Once across the threshold of this school complex near Paris delivered by the architect Vincent Parreira, the child enters a non-standard world, one that evokes the troglodyte houses, vernacular architecture… or a pupil’s escape.
Within 21st century metropolises, as urbanization has continued to expand, there are still some areas that have remained virgin territory. The site chosen for building the school was such a case. At the time of the competition, it was an empty lot bordered by vast farming concerns, the famous caricature that seemed a thing of the past, the “beet fields” that saw new towns and housing projects popping up during the post war boom decades. In a context with vague outlines, the building takes up its position, organized to form a little miniature town, a school hamlet. It extends along a narrow little pedestrian street, forming a continuous built front, but fragmented into several volumes and providing access to the various parts of the program: primary school, leisure center, and caretaker’s lodge.
The primary school section of the building is endowed with transparencies, organizing views toward the courtyard and the city. A parking area is also included in the program, skillfully integrated into the whole. A hub and landscaped area ensure the soft transition between the playground and the parking area.
Unlike this open part, the nursery school is organized around a patio presenting a stable world, deliberately closed in on itself, forgetting the city surrounding it. The activity centre and the canteen form a large transversal pivot between these two school ages.
Leveraging the contrast between the large smooth white concrete surfaces and the textured grayed wood arranged in a diamond-shape motif in relief, the architectural, style of Louis de Vion has proved disconcerting to some, as have the rare openings to the exterior, often limited to moucharabiehs pierced through the concrete walls where this same diamond motif has been employed. The entry halls of the two schools, identified by their vaulted ceilings, do not resemble the usual solemn entry halls found in temples of education. In fact, they look more like troglodyte houses and vernacular architecture − in word, like somewhere else − evoking the possibility of a Greek island or of a school vacation trip.
Raw is the preferred state of walls in the building, in the classrooms, the rough walls, create a feeling of closeness with the material that is tempered by the patio, a microcosm inside the larger world of the schoolhouse, or the one of the city, which can be perceived through the diamond shaped openings. Filtered by the moucharabiehs, framed by the wood awnings, colored through the large skylights in the dining areas, piercing through the fracture supporting the footbridge linking the primary school with the activity center, the play of light reaches into the furthest corners of the institution. The technical “emergences” are hidden in the volumes clad in wood; the same pre-patinated wood cladding employed on all wood elements.
Wherever possible, part of the volume of the emergences has been reallocated to the students, as with the dormitories for example, or the doubling of the ceiling height, challenging them with new spatial experiences.
Once past the threshold, the child comes out of his family cocoon to enter an elsewhere. He walks into a non-standard world, dappled with reflections, rustling with echoes, a world of oddities, an unexpected blending and surprising collapsing of spaces, of the imaginary world of the wild and stimulating metropolis that surrounds them. The aim is to develop children’s curiosity through architecture, and a first encounter with the mysteries of the wider world.