Understanding the campus’ essence, identifying the school’s needs, picking up on the implicit, integrating education into its natural and urban environment: these were some of the strengths of the project won by Architecture-Studio. Interview with Mariano Efron, Associate Architect of Architecture-Studio.
What is your operating principle, as an architectural agency?
Mariano Efron: Architecture-Studio was conceived as an agency where creation is a collective process. Every project starts with a group discussion involving all the associates and the whole team. For each project, we all work together and it is collectively that we push back our limits. The team is invited to discuss and, as our interactions proceed, projects emerge.
Do you have a particular way of approaching a project?
M. Efron: Traditionally we start off with a contextual analysis. Each context, whether physical, geographical, political, social or intellectual, lies at the root of our research. We believe in transversality — from design to execution, from idea to detail. In that sense, no matter what type of commission it is, we believe it is an opportunity for us to innovate. We proudly claim these qualities to be the foundation of our collective creation. Each project must, so to speak, contribute to improving the conditions of human habitat.
From the moment you receive the specifications onwards, what happens?
M. Efron: Our philosophy is first of all to analyze the project. This time devoted to understanding is essential in our creative process. Then, we think about how we can go beyond that, enrich it. What more can we bring to the picture? It is a very demanding task, a reflection to find the implicit within, give it a name and, above all, bring it out in the project.
Every Monday, we have a ritual of coming together for project creation. In the case of the Campus 2020 project, it was a two-month competition. We held a number of meetings with the entire team, which enabled us to go beyond our individual limits and bring out the best proposals for the project. This ritual is a driving force for Architecture-Studio. The agency is designed to adapt and evolve as projects develop. Our workspace, too, will evolve according to the projects: they organize the life of the agency. The projects are at the center and the team is organized around them.
What was the leading concept about the Campus 2020 project?
M. Efron: The conception was guided above all by your context. Created in 1973, just like the agency, this campus was very much shaped by its time, very open to life in the city. The buildings have a strong history with great potential. However, it gradually lost its initial mission of opening up to the world, prioritizing major paths and internal and external connectivity. Our task was to recover the founding principles through this potential.
For a number of reasons, the campus gradually closed itself in, not addressing the issue of its image for a long time. How can the school evolve in order to match the needs of students, researchers and entrepreneurs? In this digital era , education is also undergoing a disruption. We decided to enhance the pioneering spirit and thus reflected on how we could strongly address these societal and educational issues in the campus’s new identity.
How will the campus be structured?
M. Efron: We wanted to bring back the essence of ESSEC, innovation, in the expression of the building and the campus. Communication is enhanced, the Green Research Tower expresses the researchers’ activity, focused, connected and open to interaction with the world. The life in the building will be fed by alternating spaces designed to promote creative concentration, official spaces for events and inviting places set aside for interaction.
Education will be of course a main focus,but how will you make sure not to lose sight of the environment?
M. Efron: Each of the buildings dedicated to education must, by definition, set an example, particularly as far as the environment is concerned. Our mission was to represent the quality and well-being of the people who live and work on site every day. Turning every restriction into a positive force: that is our philosophy. The Cergy Campus, city and nature. Nature will be reintegrated into the buildings and re-colonize the school. The patio had lost its connection to the outdoors. Our action will be dedicated to enhancing the relationship between man and nature.
What are the next steps?
M. Efron: We have just filed the building permits and the gymnasium is set to be inaugurated in September 2020. The operation is planned so that the school can function normally throughout. As we did with Jussieu and Maison de la Radio, work will be carried out on an occupied site — we are accustomed to this.
Once the new gymnasium is inaugurated, the existing one will be demolished, to give way to the Center for Creative Learning. After that, we will be able to strip the old tower, keeping only the concrete structure and dress it to create the Green Research Tower. Preserving the structure is an environmental responsibility. We will create a very efficient envelope that will take advantage of the concrete’s great thermal inertia. The energy stored in the structure will be reinvested in the building throughout the year.
In this manner, the Center for Creative Learning and the Green Research Tower will build bridges, not only between the city and the natural environment, but also between professors, students, researchers and entrepreneurs, forming the new image of Campus 2020.
Created in 1973, Architecture-Studio is now based in Paris, Shanghai and Venice. With its 13 partners, it brings together a team of 120 architects, urban planners, designers and landscape architects, representing 25 nationalities. All projects are signed by Architecture-Studio.
Its past work includes the Institut du monde arabe (1981-1987), the European Parliament (1991-1998), the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens (2002-2010), the Bahraini National Theatre (2007-2012), and the Cathedral of Créteil (2009-2015).
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