Les Alliés de Chavannes kindergarten is tucked away on an island of land between the Normandy highway and the Est di Mantes-la Ville road. The original construction was a single, L-shaped volume surrounded by a garden, with the front facing onto the road. The design by GRAAL Architecture - a French-Italian practice created by young architects Carlo Grispello and Nadine Lebeau – develops around this placement, adding three new buildings in the garden.
The new constructions make the original one into a long corridor that doubles as the entrance hall before directing the children towards the extensions. Multiple connections are created to weave together the interiors and exteriors, producing a dynamic between school activities and the passing of the seasons.
In the words of the architects, "the overall approach naturally enables the whole building to interact with the topography and the existing vegetation... the choices made for the extension meant that the school building could alter the orientation and pathways for the whole school - before the extension this was impossible as the building was purely functional".
Two of the new additions were placed to the north, while only one was added to the south to ensure optimal use of the garden, plenty of natural light and a redefined courtyard.
One of the new buildings to the north is for physical activity, while the other is a reading room. The organisation of these two elements forms a herringbone layout on the northern side that includes the old street-facing section and creates a series of solid and empty spaces that reinforces the new conception of pathways and orientation, in which glimpses of the landscape and school activities are constantly colliding.
The point at which old meets new is also evident. Attaching three narrow buildings to the original structure required the creation of large "joints", as often happens when trying to link to a specific building tradition. These left a shadow line and formed a single, linked unit.
The placement of the new halls is not merely about forming the overall silhouette, but also instils a new relationship with the terrain. On the northern side, the morphology determines the foundations, with both structures built on stilts to leave the original foundation untouched and facilitate access to the utilities rooms. The southern addition rests on the ground or, perhaps more accurately, protects the ground to form a giant covered space that gives new purpose to the courtyard and redefines the main façade.
This project by GRAAL is clear evidence it is possible to learn to design, by designing, and to build, by building. Their work on Les Alliés de Chavannes kindergarten in Mantes-la-Ville, France, shows learning and exploration guided by the architect's gaze contemplating construction rules and drawing out practical ideas. Doing becomes an opportunity to question oneself about the design’s reasons and themes, searching for essential solutions focused on the relationship between idea and construction, and between expression and actual use of architecture.
Client: Ville de Mantes-la-Ville (Francia)
Gross Floor Area: 810 m² (total), 500 m² (restoration), 310 m² (extension)
Consultants: LBE ingénierie (Ingegneria dei fluidi), C&E ingénierie (Ingegneria delle strutture)
Photography: © David Foessel, courtesy Graal Architecture