Page D1.2 . 19 March 2008                     
ArchitectureWeek - Design Department
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Les Archives Départementales

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At the same time as the building is bold and beautiful, it seems designed to provide a warmly human environment for visitors from casual to professional, and for the sixty-odd staff of the institution.

This is achieved creatively, as seen in the section and plans, through effective use of play with the ground plane. The two-story slab of people-spaces is set one story into the ground, so the main public arrival occurs at grade, entering into a large reception lobby, with the glass-walled, glass-roofed reading rooms immediately beyond.

This slab is topped with a verdant green roof, symmetrical in plan, punctured by six treed patios. Two of these, on the west side of the building, go down one level to share their floor with the main public level.

The two patios in the center, which flank the main reading rooms (and auditorium below), and the two patios to the east, all go down another level, providing daylight and living greenery into the technical services or laboratory and workshop area, which includes bookbinding, restoration, conservation, photography, and maintenance, and to the subterranean entry from staff parking.

The green roofs appear both as an environmental adaptation and as a playful symbolic reference to the concept of the ultimate archive as an underground stronghold. In fact, the previous departmental archive for Ille-et-Vilaine was much of the closed-box variety.

The symmetrical floor plan and severely geometrical solid composition of the building contribute to a sense of formality, entirely leavened by the supergraphics and human touches. Where many archival structures accept long dark hallways accessing storage areas as a necessity, at Ille-et-Vilaine, the archival passages are mostly amply relieved by the sweeping transparent landscape connection.

There are some longish double-loaded corridors in the administrative and technical services area, on the upper and lower level on the east side of the slab, but each door opens onto a room filled with light from opposite glazing, either on a facade or on one of the tree patio atriums.

The reading rooms are cool, clean, and swanky, with technical task lamps and meticulously detailed contemporary glass ceilings. Cool metallic finishes in these spaces are an offset from the exposed concrete in other areas.

From the architects' statement: "To encourage citizens to think, to remind them of their rights, but also to emphasize their heritage, from now on the Archives address a wider public. Exhibitions, lectures, training workshops, have given them the status of a public amenity. Functions of a radically different nature now coexist within a single entity. Information and distribution to a broader public call for open and flexible spaces. On the other hand, the process of storage of the heritage, with its strict technical and scientific requirements, generates highly specialized spaces, which gain value from their content, but must also be protected because of that content."

This striking new building seems to meet the technical and human requirements gracefully, while ringing with rather a beautiful chord for the wider public.

The new archive seems an appropriate addition to the built environment of Rennes, which ranges from the medieval half-timbering along rue St. Michel through French Renaissance in the city center on to a breadth of strong modern presences. As city of around 200,000, Rennes is small to have a 15 stop, 9.2-kilometer (5.7mile) subway system, including viaducts and the La Poterie station designed by Foster.

Such metropolitan richness can likely afford to embrace a bold statement. And such is the Les Archives départementales d'Ille-et-Vilaine. This government archive projects a sweet and timely expression of openness with a bold and lighthearted elegance.   >>>

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Kevin Matthews is Editor in Chief of ArchitectureWeek

 

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The patios of the Departmental Archives of Ille-et-Vilaine are finished with permeable surfaces.
Photo: Stéphane Chalmeau Extra Large Image

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Red lights accent the patios of the Departmental Archives at night.
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Departmental Archives of Ille-et-Vilaine site plan drawing.
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Departmental Archives lower-floor plan drawing.
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Departmental Archives ground-floor plan drawing.
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Departmental Archives second-floor plan drawing.
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Departmental Archives fourth-floor plan drawing.
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Several of the patios extend to the lower floor, becoming light wells for the auditorium and other spaces.
Photo: Stéphane Chalmeau Extra Large Image

 

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