Tectoniques Architects completes timber-rich INRA Research Laboratories in Lorraine
An indoor landscape. This is how French practice Tectoniques Architects describes its latest scheme; research laboratories for the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (National Agronomic Research Institute), also known as INRA. Located within the folds of the forest of Amance, the high-tech research facility now sports an extension of new laboratories and administration buildings which reflects its internal functions.
In conversation with the existing buildings onsite, the north face of Tectoniques Architects’ intervention is smooth in its façade, responding to the architectural style of the original buildings which date back to the 1960s. In complete contrast, the south face of the new laboratories and offices is a curved expanse which ‘appears like a series of strips of timber on a landscape background’.
INRA is a hive of activity for both French and international researchers examining the ecology and genomics of forests. With capacity for 500 specialists, INRA is a significant base in its field, focusing on the functioning of trees and ecosystems, the forestry economy and the production of biomass.
Given its location in the fronds of the forest of Amance and specific focus on the ecology and genomics of wooded regions, it was imperative for Tectoniques Architects to create an extension that spoke directly to the building’s location and function.
The design team explains: “This scheme highlights and promotes the qualities of wood: 250 cb m of silver fir and Douglas fir were used for this project, only in the form of solid timber. It is an illustration of the potential of the region’s forest and timber industry to meet very specific demand.
“The timber used for structural purposes was obtained from forests of the Vosges mountains, in which the trees were chosen while standing for their dimensional and mechanical characteristics. The timber was sawn just a few kilometres from the construction site and it supplied according to a standard contract put in place in recent years by the ONF (National Forests Office).”
The new complex may give off a ‘back to nature’ feel but behind its rustic facades lie high-tech research facilities. Top levels of sustainability have been achieved throughout down to the recycled rainwater than nourishes the plants in a generous atrium.
Bringing together the north and south portions of the extension is an open atrium space filled with carefully chosen blooms. On the ground level is a scenic pool dug directly into the ground and surrounded by herbaceous plants, while shrubs and bushes reach to human standing height and lofty trees rise up through the atrium to the building’s upper levels. A consistent environment is afforded by an EFTE plastic dome which diffuses controlled natural light and gives an ‘artificial sky effect’.