A building poised between city and country
Like places of worship, schools were always among the first buildings to be built in a new settlement. They help establish long-term links to place as new generations are born and grow up, possibly far from their parents’ place of origin. Even today, schools help transform new areas of urban expansion into more than just an offshoot of the old center but a new, independent nucleus in which to live, learn, create bonds, and socialize.
This is the case with the Jean Louis Étienne School, one of the first buildings built under the ZAC program (Zone d’Aménagement Concerté or urban expansion plan) in Coupvray, a town east of Paris.
The project by archi5 celebrates the role of schools as an outpost of new urbanization through a dual language that’s expressed by the façades. On the one hand, the architects have created an urban-style façade with Hainaut stone cladding and its characteristic dark gray to blue tones. On the other, the walls surrounding the internal courtyards, which aren’t visible from the street but overlook the surrounding landscape, are finished with larch cladding.
The façades express two boundaries, between city and country, between public and private.
Forming a spiral that opens and rises towards the southeast, the design of the school expresses the path of education and the phases of life. The area dedicated to pre-school children is located in the innermost part of the spiral, where the classrooms and other spaces are enclosed in a protective cocoon. The elementary school area is on the outermost wing, the only part of the building on two levels. The building evolves and opens outwards, symbolizing the path from early childhood to elementary school.
The entrance atrium, in the southern corner of the lot, is the central distribution space of the composition. Well lit and double-height, it leads to the pre-school area (to the west), the elementary school (to the east), and the leisure center, which can also be used by visitors outside school hours.
As the spiral lines of the building unwind, they also rise and fall, creating two “peaks” in the southern corners of the lot, suggesting that the façade is covered by a gray curtain hung from above. On the south side of the building, the multipurpose room and entrance atrium gradually lift the profile of the façade, creating a smooth transition between the two levels.
The interiors are bright, flooded with natural light and views of the garden and surrounding landscape. The interior features soft shapes and wooden furniture, creating a comfortable, protective environment. Full-height windows connect the classrooms to the internal courtyard. This courtyard slopes gently down towards the landscape of the Marne Valley, ending in a lush garden that provides space for considerable biodiversity and is used for field trips for children, without them actually leaving the school. Evidence of the sustainable approach and care given to energy saving is that the school has received BEPOS Effinergie 2017 certification.
Location: Coupvray, Île-de-France, France
Client: Val d’Europe agglomération
Surface: 4 250 m²
Economist, engineer, structure, fluids, environmental: ingérop
Acoustics: cap horn solutions
Landscape: atelier roberta
Kitchen: alma consulting
Photography by Sergio Grazia, courtesy of archi5