A major gesture is not always needed. In further developing a campus that dates originally from the 1960s Dietmar Feichtinger shows that added value can be better achieved through restraint, carefully positioned cubes, and subtle facade rhythms than by the use of showy sculptural symbols.
Gesture as provocation
At times the entire art of the architect can lie in his ability to assess the impact of the measures he employs. And in not prescribing a kind of architecture that is out of place or at loggerheads with the demands of the task posed, whether at a programmatic or context-related level. In many cases restraint is the best answer and also indicates true understanding of the particular situation.
In approaching the project for the extension of the humanities faculty of Aix-en-Provence University Dietmar Feichtinger found himself confronted with a contradiction. On the one hand the extension, by nature of its position, had to mark an entrance to the campus, but on the other neither the brief nor the context suggested a specific form of architectural expression. The brief, relatively modest in terms of floor area (8000 m²) and banal in terms of content (lecture halls and offices), contained no elements such as an auditorium or large library that would have called for strong architectural expression. In addition the dreary mediocrity of the context spoke against a too striking kind of architecture. Given the featureless nature of the periphery of this provincial town with its groups of little houses and allotment gardens, banal workshops, pizzerias, and here and there a social housing block, even a minor architectural gesture would have seemed unsuitable, indeed even provocative.
Space rather than a building
Consequently, Feichtinger opted for restraint, if not to say architectural neutrality. He prefers a space to a building, an empty volume to a full one, and a place to a piece of architecture. By breaking up the brief into a number of small buildings he allows an entrance to the campus to develop. Through the considered way in which he positions the buildings and the subtle expression of the facades he gives the place an identity. These are two important characteristics of this project which Feichtinger achieved by appropriating the characteristics of the campus and reinterpreting them. This proved to be a discrete way of integrating this small extension in one of France’s most important university complexes.
One of the essential characteristics of Aix-en-Provence campus that results from its difficult topography (a steeply sloping site) is the existence of small open spaces directly in front of the buildings. They all represent recreation spaces along the routes through the campus. Feichtinger takes up this urban pattern: he divides up the brief into three small blocks of different sizes and configurations in this way creating a virtual rectangle whose centre is an empty area.
Project: Extension de l’Université de Provence à Aix-en-Provence (centre des Lettres et Sciences Humaines site Schuman)
Client: Aix-Marseille Université
Architecture Studio: Dietmar Feichtinger Architectes
Site area: 50.336 m²
Project team leader José Luis Fuentes, Peter Mitterer
Team planning: Ralitsa Kafova, Sabine Kopp, Zuzana Janouskova , Katja Pargger, Stephan Schwarz, Arne Speiser
Team Competition: José Luis Fuentes, Zuzana Janouskova, Barbara Feichtinger-Felber, Ghislain Richoux, Jutta Eckel, Lukas Brus, Ralitsa Kafova
Site supervision: Suivi de chantier, José Luis Fuentes, Peter Mitterer, Eric Dussol (Assistance pour le DET)
Text: Dominique Boudet
Photographer: Barbara Feichtinger-Felber, Sergio Grazia