SAINT-LOUIS – Parisian studio Manuelle Gautrand was recently dealt with a rather daunting commission for a new cultural facility in an Alsatian town just across the border from Basel. The functions to be accommodated by the new ‘Forum’ of Saint-Louis would be just as heterogeneous as its architectural context near the city centre – sitting on a broad site amongst low-height houses, large office buildings, schools and workshops.
The design resolved to form a puzzle-like structure from 13 progressive rectangular volumes – placing the two principal and most imposing spaces, the Festival Hall and the Great Hall, at the centre, with smaller spaces housing reception, storage and offices concentrated around them. The interlocking scheme eliminates the need for corridors and galleries, and moveable elements such as partitions within the volumes allow for a flexible range of configurations.
While a structural envelope of reinforced concrete delineates the program, the firm created an outer envelope in an attempt to consolidate the different facets of the community while making the building more energy-efficient. This shell, formed from expanded metal panels covering a simple steel frame, is significantly taller than its contents, creating a large void that provides thermal protection. A varnish utilising pigments made from copper-powder imitates the surrounding tile roofs and industrial brick chimneys. Pitched roofs with alternating orientations both convey the outlines of the individual volumes beneath and, along with the varnish and perforation of the panels, induce different perceptions depending on lighting.