The school of the Arts in Calais employs a curving metal mesh to create identity and provide solar control. Evoking the look of roller-shutter cabinets - and thus reflecting the workshop character of the art school - this feature facade element is made of three pieces of golden Escale mesh from GKD - Gebr. Kufferath AG. Semi-transparent in nature, the mesh acts as a protective membrane between the outside world and internal life of the school. During the day, it provides a filtered soft light for the east facing studios while helping to prevent the building from overheating. At night, the facade becomes transparent as the building is lit up. The architects further view the use of metal mesh as an inspiration to up-and-coming artists with respect to its consideration of material properties and effects.
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Golden membrane for art school in Calais The port town of Calais is situated in the north of France, only separated from England by the English Channel. Since 1994 it has been connected to the country via the Channel Tunnel. As Europe's second-largest passenger port – after Dover in England – the town with a population of around 72,000 is therefore dependent on transit and tourism. The importance of fishing and shipping has declined significantly over the past few decades, so that today only the production of bobbin lace for the manufacturers of haute couture evokes the town's former economic importance. As the port town suffers from high unemployment and hosts a large number of abandoned industrial sites, the regional and national authorities are seeking to revive it with an infrastructural program to the tune of €100 million. As a part of this program, a new art school building (Ecole d’Art de Calais) was constructed on Boulevard Jacquard in the center of Calais. In line with the design of the French architectural firm Arc.Ame and to mark the beginning of a new era in Calais, it was given a curved façade in three pieces made of golden Escale metal mesh from GKD – GEBR. KUFFERATH AG.
The Calais art school looks back on 90 years of tradition in a large but dilapidated community center in Rue des Soupirants. Focusing on technical and theoretical introduction to sculptural and visual design, it prepares aspiring art students for challenging entrance examinations at art colleges. The institution's good reputation has been growing for decades thanks to a broad spectrum of artistic disciplines for laypersons and budding professionals alike. However, the cramped conditions on many floors and the decaying building substance at the previous location had long since ceased to satisfy the requirements of students and teaching staff. A key element of the regeneration of Calais has come into being in the form of the attractive new building on a former industrial site in the heart of the central neighborhood of Saint-Pierre de Calais. The name says it all: Le Concept. Over 3,220 square meters Arc.Ame architects designed a striking contemporary ensemble including 25 residential units with south-facing terraces at the back in Rue Vauxhall. The three-story building is both a symbol of the revived town and a meeting place for art and artists, which is open for students and citizens alike. The height of the building is sensitively aligned with the old townhouses on Boulevard Jacquard. At first glance the compact, three-part building looks like three individual buildings made of concrete, glass and metal mesh. The glass façades that span the entire height of the building and are structured over large areas by dark bars illustrate the architects' guiding principles for this project – transparency and light. Its subtle effect varies from one time of day and room to another and thereby symbolizes the essence of art from the point of view of the architects: constant change as the echo of the current environment and subjective perception. The slightly curved façades of the three building elements are reminiscent of three roller shutter cabinets lined up next to one another, thus reflecting the workshop character of the art school. This impression is underlined by the suspended façade elements made of gold-colored aluminum mesh that remind the viewer of pushed-up blinds. The decorative and industrial inscription on the whitewashed concrete represents both poles of the art conveyed here.
Puristic transparency In the central building section, a 320-square-meter, cantilever entrance hall with a five-meter-high, pillarless ceiling virtually ushers the visitor into the building. The puristic layout of the hall conveys a sense of maximum openness and transparency, emphasizing this through large glass surfaces on a gallery and on the front wall, as well as a multitude of windows and doors leading either to outside areas or into neighboring rooms. The floor, walls and ceilings are completely white. Thanks to natural wood on two narrow wall-mounted bars, which line two walls with individual, filigree stools in Bordeaux and green, the color scheme ensures a gentle, natural feel. The first floor of the building section to the left of the entrance hall hosts a 200 square-meter hall for sculpture and ceramic art, while a large studio for painting is situated in the equivalent area of the third building wing. In addition, the second and third floors accommodate numerous course rooms, workshops and studios for painting, engraving and textile art, photography and multimedia. These areas are also dominated by white and glass, coupled with black window frames. Individual color accents – for example on the doorframes – in orange, yellow and light green give the premises their fresh, bright feel. Furthermore, temporary exhibitions and a new art library on the first floor of the €10 million building invite guests to come and enjoy the town's new architectural landmark.
Symbolic solar protection The construction from pre-assembled concrete parts emphasizes the sculptural dimension of the building. Its coarse surface is in conscious contrast to the smooth glass and the glossy metallic skin. The architects consider this metal façade to be a key conveyor of meaning and an architectural signature, with its warm gold tone representing the building's function as a hotbed of artistic talent. Because metal plays a direct or indirect role in all artistic disciplines, the intention is to inspire the up-and-coming artists to reflect on the significance of the choice of material and colors, as well as their properties and combinations when creating their works. At the same time, the semi-transparent metal mesh performs the function of a protective membrane between the outside world and the internal life of the school. As such, both the desired degree of artistic intimacy and the town's citizens' declared wish for transparency are taken into account. In the evening, the metallic façade is transparent when the building is lit up, thus granting unhindered views of the interior of the premises, while during the day the reflection of the sun's rays transforms the art school into a sumptuously shimmering gem. This extraordinary appearance is only one benefit of the woven façade elements. At the same time, they offer glare and solar protection, filtering soft light for the east-facing studios while preventing the whole school building from heating up. As well as offering a pleasant environment for students, this also makes a valuable contribution to the ambitious sustainability concept of the art school. Planted inner courtyards visible or accessible from all rooms, green roofs and walls adorned with climbing plants are as much a part of this concept as solar panels on the southern side of the building, where the apartments with flexible layout are situated. For students and citizens, however, the large, three-part textile membrane is above all an identity-creating landmark that evokes both the centuries-long tradition of bobbin making and the artistic craft of contemporary design.