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In 2012 the town of Ville-du-Bois, located some twentythree kilometers southwest of Paris in the Essonne département, initiated an operation for building a school complex (elementary and nursery schools) with 8 classrooms, a gymnasium + dojo and living accommodations for the caretaker.
After the construction of new housing and the resulting increase in its population, Ville-du-Bois decided to build another school and a sports facility in the new Bartelottes district to the town’s northwest.
The construction projects of a school complex along with a gymnasium and staff living quarters stand on the same plot of land.
These three entities rise in a single field located between the residential neighborhood of Ville-du-Bois and the Forêt de la Turaude, a protected woodland. The school complex with its gymnasium is an achievement and a major player in helping to reclassify this new district of Bartelottes. The new school complex welcomes children from the neighboring houses and rounds out its educational brief with a gymnasium and a dojo.
Nomade Architects entire thinking about this project led to going beyond the usual educational programs in order to refresh the school’s institutional nature by grounding it in its natural environment. The school opened its doors to pupils in September of 2015.
The school absorbs the additional population resulting from the surrounding new housing as well as the growing school population of Ville-du-Bois.
With their contemporary architecture, the school and the gymnasium sit perfectly naturally in the surrounding countryside and act as a strong definer of the public space, asserting Ville-du-Bois ambition for its urban renewal with this bold architectural statement.
Each in its own way, the three buildings favor integration into the overall landscape both through their materials and their installation. The school and gymnasium wed the land’s natural gradient, thus placing Nature at the heart of the project. The school stands at the southern side of the site, upstream from the gym. This arrangement at the back of the plot lends the school a certain privacy.
The gym is on the more northerly part of the plot, taller than the school and more monumental. It therefore sends a strong signal from the road. It acts as a kind of bracket from the street for the entrance to the parking lot. The caretaker’s living quarters are located near the entrance, enabling an overview of the whole site.
The school is composed of a ground-floor building on several levels. Because of this, the impact of the building’s volumes is slight because it is inserted naturally into the sloping ground.
This decision derived from re-interpreting the height variations of the ground. It is an undulating, gentle sweep upwards and is reproduced in the roof so as to endow the building with its character of dynamic playfulness. The school winds around two patios, which provide natural light and depth to the very heart of the building.
The patios also offer the two educational themes of water and a kitchen garden. The sport facility is a large volume the height of which is accentuated by the vertical lines of its windows. A lower strip containing the changing rooms and the bathrooms brings it down to the human scale and leads to the entrance.
The dojo is located on the southern side of the gym, embedded in the slope and opening onto the landscape. So the two entities create a dialogue with the natural elements both in an architectural and technical way. They demonstrate a strong concern for the environment and a desire to minimize their impact on the land.
The educational and associative nature of the briefs contributes to making these facilities an instrument for raising the children’s awareness of matters environmental. The materials used are the result of a choice to put the accent on an image that lasts over time and integrates fully into the landscape. Built of wood – structurally for the school and in the finishings for both the school and gym – the project demonstrates a genuine commitment to an adapted response through the use of noble and sustainable materials.
A combination of more urban materials for the gym (reflecting stainless steel for the most prominent part of the gym) helps it act as a transition between the natural environment and the town (and its buildings), as well as mirroring the surrounding countryside. The frame of the school is mostly of wood in the form of beams and a timbered frame. The concrete floor is raised off the ground. The caretaker’s accommodation is a light, wood-framed structure. The gym’s structure is concrete with the sport hall made of metal-mesh beams.
The outer walls and the architectural language rely on a dialogue between each component, and the project is defined by the harmonious whole. The complex is clad vertically in raw larch with the joinery in lacquered aluminum, using the same hue for all three buildings. The elementary- and nursery-school entrances break up the uniformity of the façade by using composite green and yellow panels in order to clearly identify them.
The «lower» walls of the sports center are clad in a similar fashion to the school. It’s a unity that guarantees a visual and formal link between the two buildings. Over 7 meters high, the big sports hall emerges from its wooden cradle by using a highly contrasting material, i.e. shiny stainless steel. Its reflecting qualities seem to make it melt into the landscape.
Polycarbonate glass in the northern wall provides light that is adapted to practicing indoor sports. Part of the southeastern wall is composed of a «Solarwall», the black tone of which optimizes energy production at the same time as creating a balance with the two other materials used in the façade.
The Nomade Architects Agency worked on the school complex’s interior atmosphere by designing a large central patio and a smaller landscaped one.
Like gaps in the overall volume, the patios adapt to the building’s life at different times of the day:
– the moment for receiving students with the reception connected to the hallways
– activities time with hallways that revolve around the patio
– lunchtime in the cafeteria with transparency between the two rooms
The administrative offices are located in the building’s northwest corner and act as a hinge between the nursery and elementary schools. The administrative section also houses the teachers’ rooms and the technical areas. The administrative offices make it possible to monitor the entrances of the hallways on both sides.
The extracurricular room used in the evening is located very close to the elementary school’s foyer and in direct contact with the infirmary. This arrangement allows it to function independently from the rest of the school and in direct connection with the elementary school’s playground.
The computer and plastic-arts rooms are treated as common space accessible from the two sections, and each opens onto the patio. The polyvalent room has covered playgrounds as extensions so as to provide teachers with the possibility of increasing outdoor-related activities.
The gymnasium is composed of two distinct entities, i.e. the omnisport hall and the dojo, both of which are independent of each other but use the same entrance. The sports played in the omnisport hall are handball, basketball, badminton and volleyball. There are also storage lockers and changing rooms to meet the needs of the town’s sports clubs.
The gym’s acoustics are arranged by implementing perforated metallic cassettes on a wool-lined metallic framework that acts as a «sound trap», including for the roof. The dojo is a certified martial-arts hall, the acoustics of which are modifiable by hanging panels of rock wool.
Optimizing comfort with patios
The Nomade architects wanted to optimize the conditions for the children’s comfort by providing a green heart at the middle of the structure with an architectural language that is both playful and educational and a kitchen garden patio for educational purposes. The central patio formed by three ponds with plants and shrubs circulates the water recovered from the rainwater-purification system, thus creating reflections and movements that are pleasant and soothing for the children.
The patio radiates natural light right to the heart of the school and echoes the surrounding natural environment. These two small inner green “lungs” are used by teachers as a pedagogical tool and raise children’s awareness of important ecological issues.
Location: La Ville du Bois, Paris, France
Type: Public – Educational
Areas: School and staff living quarters: 1890 m² – Gymnasium and dojo: 1560 m²
Architects: NOMADE architects
Photographs: Patrick H. Müller