New Medical Faculty Technical University Of Aachen 171

Adrien Fainsilber


(Paris, France) 1980-86

Like the New Medical Faculty of the Technical University of Aachen by Weber, Brandt and Partners (1968-86, pp. 168-71), the Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie manifests the megaphiliac and technophiliac as well as universalist spirit of the 1960s, bent on assembling everything under one roof. And as in the case of Piano and Rogers' Centre Pompidou (1971-77, pp. 84-89), the global nature of its programme, the size of the structure and the lack of formalist pre-concep-tions create a festive, circus-like mood. Yet neither overcrowding nor the roar that accompanies its holiday atmosphere prevent this building from fulfilling its aim: the communication of the joy to be derived from science, technology and invention.

The largest science museum in the world, it occupies an area of 165,000 square metres. A permanent exhibition area covers 40,000 square metres. To accommodate the many activities it hosts, it has a convention centre with a main auditorium for 1000, a multimedia library, temporary exhibition spaces, a 'discovery' area for children's science clubs, restaurants, and so on.

The museum building reused a large auction hall (270 metres long by 110 metres wide) which had been begun on the site in the 1960s and never completed. This was accomplished by removing existing construction elements from the original building structure, which consisted of 20 hollow, concrete towers, each 40 metres high, until their foundations 13 metres below ground level were exposed. As a result, the entire facade now receives daylight. Similarly, the 16 steel trusses, with a 65-metre span, have been exposed and painted deep cobalt blue, to contrast with the granite-clad concrete towers.

The museum's objective of celebrating technology within its walls is furthered by the building itself. Three aspects contribute significantly to this: the natural lighting devices: the bio-climatic greenhouses; and the mirroring surface of the Géode globe.

The provision of natural light was a key concern of the architect. The original multi-layered volume was gutted and a huge, open, central light well was carved out of the roof. Two domes 26 metres in diameter and equipped with robot-operated mirrors bring light deep into the building. The rotating cupolas were coated with stretched teflon.

The north and south facades of the building are among the most important features of the project, not so much as conscious spatial compositions, but rather as artifacts that perform significant processes. The singular feature of the south facade is its three green houses of a monumental scale, 32 metres by 32 metres in surface and 8 metres deep. They act as bio-climatic fronts, buffer areas to collect daylight and store solar energy which they redistribute according to the needsof the facility. The glasshouse details were designed in collaboration with Peter Rice of the engineer ing firm Ove Arup & Partners. What makes it special is the original way in which the panes are mounted and suspended. The design for this enormous glass surface, so sensitive to pressure and depression, was tested carefully in a wind tunnel before construction. Meticulous investigations were also carried out to ensure that the envelope was weather proof, as well as being rigid.

The creation of this structure, with itsqual; ties of extreme lightness combined with espe cial stability (most notably to withstand wind; constitutes a true technological feat. But in addition, it demonstrates that the amazing technology developed in our time - much of t employed in Fainsilber's building - can be used in an architecture that celebrates the very idea of technology.

The north facade is divided by a horizonta safety walkway linking the terraces on theea>' and west sides. Its upper part is made of stainless steel, while the lower is glazed. Trie effect of transparency and reflection which

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dominates the composition is enhanced by the reflecting pool around the building.

In front of the south facade, born from a pool ofwater and centred on the main entrance hall, rises the Géode, a geodesic dome in stainless steel with a brilliant mirror finish, which houses a cinema. The architect saw in it a symbolic representation of knowledge, expressed both through its mirroring of the sky, water and earth in its spherical form, and in its placement asa beacon' in the overall plan. Inside, people are transported between the surrounding sunken sitting area and the auditorium by four escalators. They enter a world within a world of sound and image. The Géode contains a highly sophisticated audio-visual system, the Omni-max. with a 180-degree projection capability onto a hemispherical screen of over 1000 square metres, suspended under the dome. If the visitor standing outside has the feeling that the universe is contracting onto the sphere, once inside, the 370 spectators have the opposite feeling, that their perception of the universe reaches out to its infinity.

(Opposite, left) The facade with greenhouses

(Opposite, right) Natural light floods the interior

(This page, centre) Site section

(Top and bottom) The Geode, with plans and section

Jean Nouvel, Gilbert Lezènes, Pierre Soria, Architecture Studio INSTITUT DU MONDE ARABE

(Paris, France) 1983-87

(Below) Site plan

(Right) Plans of the ground floor and basement

Institut Vinca Floor Plan

The site of the Institut du Monde Arabe was notorious for its bad location. Used for a long time as a car park, it is immediately adjacent to the university campus of Paris Jussieu, which is a typical, unfriendly project of the 1960s. The site is also on the fringe of Paris's periphery, near the Gare d'Austerlitz and the Salpetriere Hospital, an area strewn with the languishing carcasses of great architectural monuments of the past, such as the Menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes. Moreover, it stands at the very point where the street along the Left Bank now turns into a super-highway; this has destroyed the possibility of the site coming into contact with the river, a luxury that still survives in the older parts of Paris. Although so close to the centre of Paris, such developments as the Institut have created a Manhattan-like condition of isolation which characterized this site of the urban periphery.

