Seeing red in Nimes

31 Oct 2013

Albert Camus High School students put vibrant new buildings to the test

Last spring, the French Architectural firm Hellin-Sebbag wrapped up the last phase of an ambitious project that involved 1,548 sq m of new space, 4,548 sq m of renovations and 13,500 sq m of improved safety and accessibility at Albert Camus High School in Nimes. The contractor had set two goals for the competition: the construction of a new building dedicated to Science and Laboratory Technique (STL), and a renovated main entrance.

The school, built in the 1960s on a steep slope, consists of seven buildings, one of which is 170m long and perpendicular to the slope. The complex, poorly integrated into the city, lacked a façade overlooking the boulevard Georges Pompidou. Moreover, a conference room, added more recently in a recess off an adjacent building, made access to the entrance more difficult.

Rather than construct the new building in the courtyard, as suggested in the original programme, the architects provided a single solution to the double challenge of building a new STL laboratory and renovating the entrance: the laboratory, elevated on pillars, makes use of the 'dead space' at the entrance on two levels, and blends in with adjacent buildings.

The façade, fully glazed, is dotted with 'flags' in red glass, which shine at night like the bright lights of a city streetscape. This choice of location keeps the leafy courtyard - now with modern-style benches - intact, while leaving access to the conference room unhindered.

The large underside of the laboratory creates a huge porch, sheltering the new entry way designed in a glass curve, extending the conference hall, and most importantly, providing students with a new covered courtyard, they never had before.

To make the site accessible to all despite the steep slope, the architects created an openly visible system of passageways and lifts which, thanks to their colour and material, mark out a rhythm along the façade of the monotonous 170m block which runs along the whole of the site.

The colour red, used in several materials throughout the building, becomes a unifying thread:
- bright glass 'flags' attached to the curtain wall of the façade serve as a visual landmark in the city
- red coating for the pillars of the porch, marking the passage from street to courtyard
- red metal grating for the suspended ceiling of the covered courtyard and cafeteria, and for the courtyard stairs, to highlight these emblematic spaces
- Eternit cladding and red glass roofs for passageways and the new lift
- red linoleum flooring inside the corridors

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