Design and architecture specialist Allison Arieff once complained about the design of school buildings in the USA:
âThe design of schools, especially the design of public schools, is often confused with the design of other institutional structures like prisons, civic centers and hospitals, with a detrimental effect. My high school, for example, had the distinction dubious to have been designed by the architect in charge of San Quentin. (The convicts got the best building.) Schools serve a practical function, of course, but shouldn’t they be designed to inspire? ”
They do things very differently in France, where almost all public buildings are subject to public competition, and often result in very beautiful buildings, like the Simone de Beauvoir primary school in Drancy, in the Paris suburbs. Conceived by Bond Company, a young company founded by Christelle Gautreau and StÃ©phanie Morio, who say they are “aware of the ecological emergency, we insist on sustainability and the rational use of materials, natural, bio-sourced or from reuse”. They team up with DaudrÃ©-Vignier & Associates, with 25 years of experience. Over the years we have seen many talented young architects make their debuts, with competitions and then teamwork with more experienced firms.
The upper floors are built of wood, which the architects justified as follows:
- Timber construction contributes to the development of the forestry sector and constitutes a relevant alternative to an all-concrete structure.
- Environmental quality and ecological interest: wood is a biologically renewable material, and wood absorbs significant amounts of carbon dioxide in its cells, thus contributing to a reduction in the greenhouse effect. It is also energy efficient during installation.
- Dry prefabrication: speed and precision.
Here is the finished classroom with the beams and columns still exposed, but the ceiling and lighting added between the beams.
âThe interior transparencies escape the feeling of being enclosed, and two double-height patios attract natural light and spatiality in the circulation patterns. Far from being simple passages, these spaces are punctuated by fixed, made-to-measure furniture that integrates storage and benches. the building, the flexibility of the interior layouts and the choice of colors make it easier for children to navigate. In addition, the visible wooden post / beam structure is an important intention of the project and illustrates an environmental example that educates young and old. ”
Everything on the side of the courtyard is open and glassy, ââwith a large sloping cover connecting them. âThe largely glazed ground floor of the school forms aâ center of life â. It is a place of education, social life and interactions, extending the space beyond its simple educational function. ”
âThe concrete construction is limited to the ground floor, the infrastructure, the stairwells and the elevator. The stone plinth is a relevant response to express and protect the building. The play of lights on these materials produces a pleasant maternal softness for the The stone used in the construction was acquired from the quarries of Vassens in the Aisne, less than 100km away [62 miles] of the project.”
Things are so different in France. Imagine a North American school named after someone like Simone De Beauvoir, author of “The Second Sex”, described as “a detailed analysis of the oppression of women and a founding leaflet of contemporary feminism” and which had a very public and scandalous personal life.
Imagine design competitions for every school, where young architects have the opportunity to be recognized and where every building doesn’t go to the design-build team with the cheapest price.
Imagine floor-to-ceiling glass facades instead of bulletproof concrete and secure hallways. Where architects can say that “user-friendliness and environmental requirements prevail in the design, which is meant to be conducive to a study environment” instead of being a windowless fort.
It really is a different world.