Transparency, light and ease of movement

12 Feb 2013

Phase two of Brigitte Hellin and Hilda Sebbag's transformation of a seventeenth-century hospital into university campus

In 2011, Hellin-Sebbag Architectes associes completed the first stage of a drastic adaptive reuse scheme which sees a seventeenth-century hospital transformed into an education campus. The second phase on the same site will convert a building, erected in 1768 to house the incurably sick, into a Maison des Sciences de l'Homme and a department of archaeology (tender imminent). This vast renovation and conversion covers an area of almost 15,000 sq m. The third phase will concern a new extension over an area of 3,500 sq m.

The architects have let in light, created ease of movement, and reconnected the building with the surrounding area, ready to welcome the 1,500 people who use the campus. Brigitte Hellin and Hilda Sebbag have restored but also reinterpreted the original structure, which is listed on the inventory of historic monuments. The building takes shape around an axis which divides the central element along its length into two areas (formerly the women's wing and the men's wing) which stand around two courtyards.

The elegant geometry of the whole has been retained while circulation on all the floors is facilitated through openings made in the wall in the ground-floor cafeteria, the addition of pillars on the first floors where the administrative offices are located, and a glazed facade for the foyer and the second-floor library. The tagline ‘transparency and visibility’ is evident throughout. Hellin-Sebbag was intent that the transformation of this former hospital should respect the original structure. Thus the monumental staircase in the foyer, in light polished concrete and steel, has its counterpart in the listed staircase by Jean Giral.

In the tree-lined courtyards, one with chestnut trees, the other with plane trees, windows open onto the ground floor and, on the first floor, the newly-created walkways are set at regular intervals as the original windows once were. The red and blue of the flooring, doors, acoustic ceiling panels in the lecture halls and cafeteria, and spots of colour in the corridors, are a reminder that the building was once divided into separate wings for men and women, now connected.

Work is due to start on the second phase of the project in July 2013 with the Aile des Incurables on the same site due to be converted in a Maison des Sciences de l’Homme and a department of archaeology. On the two upper floors the building will provide workspace for researchers and facilities for hosting international symposiums. As such, seminar rooms and a lecture theatre will be created on the ground floor, despite the challenges of the load-bearing structure of this eighteenth-century building.

The building has a 5.3m ceiling height with the ability to host tiered seating for 100 people in the 10.5m-wide central wing. The lecture theatre will stretch the full width of this wing, adjacent to the entrance hall however there is no capacity for indoor circulation to the other areas. The architect’s solution is to incorporate an enclosed gallery into the courtyard façade which will function as a winter garden. The louvres will open to enable natural ventilation and the gallery will allow the building’s users additional circulation space.

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