STRASBOURG – Designing a school of architecture is a tricky business: not only does the building have to satisfy the usual programmatic requirements, but the architect is also expected to deliver some kind of socio-political commentary – preferably on architecture in its entirety – and somehow instil the values implicit in this commentary into students who are still learning the ropes.
It is therefore refreshing to hear Marc Mimram – a civil engineer, architect and founder of a successful Paris-based office – talk about his newly completed Strasbourg School of Architecture in straightforward terms. ‘I wanted to reconnect architecture with the city,’ he says. Indeed, unlike most schools of architecture in France, which have been relegated to the cities’ peripheries, the new building stands in the centre of Strasbourg, about a block from the city’s main railway station and stone’s throw from the town’s medieval core.
Though such a symbolic location might have been enough for some, Mimram does not stop there. ‘The building levitates on eight slender columns, leaving the ground floor entirely open and transparent,’ he continues. This free space is intended to serve as an exhibition area and as a platform for dialogue, where the students, staff and citizens can meet and interact with each other. The building’s volume itself is orientated and subtly rotated to face prominent city landmarks, with large windows permitting direct views.
Mimram’s second point of contention with contemporary architecture in France is the architects’ disengagement with structure: ‘The new building regulations mean that the structure is fully covered in insulation and students no longer care for it.’ And though the building is wrapped in undulating aluminium curtains, behind it are large glazed areas, leaving the structure visible at all times from the inside. However, the architect’s intentions are fully revealed after sunset when the building’s load-bearing system – a hybrid between an ordinary truss and a Vierendeel – shines through.
Photos Julien Lanoo