et Technologies Ouverts pour l’Innovation des Laboratoires et des Entreprises) operates as a centre for research, innovation and technology, and the new complex combines a series of functional spaces spread across two contrasting volumes.

Like an old fairy tale of evil stepsisters, it would be perfectly reasonable to wonder whether or not the two buildings are, in fact, related to one another. The architect has made a point of designing two contradicting structures which perform in slightly different ways. The first – known as the ‘mineral base’ – forms an organic foundation embodying the character of the campus, which is undergoing landscaping alterations. The basement comprises spaces for public use, such as the reception area, conference centre and a 300-seat auditorium which hosts events and lectures. On the other hand, the ‘signal building’ – with a more regular and blocky form – creates the landmark entrance to the research centre; a studio for students of the university.

The differences are not just programmatic. While the mineral base is shaped in response to the movement of the site’s built landscape, the signal building is orientated specifically to make use of the natural conditions. ‘The south elevation is equipped with sunscreens to allow a passive recovery of solar gain in winter and to protect from overheating in summer,’ says project architect Denis Brillet. ‘The northern elevation benefits from a substantial solar gain, increasing the visual comfort without overheating the offices.’ Additionally, the shorter elevations to the east and west feature a series of aluminium fins, which make the most of the prevailing winds and encourage natural ventilation to flow through the internal circulation spaces.

At first glance, it appears that the signal building has crushed the front of the mineral base with its overbearing composition. On the other hand, perhaps the space-framed basement structure is pushing out and lifting its opponent to allow light and air to circulate. Individual perception might either see the two conflicting structures as fighting against each other or one helping the other to grow. Both buildings feature an extended metal mesh cladding – white steel for the signal building, raw aluminium for the mineral base – layered over a space-framed structure. In this way, there is a single element of continuity flowing through the scheme that joins the two volumes and gives this tale its ‘happy ever after’.

Photos Phillippe Pirron

Billboard: German Design Council
Billboard: German Design Council

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