LA ROCHE-SUR-YON – French architectural practice Guinée*Potin Architectes recently completed a project which lays out a comprehensive revitalisation plan for biologist Georges Durand’s (1886–1964) lavish country estate in La Roche-sur-Yon, a commune located in western France.
While prolonging the historical integrity of Durand’s mansion through thoughtful and carefully-crafted rehabilitation strategies, the architects carried out the design of an extension intended to host various research and educational activities, striving to raise public awareness of local biodiversity and the value of its preservation. The project engages in a series of architectural and landscape interventions, varying in scale and intensity, all aiming to provide an appropriate response to the conditions that sustain the surrounding ecosystems.
The Museum & Biodiversity Research Center stands out by its use of creatively-reinterpreted traditional construction techniques. As the exterior walls and roof are covered in thatch, the building smoothly blends into its environment and appears to become part of the topography. This gives rise to an unfettered interaction between natural processes and built form over time.
Addressing a contextual approach to architectural design, the timber-framed structure, raised on stilts, had many of its components manufactured beforehand so as to ensure an efficient construction phase and prevent any unneeded site disturbances. The architects succeed in shaping an interesting application of passive design strategies – such as a proper programmatic distribution and regulation of opening sizes, both in regards to the building’s orientation as well as the use of materials with great heat storage capacities – which fit the realities of the site and largely participate in increasing the extension’s energy efficiency.
The plan allows for a dynamic visitor experience. A winding path leads to a wide entrance foyer, revealing the wooden structure. The hall opens up to a terrace and a number of exhibition rooms served by a circulation system – acting like a scenographic itinerary – stretching along the north perimeter façade. The Museum & Biodiversity Research Center also has a conference room and eating areas, as well as rooms designed for educational purposes on a slightly higher level, providing a differentiation of spaces.
The French studio’s respectful yet innovative design solutions help connect the building to its local roots. The project, while it enhances and skilfully frames the estate’s natural features, asserts a clear understanding of the functional requirements of such a facility.