Holcim Foundation


The sustainability of appropriated space

University building in France details the holistic approach of Lacaton & Vassal Architects to the social, economic, and environmental performance of the Nantes School of Architecture, culminating in the production of extra space at no additional cost. The translation of a minimum budget into a maximum space constitutes a radical break that challenges the standards on which architecture and sustainability are founded.

The Nantes School of Architecture is generous, adaptable, and multi-functional. Its additional unprogrammed spaces, which were not included in the original brief, open the building up to appropriation, and allow it to remain structurally relevant through the present and well into the future. In the preface to the book, internationally-renowned architect and theoretician, Herman Hertzberger, situates the Nantes School of Architecture at a critical shift from the idea of a building as a static object to a building that can accommodate the flux of daily life. “By sourcing industrial building products and processes, Lacaton & Vassal seem to have provided architecture with an innovative model by which architects can finance this sustainable investment,” he says.

Lacaton & Vassal Architects more than doubled the school’s usable surface area from 12,500 to 26,000 square meters, adding 5,000 square meters of double-height unprogrammed spaces, plus another 6,000 of exterior terraces and balconies. The use of environmentally friendly pre-fabricated building systems dramatically reduced construction costs, while increasing the thermal performance and structural strength of the building.

In the winter, the polycarbonate clad double-height spaces act like a greenhouse, capturing solar heat gain to minimize heat loss between the interior programmed spaces and the exterior; in the height of the summer, half of the façade can be opened up to passively ventilate the structure.

With a load-bearing capacity 2.5 times the standard, the main structure can accommodate virtually any future programmatic use. The combination of a robust and a lightweight, transformable structure is central to the building’s ability to respond to future changes in program, eliminating the need for future demolition. What is now a school could easily adapt to an altogether different use.

The unprogrammed spaces and structural flexibility prompts students, staff, and the general public to engage with it as productive and creative users of space. As an architecture school, the building makes a long-lasting and influential impression on future generations of architects, who will go on to broadcast its sustainable values nationally and internationally.

The Holcim Foundation publishes an international series of monographs showcasing outstanding examples of sustainable construction to promote best practice, pioneer fresh solutions, and to inspire architects, engineers, planners, developers and contractors to adopt sustainable parameters for their building projects.

University building in France – Nantes School of Architecture
Edited by Ilka and Andreas Ruby
Published by Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction, 2011
88 pages, 15 x 21 cm, in English
ISBN 978-3-7266-0092-1

Last Updated: September 05, 2011
Article Details
Nantes, France
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