Management Centre for the Department of the GardEdit profile
a peri-urban context An open field bordered by a highway off-ramp and the blank back facades of commercial strip buildings lining a major access route into the city center serve as the context for a new civic structure on the outskirts of Nimes in the south of France. The 1500 square meter Management Center for the Department of the Gard is a municipal office building whose simple L-shaped form suggests a new geometric order for future development in this peri-urban zone and whose massive stone wall imposes a civic sense to an otherwise unremarkable terrain vague. The clarity of the architectural parti has been generated from both the orientation of the site and the demands of the program. wind, sun, water The region around Nimes is affected by the strong mistral winds from the northeast, and the site of the project is particularly exposed to this wind. One of the first decisions in conceiving the form of the building was to construct a closed wall to block this wind on the north side, which is also the front façade of the building. In the opposite, southwest direction the site opens up to a green field, taking in sunlight throughout the day. The majority of office spaces open out onto this view, the crossed stems of the L delimiting an exterior garden where employees can take a break during the workday. Because the terrain is subject to floods, the garden is sunken to channel water to a retention zone during heavy rains. A second rainwater retention basin is located on the upper roof; in addition, attention has been paid to correctly channel rain run-off from the parking areas. The strong light and hot climate necessitate the use of sun protection, so the building is outfitted with two types of exterior shading devices: fixed vertical metal fins over large glazed areas and moveable horizontal blinds for the office spaces. L shaped plan The program called for a series of interview rooms and support spaces to interview potential employees for municipal jobs. This area is located at ground level, parallel to the main façade in stone and opening onto the double height lobby space, with the interview rooms down a corridor lit by clerestory lighting and facing onto the courtyard. On the roof of this volume an exterior terrace can be found, adjacent to the interior cafeteria space and in use for well over half the year, owing to the fine weather of Nimes. Another important programmatic element is the departmental council meeting room, often occupied in the evening. This large space is located on the upper level, hovering above the main entry. Openings in the room to the east and west afford views down the access road and create a signal of light when occupied at night. The closed wall to the north faces the wholly uninteresting back facades of the commercial buildings across the street. The rest of the building program is dedicated to private office spaces on two levels, forming the spine of the building on the north-south axis with transversal views onto the garden. Employee parking is located to the east with a side entry off the main lobby. The circulation and HVAC systems were conceived so that a building extension could be added at the south end in the future with minimal disruption of existing installations. sober and soft The sober tone of the building has been set by its strict geometry and also from its obvious materiality: 2m x 0.9m x 0.5 m blocks of "Pont du Gard" stone lifted from a nearby quarry and stacked on top of each other to form the main façade. This porous stone with smooth jointing creates the impression of a strangely soft texture despite its mass. In its materiality and ancient method of construction it evokes the Roman monuments prevalent in the region, including the well-preserved amphitheatre in the center of Nimes and the Pont du Gard aqueduct, which lends its name to the local stone. Behind the stone façade is an efficient concrete building system of columns and slabs based on a 3m x 5m module that allow for future changes in interior partitioning. The painted concrete façade, immediately visible in the cantilevered volume of the council room floating above the void of the entry, is animated by adjustable aluminum shades on its longitudinal sides. On the interior, natural light slashes through the vertical brise-soleil and the translucent glass of the entrance stair and bridge to animate the entrance lobby throughout the day. The simple interior spaces are punctuated by a color palette of earthy red, grey-blue, and stone beige.