Life, death and rebirth are inevitable a quote said - such is the case with the building of the ‘Josephine Baker’ Group of Schools. Dominique Coulon & Associés recently completed a school building in the area of La Courneuve, the school building embodies itself into the complex context of ‘Cité des 4000’ district, on a site ‘scarred’ by the painful memory of the demolition of the ‘Ravel’ and ‘Presov’ longitudinal blocks of flats. However, the new school building is capable of opening up inside itself, creating a different landscape, an unusual place, a utopia.
The Josephine Baker School in La Courneuve is part of the reserved town planning scheme adopted by Bernard Paurd, in an attempt to pull together the different signs and traces that are superposed on the site. The town planning scheme is vivid in Coulon’s architecture as it stays in line with the idea and the intentions of Paurd, but considers this scar as the solid rock for an act of resilience, rather than the stigma of an irreversible situation. The neighborhood is reorganized on the basis of the right-angled intersection of two historic axes, the crossing of X and Y axes highlights the surfacing of various traces – ruins of a Gallo-Roman necropolis stand where the scarred landscape bears witness to the demolition of the ‘Ravel’ and ‘Presov’ blocks of flats, dynamited on June 23, 2004. As if the map had marked the territory with a tattoo.
The school is built on a trapezoid-shaped plot of land; Dominique Coulon assumingly inspired by the history, the program, and his previous work impulsively twists shapes, a matter that recurs constantly in his projects. The building and zoning constraints, enable Coulon to separate the elementary and the nursery school. His proposal sketches out a unitary organization, organized in the three dimensions of the space between two poles linked by a system of ramps. Thus, the nursery school classrooms are positioned to the east, on a floor cantilevered above the entrance, and the elementary school classrooms occupy areas to the west overlooking interstitial gardens. The older children’s playground merges into the area reserved for the younger children, which already contains the shared canteen, while the sports areas have been placed on the roof of the other block, which contains a shared library by both schools.
The school building gives the impression of an enclosed shape with few openings notwithstanding the sliding volumes, the folds and asymmetry. Many notches fracture the facades, a symbolism where an infinite universe opens up inside the strictly defined area to welcome a heterotopia reserved for the children. Acting as an initiatory place where students can be cut off from the adult world, and adopt the necessary distance and momentum to better dive into it in due course.
Meticulous attention was given by the architects to the walkways from one space to another; from the entrance and onwards the building works in a subtle two-fold movement of advance and retreat. The corridors change shape and expand in front of the classroom doors and receive abundant natural light from the zenith, as if the better to define themselves as areas for decompression before taking a deep breath and plunging into the work areas. Moreover, the playground canopy plunges above and beyond the ramp that leads to the rooftop sports areas. The ‘play’ of compression and expansion provide for an organic atmosphere to the bold concrete structure which is further highlighted by the usage of the orange color. It covers the floors and sporadically spills over onto the walls and ceilings, rendering the slightest ray of sunshine incandescent and lighting up the roof area.
photo © Olivier Nicollas
Emphasis has been given by Dominique Coulon & Associés to the relationship between the child’s physique and the space. It isn’t just another school which has been designed as an area for adults in a micro scale serving children. The use of natural products – such as linoleum on the floors, and wood for the door and window frames – and the attention paid even to the smallest details contribute to making the building an almost luxurious place, a place hailed enthusiastically at its inauguration by a population of parents and pupils who are eager to turn the page of the demolitions and look determinedly to the future.
TYPE OF PROJECT
Group of schools (nursery + elementary)
City of LA COURNEUVE
Dominique Coulon & Associés, Architectes
Architects: Dominique COULON, Olivier NICOLLAS
Architect assistants: Sarah Brebbia, Benjamin Rocchi, Arnaud Eloudyi, Florence Haenel
Structural Engineer: Philippe CLEMENT, Cécile PLUMIER, Frédéric BLANC, G. Jost
Mechanical Engineer: Marc DAMANT, Annie PIKARD
Cost calculation: E3 Economie
Landscaping: Bruno KUBLER
Lecture room, auditorium, and administration
Primary school 10 classrooms
Nursery 6 classrooms
Leisure center: 6 classrooms
Office for the academy
4,500 square meters SHON, 6,500 square meters SHOB
8,000,000 Euros H.T
Eugeni PONS, Olivier NICOLLAS, Delphine GEORGE