Client : SEM Plaine Commune Développement
Cost : 8 000 000 €
Area : 4 500 sqm
‘Josephine Baker’ group of schools in La Courneuve, by Richard Scoffier
The group of schools occupies a trapezoid-shaped plot of land obliterated by the non-aedificandi area corresponding to the location of one building that was demolished. The requirement to refrain from constructing closed volumes based on the rectangle that is a feature of the plot of land, combined with the constraints in terms of density and height, has enabled Dominique COULON & associés to question the separation of the primary and nursery schools in the brief. His proposal therefore sketches out a unitary organisation, deployed with virtuoso skill in the three dimensions of the space between two poles linked by a system of ramps. Thus the nursery school classrooms are pushed to the east, on a floor cantilevered above the entrance, and the primary school classrooms occupy areas to the west overlooking interstitial gardens. The older children’s playground merges into the area reserved for the younger children, which already contains the shared canteen, while the sports areas have been placed on the roof of the other block, which contains the library shared by the two schools.
Although on the outside the verticality is dominant as a result of the many indentations that break up the façades, it is paradoxically the horizontal aspect that is more evident once through the entrance. As if an infinite universe was opening up inside a strictly defined area, welcoming a heterotopia reserved for the children. That is how the building works, from the entrance onwards, in a subtle two-fold movement of advance and retreat. In a protective gesture, the upper floor projects forwards to welcome the children, while the glazed ground floor withdraws and digs in to defuse the drama of separating the child from its parents. The corridors change shape and expand in front of the classroom doors and receive abundant natural light from the zenith, as if the better to define themselves as areas for decompression before taking a deep breath and plunging into the work areas. This play of compression and expansion, giving an organic feel to the concrete structure, is further accentuated by use of the colour orange. It covers the floors and occasionally spills over onto the walls and ceilings, rendering the slightest ray of sunshine incandescent and lighting up the roof area. The classrooms, corridors and playgrounds of the ‘Josephine Baker’ schools stretch out and break up around an indefinite body, a body in perpetual transformation, a body of feelings ready to be touched by the slightest ray of sunshine and to perceive a thousand opportunities for play in the slightest variation in the weather.