© Fernando Guerra FG+SG

The laboratories were designed as a relatively flexible set up that could be filled in during design development

© Sebastian van Damme

structure supports itself so no columns were required. “The facade is load-bearing,” says Kaan. The building also features unpainted concrete floors throughout, and is as a result mostly grey – only the atrium (white), hall to the parking garage (black), and auditorium, which features light oak cladding, are not. “It’s all very simple, very modest,” explains Kaan. This was in part due to the relatively tight budget. Kaan’s preference for concrete is also due to its weightiness and the design flexibility it facilitates. “It allows you to cast elements and make the building feel very monolithic, something that’s difficult if you work with steel and cladding,” he says. “The depth of the facade gives it this weight which many contemporary buildings don’t have any more, because they have a very thin skin.” He asserts that the idea of putting the structure outside is a “really strong” feature of the building.

The surrounding trees also played a part in the overall look of the building. “From day one, I felt you would never see this building as one piece,” says Kaan. “You would always see it shining through from behind something else.” It was this overarching idea of viewing the building through the trees that gave Kaan the idea to use the concrete grid. “It’s a very geometric backdrop to an organic front, being set in this undulating landscape,” he says. “You get this beautiful contrast of this meteor that fell in the forest.”


These contradictions – the concrete among the trees and the “inside out” nature of the building’s layout – are things KAAN Architecten often play with in their designs. “There are often these kind of oxymorons we use,” says Kaan, “making two contradictions meet and connect, and develop into a concept.” While KAAN Architecten were responsible for the design, FRES architectes – featuring the ex-KAAN duo of Gravier and Martin – took on several responsibilities such as coordination of the engineers, and general site supervision. “The fact they had worked with me meant they immediately understood everything, and made things better,” Kaan comments. The building was opened in September last year and the architects report that it has been well received by those working in it. “We went to the opening, and I got a lot of positive feedback,” says Kaan. “They gave us a good feeling, and apparently they are very happy.”

In particular Kaan is pleased with the support and backing the whole project has received from the French Government. “I like that they’ve put so much effort and energy into developing a completely new campus for scientific research of a very high level,” he says. “It’s really something that Europe should do more often, invest in these kind of things – education and research – and do it in a qualitative way.” 


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