Coldefy has designed a leather goods factory in the Ardennes for French design house and heritage brand Hermès. The “Maroquinerie de la Sormonne” is the second such factory in the region for Hermès, its considered design one that revisits the archetypal leather atelier. Coldefy conceived a building whose design would promote the well-being of the artisan, fit sensitively within the surrounding natural landscape, and create a high environmental performance.
The factory as a house
In revisiting the archetypal production workshop, Coldefy’s challenge lay in addressing the conventions imposed by process and production logistics. To create both a welcoming environment and a fully-fledged leather workshop, the studio designed a building that combined “softness, sobriety, and technical sophistication.” Coldefy describes its design as a “village of artisans within a large horizontal house, whose ‘folded’ design forms a new canopy of wood.” A traditional workshop saw-tooth roof, that provides optimal lighting for the artisans as they work, has been redesigned as a gable roof, symbolizing a house. The glazed northern side is protected from southern sunlight by an overhang.
On the inside, “the ubiquitous ‘diagrid’ timber frame continues the symbolism of the house” says Coldefy. The idea of the house as a homey living space creates more of a domestic-like atmosphere for the leather goods workshop. It helps to establish a setting that is conducive to concentration and collaboration. In the spirit of passing on knowledge and skills, Coldefy designed a sequence of spaces that would naturally work to foster dialogue.
Construction and materials
The 5,700-square-meter (61,354-square-feet) bioclimatic building is clad in charred timber that frames the sweeping glass facades. Cantilevers that run the length of the building house porch areas and terraces. The factory’s interior plan is a direct translation of the ideal functional layout. Coldefy explains: “A set of four cutting workshops defines the heart of the leatherworks. The size and proportions of these workshops can be easily adapted by reorganizing the partitions within the given structural grid.” The building as a whole is designed to be multifunctional and flexible, thereby future-proofing the premises against changes in circumstances and need.
Maroquinerie de la Sormonne is primarily constructed from wood with just a concrete floor. The building’s facades consist of dark-tinted aluminum and burnt-timber cladding, held together by a timber frame. The burnt timber finish originates from a traditional Japanese method of wood preservation known as shou sugi ban. This method gives the wood exceptional strength and durability as well as a decorative finish. Coldefy sourced the wood locally — a Douglas fir harvested in the Ardennes. The factory’s roof is clad in black steel, complementing the burnt timber.
The Hermès factory sits in an industrial zone in the Ardennes, nestled in the middle of a park. Coldefy worked with environmental experts to safeguard, preserve, and enhance the area’s biodiversity. Local species of vegetation and an orchard were planted.
The bioclimatic design of the Maroquinerie de la Sormonne is in line with both Hermès’ and Coldefy’s environmental ambitions. The factory was designed to meet France’s E4C2 certification standards, assessed on the basis of two criteria: energy (E) and carbon (C). An E4 label, the highest level, means the factory is a positive energy building. A C2 label, also the highest level, signifies an efficient operation that reduces the factory’s carbon footprint.
To achieve the E4C2 certification, Coldefy employed what it describes as “a holistic approach to design, based on low-tech, common sense, and sustainability.” Environmental performance measures include: water recovery meadows and ditches for phyto-purification, the use of low-carbon materials, rooftop solar panels (that supply 100 percent renewable energy), a geothermal heating and air-conditioning system, and high-performance stone-wool insulation.