JFS architectes, Jean-François Schmit
Blagnac, France
Project Year

Georges FESSY


JFS architectes, Jean-François Schmit as Architects

"At Blagnac your planes fly high," sang Claude Nougaro, the singer/songwriter from Toulouse. One might add that they also remain on the ground and occupy the Toulouse airport’s tarmac for various reasons. The Airbus assembly centre, Blagnac is also the location of Air France’s largest maintenance centre for narrow-body aircraft.

In September 2011, Jean-François Schmit was entrusted by the airline with the construction of this impressive facility, 200 metres long and 23 metres tall; the hall is sized to accommodate six aircraft simultaneously. The vast undulating roof conforms to the size and shape of the aircraft and its profile is derived from their "nose in" position. In layman's terms, this means that aircraft enter nose first into the hall, which is tallest in the area of the vertical stabiliser - the tail of the aircraft. The progressive reduction in roof height permits the coexistence of two scales: the monumental scale of the machine and the human scale of the office and workshop spaces. It also provides a transition between the world of the runways and the town.

However, the backbone of this composition is not the hall, but the 8-metre wide central internal street that runs from west to east. The structure’s key artery, it feeds and connects the different parts of the facility, servicing the hall, workshops and storage areas, serves as a point of convergence of the various personnel - journeymen, engineers and the centre’s administrative staff. It is crossed by a series of walkways that ensure continuity of communication at the upper levels. Coordination of scale, functional layout, facilitation of communication through the architecture: these solutions have been reused on similar projects. Their development required a long process of consultation with users. Meticulous research was conducted into the workspaces’ fitness for purpose. It must be said that the centre’s former location on the "historic" Montaudran site, which was completely fragmented, was the opposite of our project and in terms of functionality and working conditions, one could do better: the Aéropostale runway, which saw flights by Mermoz and Saint-Exupéry, crossed a road that had to be closed for take-offs and landings… It took a long time to explain the quality of communication between the journeymen and the engineers in our concept: people at the heart of the project. The internal street, the direct accessibility of the social spaces, working in natural light, were all decisive arguments contributing to the building’s fitness for purpose. A proper understanding of the process led to the implementation of novel systems such as the "nosebox", a notch in the work platforms enabling maintenance of aircraft that could not initially find a space in the main hall. The expansion of the facility was considered at the design stage: the building layout allows for extension of the internal street along its main axis.

Although it does not determine the composition, the hall, by virtue of its size, constitutes the principal space in the project. It is naturally illuminated by a series of skylights, sometimes separate, sometimes combined. The hall’s roof structure is demonstrative without excess. The main girder, 200 metres long, is supported at the ends of the hall and on an intermediate central Y-column. The smaller roof areas employ curved standard steel sections while larger spans are executed using steel tubes. The distinctive appearance of the frames thus signals to the observer the principal parts of the structure.

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