The new Institut des Sciences Moléculaires d’Orsay (ISMO), designed by KAAN Architecten and associated local architect FRES architectes, is located within the Paris-Saclay Campus, an urban campus spread over nearly 600 hectares dedicated to higher education, research and innovation. The 10,000 square metre building is a remarkable component in this original architectural development. Robust and elegant, while essentially open in character, ISMO is distinguished by a harmonic coexistence of nature and scientific research.
The compact rectangular volume of ISMO opens towards the surroundings, giving the users the impression of walking through the forest. The project represents an exemplary integration of an urban-meets-rural layout with the new concrete structure emerging from the forest within an undulating landscape of rolling hills.
The building is divided into two architecturally expressed realms, intertwined into a single entity. One area contains advanced scientific instruments and high-tech laboratories, while the other comprises smart, quiet meeting and office spaces that provide calm working conditions and promote concentration. The spatial organization of the building, with corridors running immediately behind the facades, underlines the strong link between the architecture and its surroundings.
The laboratories, which often need to be isolated from direct daylight, are situated on the long, north-facing side of the building behind a glass curtain wall with built-in electric screens that can provide total darkness. When the screens are up, the equipment and instruments are visible to the outside as though in display cases.
The office areas are behind the south façade, with sturdily stacked concrete posts and lintels that form a pattern of rectangles. The grid stands out for its glazed infills that are set 80 centimetres deep into the facade. The floor-to-ceiling windows offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The entrance is situated in the middle of this facade, immediately evident by the deviation of pattern and the glazed portal which has been lightly brought forward.
Upon entering the building, a clear white space unfolds and extends up to the roof with abundant daylight through the facade and a large skylight. The atrium features a reception desk, a cafeteria and a wide staircase descending to laboratories and the parking garage. To the right of the entrance, a library wall stretches over two levels, connected by an enclosed spiral steel staircase. Pointing upwards, rectangular balconies project into the space as comfortable settings for conversations and exchange of ideas. The cohesive combination of daylight, spaciousness and sightlines creates a magnificent spatial effect. Above the atrium, a large auditorium hovers suspended from above. The sloping underside of the seating area complements the skylight, as it reflects and doubles the light. Inside, the auditorium is warmly cladded with oak.
Working spaces are situated around two courtyards that provide natural light and have been strategically designed for purposes that require a certain degree of privacy. To achieve openness, the offices and meeting rooms are placed away from the facade. The corridors are transition zones where colleagues meet to share, exchange and coordinate ideas and activities. The courtyards exude a sense of seclusion and are quiet, restful places for concentrated work. Workspaces positioned on the outer wall would have blocked the sense of space.
The construction, layout and design of the laboratories completely revolved around the experiments taking place there. Separate footings were designed to protect the instruments from any potential vibrations. Several sections have been grouped together and include a long line of hatches in the walls for experiments with laser beams. Meanwhile, the offices are structured upon a basic module of 1.2 m which allows the rooms to vary in size depending on the needs.
KAAN Architecten is a Rotterdam, São Paulo and Paris based architectural firm that operates in a global context, merging practical and academic expertise within the fields of architecture, urbanism, and research on the built environment.
Led by Kees Kaan, Vincent Panhuysen and Dikkie Scipio, the studio consists of an international team of architects, landscape architects, urban planners, engineers, and graphic designers. KAAN Architecten believes in cross-pollination between projects and disciplines as an essential tool to fostering a critical debate within the firm.
The studio maintains a culture of constant evolution, which is essential in a profession that changes at a rapid pace. KAAN Architecten’s projects transcend the traditional notions of scale and typology, ranging from furniture and interiors to urban development and from retail and offices to museums and buildings for health and education.
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