The Franco-German high school in Buc is a perfect coming together of existing buildings and innovation
Growing, learning, relationship building, and experiencing different materials firsthand – all built around an immediate relationship with nature. The respect for tradition rooted in Buc, a town near Versailles, has meant that even after redevelopment and renovation, its Franco-German high school is still immediately recognized by those who know it. Nevertheless, one building is in some ways radically different from the previous one, offering innovative, student-friendly spaces for children from primary to secondary school level, including a gym, labs, an auditorium, shared indoor spaces, as well as outdoor and hybrid spaces.
Stuttgart studio Behnisch Architekten, which partnered with Versailles studio Atelier 2A +, completed this project after winning an international call for tenders by the local government. Since the earliest days of the project in 2015, the local authority’s aim was to modernize the original 1980s facility, making it more efficient and sustainable, and enhancing its relationship with the surrounding natural heritage area, with its massive trees, natural resources, and abundant natural light. This is reflected in the striking “umbrellas,” positioned where the interior and exterior spaces meet at the main entrance, which assume an important functional, as well as visual, role.
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More than a bilingual school devoted to teaching, the new complex integrates existing sections with two newly built wings with the aim of transforming the facility into a place that’s animated by shapes and colors to be experienced by a thousand students with all their senses. The two newly built structures – the primary school built as a pavilion within a garden area and the gymnasium with a climbing wall – are arranged to frame the central space, with its towering umbrella structures. The umbrellas, which seem to sprout from the ground like plants, are sunshading elements that define an area of gradual transition from inside to out, thereby making it possible to use this space for school activities. An interplay of transparent sections and solid slats, the umbrella roofs perform a dual function, providing both shade and regulating natural light, even when the sun is directly overhead.
And sunlight was a fundamental aspect of the project from the earliest stages, with the design harnessing its benefits even in the innermost areas.
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The positive fusion between the existing and new, and a focus on enhancing natural elements led to the extensive use of wood as well as large windows and skylights to let in the natural light. Both in summer and winter, the amount of light that penetrates through the windows is regulated by sunshading systems, while for climate management, pre-cooling and pre-heating systems have been installed.
The extensive use of wood, including for some of the ceilings, can also be seen in the structure and furnishings in the lab rooms, the library bookcases, the bench seating in the corridors, and in the auditorium.
This is a learning environment that’s flooded with natural light to be experienced with your entire body.
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Location: Buc, France
Architect and lead contractor: Behnisch Architekten
Architect partner: Atelier 2A+
Client: Conseil départemental des Yvelines
Surface: 16.044 m² gross, 12.688 m² net
Photography by David Matthiessen, courtesy of Behnisch Architekten