Serre Numérique, Valenciennes (F)

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Serre Numérique, Valenciennes

Education-building as a generator for the new economy..

In the French northern city of Valenciennes, La Serre Numérique has been completed, designed by the
dutch agency OIII architects. The building has a large number of functions for research and education in
the field of design and application of “virtual reality”. Three internationally renowned education programs
have been brought together here, in addition to research facilities, and a center for starting companies. As
a generator of economic development, this project is of large strategic importance to the region.

A parade of living paintings

In the design, the relationship between a virtual world and reality is a central theme, as a connection
between form and function. The spatial organization and the appearance of the building are determined by
a regular pattern of patios and atria. The large openings in facades and roof visibly show this organization
on the exterior/outside. These “gateways” in the building ensure that the inside and outside world
remain at an appropriate distance from each other, yet the surroundings are still present everywhere
in the building. The gateways provide a series of framed views of the city, landscape, and sky. With the
continuously changing light and the changing of the seasons, the environment is experienced as a parade
of living paintings. Inside the building, work is done on virtual reality, however, without losing track of the
real world.
The shell of the building consists of stainless steel panels, which, through a perforation, hangs around the
building as a light-filtering curtain. A composition of two types of elements forms a pattern that expresses
the function of the building. In addition to the analogy with an electric circuit, it is also a binary system that shows different pictures in different orders.

Exchange of knowledge and ideas

Bringing together three education programs in order to share facilities also stimulates the mutual
exchange of knowledge and ideas. Space for start-ups, exhibition space, and the possibility to organize
conferences was also added to the program as a foundation of development in addition to a school, and to
strengthen the cooperation with industries.
A design objective is to set-up encounters between students and teachers of different educational
programs, as well as with visitors. A lobby, open to the public, cuts straight through the building from
north to south. Everyone comes together in this space: students, teachers, and visitors. Exhibits,
presentations, and conferences are held here. Two large halls with advanced technical equipment and
facilities, such as a multimedia library, restaurant, and recording studios, can be found here. It outlines the diverse activities in the school. Due to the transparency of all of the educational spaces in the wings around the central part, it is evident that not all time is spent sitting at the computer. The virtual reality is created from actual objects. Therefore, there are studios for drawing, painting, and 3 dimensional objects, in addition to work areas where prototypes are created from all kinds of industrial products, such as cars, boats, and trains. The set-up builds on the idea that seeing each other’s work has an inspiring effect, as well as offering the opportunity for the building to be a “poster board” to the outside world. After all, it is an institute that, for the most important part, is financed by private funds. There is transparency, while recognizing that intimacy and privacy are conditions that also need to be offered in education. Therefore, the layout of the building offers the possibility to screen off sections of the building. The different educational programs all have their own wing separated by patios. These ensure that an abundance of daylight enters the building, while also forming the private gardens of the different educational programs. In addition to similarities between art programs, they also cherish the different characteristics between the programs.


The architecture propagates the importance of the project for the region. It is a monumental sculpture
at a prominent location in a new park on the bank of a river. OIII architects have designed the area as a
platform that protrudes above the sloping land. Building and platform form a unity and are characterized
by a pattern of holes, which are respectively sunken gardens, patios, and atria. The latter inspired the
client to name the project “La Serre Numérique” (The Digital Greenhouse), in line with the function of the
building as a foundation of development for talent. The design of the geometrical gardens in the platform
and building, by the Dutch design agency Haverdroeze, is a reference to the local history of small-secluded gardens in the landscape.

Benchmark for sustainable building

La Serre Numérique is built on land that was once used for heavy industry that dominated this region for over a hundred years. As a generator of new economic development, the building is a symbol of a new era, in which sustainability plays a significant role. A heritage of old industry helps raise awareness; the building uses the geothermic energy source of a former mine. With this, the building is cooled and heated in an energy-neutral manner. It is one of the many sustainable technical solutions that make the building a benchmark in the area of sustainable building


Project                                           Serre Numérique, Valenciennes (F)
Program                                         Educational-building for Rubika supinfocom (animation) supinfogame
                                                      (game design), ISD (industrial design). Amphitheater, auditorium, espace                                                         immersive, recording studios, multimedia library, exhibit space, laboratory,                                                        studios, center for start-ups 20,500 m2 BVO
Building costs                                 26 million euros
Architect                                         OIII architecten, Amsterdam
Project team                                   Maarten Sanders, Sebastien Marty,Emile Revier, Walter Dresscher
                                                       (DNADN), Anouk Dekker, Armand Paardekooper, Ernst Jan Schouten,                                                             Martin Vinkestijn, Peter Evers, Yves Selam
Landscape design                         Haverdroeze Amersfoort, Jeroen Heij
Technical engineering                   Grontmij Nantes
Acoustic advisor                            ABC Decibel, Paris
Advisor sustainable architecture   RFR Elénebts, Paris
Photography                                 Thea van den Heuvel DAPh