URBAN CONTEXT The Max Weber building stands inside the vast Université de Paris Nanterre campus with ots various concrete and metal buildings comprising a collection testifying to the history of French university architecture built since the 1960s. Located along the path running along the west side of the University campus, the site is adjacent to its entrance. The program required by the Université de Paris Nanterre grouping the various Social and Humane Sciences research laboratories in the same building. Based on this architectural program, which is quite similar to one for an office building, the client insisted on a prestigious building capable of enhancing the standing and the image of sciences laboratories, and to encourage exchanges between researchers, to give research a powerful identity and attractiveness in the eyes of students and foreign researchers and finally to reconfigure the west side of the campus of the Université de Nanterre.
The answer to these requirements, the success of the this highly innovative, first time ever project, were possible thanks to the audacity of the client, its unfailing support and on continuous and very positive dialog among the three partners, i.e., the architect (Atelier Pascal Gontier), the Client (the University) and the university’s managing agent (Icade Promotion).
ARCHITECTURAL PROJECT The design of the Max Weber building benefitted from the start from ambitious environmental goals and an indepth questioning of the very nature of the offices that would be provided here to researchers and with the aim of proposing new architectural avenues of exploration. Office buildings are in fact too often standardized products lacking an identity they try to make up for through competitive formalism on façades and in decoration. The Max Weber building was designed to avoid this, thanks to ambitious environmental goals, and the widespread use of working spaces designed for researchers.
It is in fact an atypical office building entirely built in wood, passive, and equipped with a natural ventilation system in both winter and summer. The materials implemented are utilized in those areas to which they are the best adapted and appear as they are, manifested in their true assemblages. TO achieve this, drop ceilings and the airconditioning have been banished form the offices along with mechanically controlled ventilation. Unlike common uses nowadays, the structure is not made of concrete but rather entirely of wood, which, being visible, strongly marks the interior spaces endowing them with a singular and warm character. Corridors are naturally lighted rather than blind, benefiting from views of the outside. The three wooden stairwells are bathed in natural light as well and also enjoy broad views of the outside. The big office windows are composed of two openings, which allows occupants to manage their own office ambiance. The raw concrete floors, cove red with linoleum, contribute to the feeling of inertia and comfort in the summer in offices that do not need air-conditioning systems.
To achieve this result, the issues related to acoustics and the integration of networks were imagined using another logic, far upstream, at the time of the architecture competition, at the same time as the project’s structure and spatial organization. Once selected, the architectural style blends harmoniously with the existing buildings, and is distinguished by the simplicity of its volume, slightly cut away at the angles creating terraces as well as outdoor spaces on columns. The aluminum cladding from the outside, thanks to the large regularly spaced windows, hints at the strong presence of wood in the interior spaces, while the high chimneys on the roof signal a singular ventilation system. Here, the architectural expression is marked by the contrast between the shiny and smooth exterior aluminum skin and the mat, warm and organic character of wood utilized in the interior spaces.
AN OFFICE PROJECTATYPICAL, ENTIRELY IN WOOD, ADAPTABLE, PASSIVE AND NATURALLY VENTILATED The building - 5000 m² on five levels – has a structure entirely built in wood, including the elevator shafts and stairwells. The choice of wood is a solution to ecological challenges. In fact, wood is a bio-source material, is renewable, and recyclable, and absorbs carbon over the course of its lifecycle which is then stored in the construction. Thanks to advance prefabrication techniques, it is also used to complete construction projects faster and with more precision. Finally, it contributes to the warm and atypical atmosphere of the interior spaces. The design, with columns and flat slabs, allows for enhanced flexibility and maximum adaptability.
Thus, this building is able to adapt to transformations and also lends itself, over the longer term, to an eventual repurposing, without it being necessary to undertake heavy works that would degrade its architectural identity. Following this logic, the offices are organized from one end to the other of circulations according to a framework of 16 m², which makes it possible to create 16m², 32 m², or 48 m² offices, depending on requirements. However, this flexibility does not engender neutral characterless spaces. Here, the durable does not disappear behind an ephemeral décor. To the contrary, the two blend together in the same space. Thus, the architectural definition of working spaces designed for researchers resides in this relationship between the permanent and the evolving.
Here, the integration of networks is the subject of a specific spatial organization of the structure in relation to these different networks. To achieve this, the solid wood ceilings are interrupted every 3.5 meters, to create a cavity with a width of some thirty centimeters designed to house the various utility networks and lighting. The building has a passive type envelope (German Passivhaus standard), highly insulated solid partition walls and windows and thermal bridges reduced by a maximum. However the building diverges from the passive model owing to its ventilation system. The project is in fact designed to incorporate an innovative natural assisted and controlled ventilation system (VNAC) and thereby to avoid the consumption of mechanical double flows functioning in passive buildings. In general, such a level of primary energy consumption is equivalent, or even superior to heating consumption of a passive building. This ventilation system has been benefited from very indepth research and analysis, and is a first for an office building in France. It is visible on the roof through the twenty-five 3.6-meter high sculptural aluminum chimneys, providing both an identity to the building and a powerful signal on the campus.