Knowledge in construction.
In design terms, university campuses have traditionally been a terrain of experimentation, and of symbolism related to teaching, research and human values. The 1960s saw the development of the concept; and the current approach, with more moderation (but just as much conviction), continues to make sense.
The Montmuzard campus, in the eastern part of Dijon, is typical of the idiom as it existed between the 1960s and the 1980s. In the 1990s the site was given a makeover by Rémi Zaugg, working with the architects Herzog and De Meuron. And the completion of a tram line in the autumn of 2012 will link the campus to the rest of the city.
It is in this context of controlled renewal and mobility that the Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, designed by the Agence d’Architectures Nicolas C. Guillot, has found its place. Inaugurated on 24 October, it occupies a strategic position at the entrance to the campus, and fits in with the general «family spirit».
A building in the image of knowledge: both rigorous and unpredictable.
The Maison des Sciences de l’Homme is a platform for interdisciplinary work in the social sciences – a centre for research and the propagation of knowledge. As a hub of the Université de Bourgogne and the CNRS (the French national scientific research organisation), it provides technical support for researchers and doctoral students.
Architecturally speaking, the building is simple in its form and configuration, and rational in its construction. Like a set of building blocks, its components are superimposed crosswise. Along with individual workspaces, there are places for encounters and social interaction.
The forms are recursive, without superfluity, and the overall effect is compact. The range of materials is restricted: there is concrete, Burgundy stone for the facings, wood for the structure, and perforated metal for some of the external surfaces.
There is also a quality of unexpectedness about the building. The metal skin has several functions: that of sunshades, railings and walkways for maintenance purposes. It duplicates the facades, which are open onto the outside world along their entire length. The 90° angle between levels produces a stratified effect. The basic modules of solar protection, with their laser-cut motifs, are used in different ways and combinations, with their presence or absence producing effects of alternation. And there is a progression from the base, which is stable and full, to the top, which is most open, as if to illustrate the fluidity of intellectual processes.
Contrasting views: the transparent and the opaque.
This building may seem undemonstrative as to its content, but it is permeable to its environment. The volumes open up onto the surrounding world that is the researchers’ focus. Their opaque surfaces have large terraces that are not accessible, creating pockets of light that penetrate the atrium, and, by transparency, the building as a whole.
The principle of superimposition determines opacity and transparency, the seen and the unseen, as if to spatialize confidentiality and sociability.
A compact, functionally logical building.
The highly compact design of the building gives a clear, rationalized mode of functioning, with a progressive hierarchy that goes from the public character of the ground floor to the doctoral students’ private spaces.
The three levels are articulated around an atrium which, besides containing the reception, channels the horizontal and vertical fluxes. This is also a concourse area for exchanges and dialogue. A broad, diagonal staircase objectifies this intention: the edifice is open onto the outside world, which at the same time reaches into its interior.
The building can accommodate 700 people, including some 30 researchers.
The ground floor has spaces for the dissemination and transmission of knowledge: the reception, with two side entrances, an exhibition hall, two workshops, a lecture theatre and a «thesis room». The Maison des Sciences de l’Homme is a research and conference centre, but does not play a teaching role as such.
The first floor brings together all the different resources: documentation, computing, geomatics and digital centres, a photographic laboratory and the office of the Editions des Sciences de l’Homme.
The second floor is reserved for research and administration.
The compact character of the building means that its energy consumption, as measured by the French THPE standard, is excellent, and the simplicity of the construction freed up extra money for investment in the interior equip-ment: furnishings, signage and an artistic project for the atrium, symbolising the philosophical aspect of the human sciences .
The general feel of the interior, mostly in shades of white and grey, is deliberately neutral. It is bathed in natural light, with the glass and metal creating effects of transparency, reflectivity and brightness. The pale wooden frame lends it a warm note, and the windows behind the walkways start at a height of 70 cm above the floor in order to optimise the view and the incoming light.
The Caracas agency’s signage system for the inner spaces is discreet but effective. It was inspired by the alternation of the full and the empty in the sunshades which, along with the classical references, generates a strong graphic identity.
The carefully chosen furniture gives the offices and common spaces a contemporary sense of amenity, along with hints of colour and conviviality. Consoles, sofas, chairs, tables, bookshelves and light fittings combine to produce the ambiance that characterises the project.
External illumination consists of backlighting through the perforated metal. And there are light sources in the banisters and handrails that lead up to the entrances.