Saint-Jean Group of Schools in Strasbourg
Restructuring and safety compliance work
The aim of our project is to break with the monotony and repetitiveness that are characteristic of this highly rational 1960s building. Working on the space in this way helps not only to clarify routes but also to work towards achieving energy performance targets.
The project requalifies the public forecourt, making it secure and dividing it into a number of sequences by means of a low boundary wall, a single ramp, and two sets of wide steps. This arrangement directs the children towards two separate entrances, one for the nursery school, and one for the elementary school.
The ground-floor spaces, including the halls, have been rearranged as fluid, welcoming spaces with rounded, playful, dynamic shapes. The curved shapes contrast with the regularity of the classrooms and lend emphasis to special moments in the days such as going to the library and letting off steam in the playroom. These spatiotemporal landmarks enable the child to appreciate the rhythm of daily routine. A number of scientific studies back up this theory, and we have drawn up our plans in collaboration with the neuroscientist Professor Claude Bonnet.
The playgrounds have been redesigned following the same logic as for the halls. The planting system, the acoustic treatment of the walls, and the different materials all help to break up the monotonous, hard image of the playground as it is at the moment.
The existing building was on three identical levels, with one central corridor serving classrooms on either side. The space occupied by the nursery school is on the first floor, while the second and third floors are devoted to the elementary school. We have broken up the traffic areas by bringing in light in different ways, providing visual landmarks and a certain level of comfort.
The facades have been completely changed, with external insulation. Since the diagnosis revealed a number of horizontal cracks, we reconsidered the heights of the windowsills and aligned them with the tables in the different sections. To deal with the current problem of overheating, vertical slats have been fitted on the outside to provide protection from sunlight falling obliquely. Each classroom is fitted with screen-type blinds and double-flow ventilation. We have even managed to achieve an energy figure lower than that requested.
The terraced roofs are of different types. The sports hall has not been touched, since work was carried out on it recently. The roof of the classroom building has been planted, and photovoltaic panels fitted on the three new light wells.
The leitmotiv of the project is spatial diversity. Each space takes on a strong identity to create the landmarks that are essential in such an imposing building. We have added a touch of gentleness and poetry so that both pupils and staff will be able to thrive in a calm environment. These spaces constitute an innovative educational tool.
by Alberto Campo Baeza (2013)
Discovering the architecture of Dominique Coulon
“… Allow me to tell you something about his latest work, a nursery school right in the heart of Strasbourg. It is still under construction, but I had the good fortune to be able to visit it personally, with him. You might wonder how a restructuring renovation work could ever be masterly, yet that is what he is achieving here.
Dominique Coulon has worked like a skilled surgeon, cutting, stitching, removing and adding in all the right places, all with the utmost precision. He has enlarged the windows on either side like huge eyes, creating new perspectives which enhance the whole. He has lowered the sills of all the classroom windows so that the children can see what is going on outside. He has cut through the roof so that light floods in through new skylights. He has also cut through the walls wherever he felt they needed it. He has created transparency in the public areas – the eating area, for instance, is wide open to two roads opposite. I must stress that he has worked like a surgeon, piercing and stitching an elderly body to produce a new body which has been revitalised. All this has been decorated judiciously with colour: Coulon’s favourite colour, and mine – red. A vibrant colour, capable of brightening space, particularly in conjunction with his yellows and pinks.
The client, the teachers and the children are all pleased, as part of the work has been carried out with them, inside. It is work of top-quality craftsmanship.
On the outside, the facades have been renovated very simply. They are more open and more crystallised, tempered by vertical sun-screens in shiny stainless steel which, in addition to providing protection from strong sunlight, will produce some incredible effects.
Of all the spaces, some are particularly successful. On the ground floor, to define the space occupied by the hall, Dominique Coulon allows himself a great deal of freedom, although it is extremely well-controlled, by playing with curved walls and ceilings, like Le Corbusier at his best. The contrast between the four-square rectangular shape of the classrooms and the use of curves in this public ground-floor area is a great success. What is more, he does without colour and plays exclusively with natural finishes and white, so that these curved shapes are visible from the street. The result is magnificent.
On the inside there is a room for the youngest children in which it is not only the walls and ceiling that are curved – the floor is also curved, and soft. Light filters through the skylights in the roof, scattering reflections, and through the wall through a number of chinks in a random pattern; it is tinted pink by the reflections, in clear contrast with a few whitish grey areas, creating an almost surrealistic space where the children will have no trouble dreaming.
This work by Dominique Coulon is truly a masterpiece. If I were a child, I would love to go to that school.”
Alberto Campo Baeza