A vertical campus The EDF learning center is located at the Saclay plateau in southern Paris. It is intended to welcome some of the 160,000 employees of the electricity generating utility for a stay of one to five days as part of their continuing in house on the job learning. This retreat on the Saclay plateau, sometimes far from an employee’s usual place of work, is an opportunity for staff to learn and train, but also to meet, exchange and re-energize themselves in order to consolidate a common culture. On top of the spaces reserved for learning courses there are reception areas, social life gathering spaces, relaxing lounges and even bedrooms: a variety of programs that together contribute to the exceptional chronotopy of an atypical 24 hours per day operation. The idea of an American style campus is reinterpreted here vertically in this unitary building that is bringing people together in multi-functional spaces which is highly ambitious in terms of getting people to mix with others with dense, proven corollary. From melting pot to social hierarchy The EDF campus has just been set up on the Saclay plateau in Palaiseau, in the same neighborhood as the prestigious École polytechnique. The prize winning ECDM proposition is marked out from others by the way it is programme is distubitued vertically rather than by its plan horizontally. The program interweaves in superimposed layers to develop in a compact volume that absorbs the density of the programming without extending over the surrounding landscape. The space is graded from the bottom to the top to go from the public to the intimate in a parallelepipedal volume dug out of a central patio. Only the exhibition hall which stands at the entrance of the forecourt and the training hall at the rear are separate from this.
The facades of the building reveal the program which is divided into three layers distinguished by their covering (concrete + stainless steel, glass, concrete) but also by the rhythm of their piercing which forms a motif of identity, the real thread of the project. The formation stages of the elongated windows are extremely fine frame and are combined with brown Ductal® concrete. The same highperformance fiber of reinforced concrete surrounds the some 270 rooms that span the top two levels. Following a rigorous thread of 1.35 meters, the facades incline according to the typology of the program. In this way another of the strong ideas in the project, its pattern, is revealed. Between these two layers of concrete, a pleated glass panel marks a transition from public to private to the intermediate level which houses the restaurant and relaxation areas.
At the foot of the building, two other materials, stainless steel and glass, are grafted to these three strata to envelop the technical hall at the back, the showroom at the front and the entrance to the building.These two excrescences invite visitors to enter the public spaces of the central volume, while reflecting their environment in a kaleidoscope of shapes, landscapes and bodies, whose kinetic iridescence is a nod and wink to the neighbor EDF’s research and development center whose circular walls are glazed.
Landscape within a landscape
Nature, sky, light spread out as far as the eye can see. Welcome to Saclay plateau and the EDF campus, which enjoys a privileged position on the edge of the École polytechnique district. So which is the best way to manage all this abundance while at the same time avoiding a sense of overkill. The ecdm project puts this landscape on a kind of stage, organizes its appearance and its disappearance by framed views, panoramas, masks — with so many sequences it becomes a kind of show in perpetual transition. This work on the landscape was carried out with Pascal Cribier whose shared garden with the learning center and the EDF Lab is one of his latest achievements.
The completion of a building in the planning project of Saclay Paris is a unique opportunity to be one of the markers of the future center of excellence established on the plateau. The uniqueness of the site, and it’s present and future characteristics, make it an interesting emerging area.
The landscape was the starting point of a project created with the idea of being surrounded by nature. The lack of construction dominates; the site is large, distended. The use of territory is essential here: to spread out would be to trivialize the landscape. Our first priority is to give value to the abundance of space. We also wanted to display the economy with which our building uses the territory, by proposing a compact architecture, a mass which seeks to use with moderation an area of great value. Here, wealth is space. We have therefore designed a project aware of its footprint, just as conscious of its siting as if it were in a rare and fragile environment. It is the landscape that unifies and saturates the architecture. We are dealing with a rural urbanity, with paradoxical planning that provides both the advantages of the city and the country in the same place.
The resulting project is dense and compact, a volume which unifies a diversity of programs. The building is treated as a block framed by blocks of green, a building perfectly inscribed in a geometric landscape. The organization of our siting helps create structure within the landscape, a cluster where buildings are not solitary objects, but elements of a whole. Our project fits within the logic of blocks, a constructed block responding to the planted blocks, in a project where vegetation constitutes mass, along with what is built.
The nature of the project is not a compromise, but a contrast. There is consequently an un-fragmented volume organized in layers, developing a system of simple alignments which give unity and clarity to each program. The built volumes respond to vegetal masses in and around the project, create alignments within an urban landscape offering a new balance between mineral and vegetable.
The site is a destination, a place that possesses and defines its own temporality. The question of time also organizes the architectural proposition. The idea of countenance, of interlude, of a place where we spend a few days or weeks, compels one to shape a moment that remains as a singular experience, not trivial. As a destination, the campus offers distance from the everyday in order to better focus on the courses. The campus is remote from the frame of work, family and routine, and creates a lifestyle for each visitor to appropriate.
There is a profound, dense internality which we wanted to create; it is an architecture which proposes a community within the culture of the enterprise. Our proposal defines a collective lifestyle which remains unique from everyday life.
The inspiration of time, of a series of episodes which cross in time and space define the campus as a vessel, a place for adventure. More than luxury, it is the realization of shared values that creates an extraordinary environment.
It is therefore a building that contains a multiplicity of different living spaces, where each of these programs is considered as an individual moment within the day of a visitor, where the intimate and collective superpose and intermingle without altercation. This is again not to trivialize anything, not the effort of training, or the moments of exchange and interaction, or the time for reflection and meditation. It is a place of intense collective life where needs for isolation and personal space are also met.