The Victor Gelez Community Centre is by nature an unusual place. It’s a neighbourhood facility encouraging personal development in a shared space for open creativity. This is a place for dancing, sculpting, painting, graffiti, playing music, meeting up, discussion and debate, resources, learning and transformation. We intended this space to reflect its purpose. The design is simple: an interplay of subtly curved brick walls containing this depth of multitude within.
The primary feature of the parcel of land is that it is located at a juncture in the image of the centre’s miscellaneous environment. On one side there is the Ménilmontant blind-alley, a narrow road part of the Paris quartier’s original fabric, flanked by buildings of no more than 3 storeys, and on the other, the rue Victor Gelez bordered by turn of the century buildings 5 to 7 storeys high. The transition between these two different street geometries is provided by this community centre on the corner.
From whichever direction you reach the site, you are on a narrow road which does not allow you to take a step back from the building. This dimensional constraint consequently reveals a dynamic perspective of the façades. They gradually come into view as one approaches, instead of being seen from any chosen perspective or static position. Their curved architecture enhances this movement with fluency.
Shape and volume
One of centre’s features is that each room or series of themed rooms has an entire floor to itself. This vertical arrangement takes on particular importance, both in terms of internal layout and how it can be interpreted from the road. It is this interplay between the vertical composition, the different room heights and the balance between void and fill which creates a strip narrative, engaging the building in a relationship with its surroundings.
Brick was chosen due to its prior existence on the site, how it accompanies the curvature of the four strips which make up the façades, and its gradient effect. The material gradually transforms. At the base it is dark, solid and urban, then, as the façade gradually rises, the first shade pixellates then softens in the fuller sections formed by the deep dance studio. It then lightens in reflection of the Parisian sky, blending up into it. The gradient effect also reflects the transition in the height of the neighbouring buildings, with the upper part of the darker bricks at the heights of the Ménilmontant blind alley. The effect is simple and playful, giving the community centre its identity.