The Institut du Monde Arabe responded to this 'dirty real' environment in a lyrical way, foregrounding its harshness rather than trying to cover it up or prettify it. The cinematic coolness of its glass and metal surfaces are highly charged with the kind of poetic references and beauty found in French films noirs. Ultimately, however, its aesthetics are more inclined to the cool and minimal. The metallic textures of the interiors are reminiscent, for

(Below) Site plan

(Right) Plans of the ground floor and basement

(Opposite) Sunscreen panels operate by means of automatic photosensitive diaphragms

example, of Michel Andrault and Pierre Parat's Agence Havas, In Neuilly-sur-Seine (1971-73 ). They can be traced back to the prototypes of Jean Prouvé, in particular to his design for the Maison du Peuple of 1939 in Clichy, with its industrial skin of metal, lightweight and thin, pierced with railway-carriage-type windows, and certainly to Pierre Chareau's Maison de Verre (1928-32). As in these antecedents. Nouvel has succeeded in infusing into the industrial products he has used a sense of intention and intelligence, through, for instance, the 'humanization' of the mass-produced details, and he has succeeded in incorporating into them a fictionalized, narrative quality which renders the industrial fabric pleasurable. The building thus has the surface harshness of a factory, but not its aggressiveness, while making the best of its disadvantaged context.

French architectural critics and others have praised Nouvel for adopting a height that fits in with the surrounding buildings, thus allowing the overall configuration of the complex to be consistent with the city's skyline. As in the case of the Pompidou Centre (pp. 84-89), the Institut's respect for its surroundings has made the project felicitous. The way in which the building encloses the maximum number of activities in extraordinarily compact forms concentrated along the riverside-thus leaving space for the creation of a generous public square on the south side of the building where it is protected from the flow of traffic, a fragment of urbanity in the midst of an anomic and atopic part of the city - has also been highly praised. The open-air café on the top floor, overlooking the Seine - another precedent set by the Pompidou Centre, which should be imitated more often - also establishes contact with the river, with the lie St-louis, the Quai Henri IV, in fact, with the entire Paris skyline, while maintaining a comfortable distance from the noise and pollution of the traffic below.

The institute, which is devoted to Arab studies, containsa library of 35,000 books, an auditorium with 352 seats, reading rooms, a museum and audio-visual facilities. The generally hard, 'northern*, industrial aesthetic employed makes a contrasting and ingenious use of appropriate references to Arabic culture. In the library, a gently sloping spiral staircase, based on the minaret of Samara in Iraq, rises a full 32 metres in the air. Lined with reference books, it provides a view of the outside through a glass wall on the west side, oriented towards the lie St-Louis. The building's main arabisant feature is the glass-and-aluminium panels, more than 240 in number, which include 27,000 light-sensitive apertures on the side facing the open square. These work like the shutters of a camera, adapting to the shifts in light conditions, so that its intensity remains constant. The apertures cast onto the interior geometrical shadows shaped like masharabieh, the traditional sculpted wooden screens. Each mobile shutter panel is sandwiched between double-glazed windows on the outside and single ones on the inside. The latter can be opened for easy access to the screen to facilitate repairs or cleaning. Of the building's cost, 60 per cent was borne by the French and 40 per cent by the Arab States - with the exception of Egypt. Expenditure was high; each shutter element, for example, cost 45,000 francs (in 1985) excluding the glass and the aluminium frame, as the Wall Street Journal noted at the time.

The building's friendly interior is no less felicitous than its exterior. It is broken down into two volumes, one square and one wedge-shaped. These are separated by a slit which allows vehicular access to the second floor and acts as the entrance to a patio whose facade is of white marble tiles from Thasos, held in aluminium frames. The white marble is so finely hewn that it is translucent, and acts as a filter through which light enters the building. The main exhibition hall is in the wedge-shaped part of the building and is primarily made of glass windows which are inscribed with a trompe /'oeil silkscreen print by P.M. Jacquot. This reproduces a mirror image of the view of trees and houses on the He St-Louis across the Seine, directly opposite the building.

Jean Nouvel's interest in the cinema is reflected in the Institut's architecture, not so much in its capacity to serve as a backdrop for movies, but in its evocation of the intrigue of the silver screen. It is a building which, in the words of Roland Barthes, appears 'not as [an] illusion, but as fiction'.

(Left) Exterior view of the sunscreen facade

(Opposite) Corner of the building with the spiral library tower and staircase ramp

Aachen Technical University

Jean Nouvel et Associés NÉMAUSUS

In contrast to Jean Nouvel's Institut du Monde Arabe (pp. 174-77), which was one of the most expensive buildings per square metre in recent memory, his Némausus social housing project, directly commissioned by the socialist mayor of Nîmes, was cheap to build because of its use of inexpensive industrial materials. As a result, the tenants gained approximately 30 per cent more space. As an additional benefit, the 114 apartments, contained in the two almost identical buildings that make up the project, were provided with features rarely available even in the private housing sector: double orientation, cross ventilation, sunny balconies 2 metres wide, 15-metre-square bathrooms with large windows, and double-

height living rooms 5 metres high. Furthermore, it provided an unusually rich selection of 17 different apartment types, either simplex, duplex or triplex.

As the French architectural critic Lionel Duroy notes, the materials used include corrugated aluminium sheeting for the exterior and staircases, together with perforated and galvanized aluminium for the footbridges that provide inner links of the type used in the engine rooms of freighters. Office-type glazed partitions are used to enclose rooms and bathrooms; wardrobes, cupboards and plate metal shelves are all fitted onto a perforated framework. The flooring is simple grey plastic, the rough concrete walls and ceilings bare concrete. The sole concession to luxury is the prototype accordion garage doors made by the German firm Hormann that make up the entire facade of the apartments on the south side and permit maximum access to the balconies, to make the most of one of the finest climates France has to offer.

There are precedents for the overt imitation of industrial buildings in housing. Prouve's housing in Meudon as well as his own house are two notable examples in France. The Eames' house in Pacific Palisades, California, with its steel decking, walls, joists and stee1 framed windows bought from a catalogue, is another. A most influential precedent, of course, is Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxton

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