For the Sorbonne Nouvelle is luxury space and the Garden of Babylon

Forplads @Nicolas Borel

The gradual withdrawal of the facades respects the view of the monastery and creates an architecture of terraces whose planted terraces refer to the hanging gardens adjacent to Babylon’s emblematic library. ”Explains Christian de Portzamparc, when he visited the Sorbonne Nouvelle press in the spring of 2022.

Opened in February 2022, this new campus dedicated to literature, theater, video, cinema, foreign languages ​​and the humanities and social sciences, with many spacious classrooms, will eventually accommodate over 35,000 m² east of Paris (12th century), about 6,500 students about day (18,000 enrolled) and about 2,000 teachers.

On a relatively tight ground, the building is designed around a unifying central space. ” The first universities were built around a monastery where everyone could meet and from there walk everywhere », The architect continues.

After the reference to Babylon, to the monastery, now the monastery? What modern building is the name of this new Sorbonne? Christian de Portzamparc will also insist on this notion of a monastery throughout the visit, a priori obsolete to highlight the importance in his mind of indoor and outdoor circulation spaces, large and oversized, practical and comfortable. All these widths of corridors, these high ceilings, these almost incoherent spaces that artists want to know how to make their honey … A nightmare for a public contracting authority almost as much as a builder’s nightmare? Not here.

Luxury is space, said an old advertisement (for cars, I think). It is true. But for the price of the intramural Parisian square meter, at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, all this space dedicated to something other than ultra-functional profitability makes you dream.

The Sorbonne
Open block @Nicolas Borel
The Sorbonne
View from the Monastery @Nicolas Borel

Optimism, which, however, must remain subdued. The existing ONF tower, renovated and erected by Maud Caubet Architectes (delivery scheduled for the end of 2023) is an important element of the project due to its location at the bridgehead of the earth. It is in fact its presence and its shape that enable Christian de Portzamparc, with an S-shaped wave gene, to open the project to the neighborhood in different directions.

Generous intent, which is reflected in the special entrance that gives the residents of the district access to this prestigious library. Unfortunately, these openings on the environment are duly closed by solid regulatory grids. If society one day ends up no longer being afraid of its own shadow, then Christian de Portzamparc’s drawing will appear remarkably topical.

Meanwhile, the latter returns again to the notion of courtyard, monastery, airy circulation, a kind of filiation of his work, where the idea here is to create an open AND intimate place (it is he who emphasizes AND). ” It is an enclosed space, but not claustrophobic he says. ” This is an important issue in a dense city: to be protective without limiting “. In a time of dangerous panic, the building everywhere translates this desire for comfort, for benevolent pedagogy.

Close is the program too. For a usable area of ​​26,000 m² – in addition to 146 classrooms, offices for the administration, five language laboratories, etc. – it is characterized by a large library on three floors, three amphitheaters with 120, 350 and 500 seats, a theater, a cinema, a restaurant, recording studios, a TV. *

If the building appears pleasing, such as the colored facade of the building of the classrooms, it may be that the architect played with a good mood on the differences in materials, geometries, facades – differences that are always justified, such as these trapezoidal windows, which allow, out over allowing light to penetrate into the depths, creating isolated workstations, without partitions and yet intimate, moreover, with a view to the outside. And if there are several buildings, it is truly a simple job, relaxed, flexible, relaxed, non-violent.

The other projects in the competition, signed Studio Milou, Dominique Perrault and Marc Mimram, ** apparently had no curved elements. The rounded monastery or the right angle, a matter of method? ” I preferred to continue in a vacuum, to trust the culture with distance between things », Emphasizes Christian de Portzamparc.

Thus, in addition to the spaces provided in the program, two small outdoor amphitheaters were born, one completely mineral, the other vegetable (or is it another of these Babylonian gardens that goes down into an amphitheater?) , at least two perfect places for students who want to learn to work with their oratorical talent and their voice range in different environments, especially when the weather is good.

Christian de Portzamparc
Amphitheater @Nicolas Borel
The Sorbonne
Lobby @Nicolas Borel

Throughout the visit, however, the impression remains within a single cohesive space. Including large quantities, including a large foyer, as one would say in the theater, the size of which was not listed anywhere in the program. The two monumental canvases by the French painter Béatrice Casasesus (1% artistic) bring the scale of this space to a familiar and engaging dimension.

The conservatory has become the key to the place “, explains Christian de Portzamparc as proof before leaving a long digression and praising his acoustician, for whom models have been built so large that three people can fit inside, making it possible to perform tests with the physical model AND numerically (highlighted.) In short, for the impeccable acoustics of the various rooms there is nothing to add, the passion and experience of the architect is sufficient in itself.

The Sorbonne
BU @Nicolas Borel
Work by Beatrice Casadesus
Works by Béatrice Casadesus @Nicolas Borel
Work by Matthieu Bonnard
@Nicolas Borell

These generous, luminous circulations, open to the constantly changing landscapes of the structure, become, with discreet but usably designed furniture, intuitive appropriations. Also within the framework of 1% artistically, the 5/5 collective has created three additional meeting places – kiosks as elegant as unexpected. But these creations are allowed only because the architect far upstream had insisted on keeping these volumes open to the imagination. At the Sorbonne Nouvelle, a corridor is not just a corridor.

One floor is dedicated to the training of interpreters, who were the first to inaugurate the school in February 2022. They have high-class classrooms, studios and facilities. This will no doubt apply to everyone when the school is running at full speed.

The real return to the school will take place in September 2023. The students will then be able to try out the restaurant room – 1,000 meals a day – which out of operation becomes a large and bright co-working room. There are sockets, but in this case, in this kind of overly regulated canteens, it is precisely the acoustics that are complicated.

The pandemic has shown us that we need space, green, to see the sky, to walk, to meet … From our first studies of the Sorbonne Nouvelle, our thinking focused a lot on this story of openness, with what I called “open islands”: bring the sun, the light in, while maintaining a kind of intimacy. There is a necessary harmony », Christian de Portzamparc concludes. **

Harmony is space.

Christophe Leray

* To find out more about this project: Campus Nation – Sorbonne Nouvelle University, by Christian de Portzamparc
** See other projects:
– Studio Milou
– Dominique Perrault
– Marc Mimram
*** Christian de Portzamparc in “La Grande Table” (France culture, June 2020) – Thinking ahead: “You need to know how to include the world’s diversity in cities”

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