PARIS – ‘Sometimes you have to keep ideas for decades before they have any use in architecture.’ This epigram accompanies every official occurrence of the name Ateliers O-S. For just over a decade, the Parisian practice has been playing with massive, cantilevered boxes, yet it would seem at least a few latent thoughts have finally found their outlet in the most recent endeavour. The local suburb of Saint-Germain-lès-Arpajon commissioned the firm to construct a building that would consolidate a public library and a school of music and dance, both previously housed in facilities of poor condition.
The new structure takes full advantage of the site’s skewed and slender topography. A double-tiered volume spills out vertically from a stone slab with the incline before doubling back on one foot to its cradle. From the base of the hill at the east, the building appears as a unified, soaring block, whereas a view from the west side reveals an ascending horseshoe. A central, public passage extends from a lower courtyard beneath the elevated portion up a processional staircase that runs through the bounded void and ends at a top-level main entrance. Staggered rays stretching from the top street to the edge of the lower wing form an additional set of steps to the south boundary of the plot. The resulting, dynamic spatial experience that would have stood impossible or at best contrived on the standard plinths restricting the firm’s previous works seems built into this hillside.
The interior is no less naturally executed. The dance studios and library enjoy a panoramic platform facing out over the valley. Though lecture halls, study rooms and administrative offices are niched behind on either side, the rift and height difference between the two wings provide generous natural light and multilateral views of the landscape to the entire building.
Extruded, aluminium panels line the outer walls, each featuring a patterned, deep relief akin to frayed pages. The cladding is punctured at irregular intervals along each face, except for the east where it frames a fully-glass façade. In spite of its imposing form, the centre assumes a muted brown tone in reverence to the neighbouring cemetery.