Community centre, Corpataux
CORPATAUX (CH) - Does the community centre by NB.ARCH and 2b architectes ignore or mimic its context?
The community centre realized by NB.ARCH and 2b architectes for the Swiss village of Corpataux displays an ambivalent relationship with its context. At first glance, it appears to have been casually dropped into the middle of the village, with no direct connection to its setting. Gradually, however, as the eye gets accustomed to its presence, it becomes clear that the building does engage in a dialogue with its environment.
The building is the result of a design competition for a plot outside the village, but then the project was moved to the very centre of the small agricultural village of Corpataux, in the heart of the Fribourg countryside. Neither its siting nor its shape, therefore, bears any relation to the buildings around it. But although the monolithic volume accentuates the confrontation with the neighbouring houses, the building's form actually alludes to an architectural archetype – the farm – which it reinterprets in a contemporary way. The shape is simple, the volume elementary. The monolithic aspect is treated independently of the internal organization generated by the juxtaposition and addition of spaces positioned side by side. This compact organization within a unified volume can be deciphered on the outside from the wall openings. Each opening, emphasized by a massive concrete frame, has very different dimensions and proportions, which allows the internal organization of the building to show through the volume's surface.
Located on main street, the new community centre adopts a 'mimetic' attitude in an effort to integrate with the rest of this typical one-street village. In imitation of existing key village buildings such as the church or the café, the building is positioned perpendicular to the road and slightly set back from it. This position defines a forecourt that marks the main entrance. Punctuated by a tree and a bench, this space is the new village square. Its surface of brushed concrete evokes the type of paving found in front of farmhouses in the surrounding area.
The car park by the street has two distinct surfaces. The asphalt is intended for frequent, everyday use, while the lawn is reserved for occasional events and is planted with fruit trees that line the roadway alongside the lot.
While the shape may invoke a vernacular architecture, the use of a single material (tufa) for both roof and facades makes the building stand out as a unique object. Its integration with its context hinges on the materials used, which refer to the history of the site. The building's shell is made of tufa, a natural stone once extracted from a nearby quarry, now abandoned. The material has been widely used in Corpataux and as such its use demonstrates the architects' intention to establish a strong link between a region, its inhabitants and their new community centre.
Inside, the performance space, too, is lined in a single material – in this case oak – which unifies the vertical, horizontal and diagonal surfaces of the space in a continuous envelope. Elsewhere, white predominates, imparting a certain shared neutrality to the lobby and circulation areas. In the basement, the various spaces are differentiated by a chromatic progression from pink to green. The bright, easily identifiable colours structure and clarify the function of these subterranean spaces.
For the architects of nb.arch and 2b, combining functions as diverse as a performance space, municipal offices and a civil defence shelter (whose compartments serve as meeting rooms for local clubs), within a single building that is immediately identifiable but also inscribed in the history of a place, was about more than just creating another building; it was about creating a genuine centre of community life.
June | 2007 | Switzerland | Manuel Bieler