The Oloron-Sainte-Marie Multimedia Centre

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The Oloron-Sainte-Marie Multimedia Centre
Oloron Sainte Marie, a town on the edge of the Pyrenees with a population of around 12,000, offers a magnificent site at the confluence of the Aspe and Ossau torrents for the Piémont Oloronais intercommunal multimedia centre. This is the first step in the renewal of an industrial wasteland, part of an ambitious urban regeneration project. With this town centre amenity, the architect Pascale Guédot has designed a new living space with fine architectural and urban qualities. A major element in this recapture of the site, a wide public portico has been created, linked to the opposite banks by two walkways designed by RFR, successfully releasing the site from its isolation.

Originally a municipal initiative dating from 1990, the Confluence site is now a showcase for recent intercommunal aspirations. A child of deindustrialisation, in the late 19th century this urban wasteland housed a high concentration of textile industries, which exploited the hydroelectric power produced by the torrents. With the development of the road networks and because of the site’s inaccessibility, industry gradually moved to the outskirts and changed its character.

Over the 20th century, the Confluence continued to decline, until the architecture competitions and the subsequent development of the site, launched respectively in 2005 and 2009 and won by Pascale Guédot and Michel Corajoud. The multimedia centre replaced a former beret factory abandoned in the 1980s, and was erected on that building’s original stone foundation.

Situated at the end of the confluence, the new multimedia centre – unlike the beret factory it replaced – provides access to the river banks. It is the balcony overhanging the water that releases the space for a fine public promenade, right alongside the rivers. This combines with two terraces of greenery designed by Michel Corajoud, laid out below and on either side of the portico. Together, the design acts as a catalyst to magnify the environment.

Modelled by the stone foundation of the former factory, the shape of the building – the multimedia centre is designed around a set of superimposed volumes – is of great simplicity. The main block, overlaid with a transparent wooden lattice, which contains the reading rooms and administration, conveys a sense of levitation through the presence of a recessed intermediate level made entirely of glass, containing the children’s space. The bow of this wooden vessel culminates in a wide window offering spectacular views over the torrents. In synergy with promenade viewing point, this detail unveils a building that is shaped by and for its environment.

The spatial layout of the two-storey multimedia centre is fully visible from the moment the visitor enters the building. The entrance to the main reading room is an extension of the portico, while at the heart of the building, an atrium generates a visual connection between the youth area in the basement and the primary space for other users. This sense of connection – an effect accentuated by the peripheral location of the weight bearing structures – offers an instant spatial grasp of the building. The mixed texture – concrete infrastructure and steel newels and frames for the superstructure – contributes to the creation of a unitary volume, where shelves and reading spaces are freely arranged.

The bright atmosphere comes from the natural light that penetrates through the roof lights in the wooden lattice covering the ground floor ceiling. Opposite the entrance, an immense window draws the eye towards the water and the riverbanks, the focus of the relaxation space located at this spot. At basement level, the light has its source in the transparent glass curtain wall which diffuses natural light and offers a surprising panorama of the Pyrenean torrents and their untamed banks, contrasting with the historic and immemorial town above them.

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