Research centre, Roubaix-Tourcoing
Research centre, Zone de l’Union
ROUBAIX-TOURCOING (FR) - Saison Menu Architectes' design for the European Centre for Innovative Textiles is a 'hand-sewn' building.
The area of l'Union, in what was once an industrial wasteland between Roubaix and Tourcoing, is the subject of a major urban renewal project. Today it is a dispiriting, empty and muddy piece of land out of which emerge the shell of an old brewery and a small house belonging to a recalcitrant owner. Here, in this desolate landscape more evocative of the Great War, the European Centre for Innovative Textiles (CETI) has been built. In this international research centre, the only one of its kind in the world, the fabrics of tomorrow are being invented.
All on its own for the time being, this prestigious facility symbolizes the economic and urban renewal of the site resulting from the development plan. Whilst waiting for the district to coalesce around it, the CETI, with its central axis, its two separate symmetrical buildings and its concourse, already forms a genuine autonomous urban composition in its own right.
Assembled in three distinctive sequences, two buildings share the overall programme. The first consists of Building A. This long parallelepiped stands at the corner of rue de Nantes and what will be the boulevard de l'Union, which it will flank. It houses the reception areas – lobby, lecture theatre and offices – as well as several small laboratories. Building B, combined with the car park, forms a more industrial sequence where the core of the research takes place. It consists mainly of large laboratories in which new technologies are developed. Between the two, a long garden marks the axis of the composition; it creates a division that also brings together and links the two buildings.
The choice of architectural vocabulary borrows the metaphor of the textile. This metaphor occurs in different forms throughout the project, giving it unity and coherence. On Building A, the south and east elevations convey a vertical rhythm created by the repetition of the wefts of the brise soleil, which form a second skin for the facades. This interplay of metal vanes, open or closed according to the passage of the sun, creates a kinetic effect that gives a perception of movement to the building.
The entry concourse consists of a large-roofed portico, which links the boulevard with the rue de Nantes and channels the flow of pedestrians. Its space is distinguished by a satin-smooth concrete floor and a mirror-polished steel ceiling. Between the two, the posts of the structure look like coloured yarns stretched on a loom.
In contrast with the monochrome appearance of the south facade, the gallery has bright colours on its columns, with a different colour on each side. As in the work of the Op Art artists, the perception is complex and sequenced: the use of reflective materials extends the coloured vertical strips of the columns and amplifies the space in an interplay of mirrors. On Building B, the urban facade which runs along the rue de Nantes is structured by aluminium weatherboarding and multicoloured stiffeners. These are formed by Z-shaped metal pieces, with a different colour on each side. This series of bi-coloured ribbons creates a new kinetic effect that blurs the perception of the facade, recalling the chromatic stripes of British fashion designer Paul Smith.
The final reference to weaving is expressed on the faces of the building that front the central garden. The composition takes its inspiration from Scottish tartan, formed by an intermingling of coloured wefts. The theme of the sett emerges through the intersection of horizontal and vertical structures in aluminium, into which the enamelled glass facing of the facade’s curtain wall is set.
The building thus forms a narrative to reflect an interior activity (weaving, threads) but here, apart from a few mirrored ceilings, there is no post-pop distraction – form very much follows function. Venturi, yes, but carefully framed by Jean Dubuisson, a French architect of the 1960s who built the housing complex that surrounds Montparnasse station, where the famous facades explicitly form patterns based on Scottish tartan.Saison Menu Architectes
are architects and urban designers from Lille. After spending time with OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture) they collaborated with Rem Koolhaas on Lille's development plan. Today they work on architectural and urban development projects in France and the rest of Europe. With the CETI, they have put their name to a fine construction of great coherence as part of an ambitious programme to bring back to the Nord region its historical tradition of weaving.
April | 2012 | France | Xavier Gonzalez