This community facilities center (a nursery school, an elementary school, a gymnasium, a library and a school canteen) designed by the trio Atelier PNG, Julien Boidot and Emilien Robin for the village of Neuvecelle in Haute-Savoie, just won the most prestigious French architectural award, the “Équerre d’Argent 2021”. The architects worked on a family of building, inspired by vernacular mountain architectures but resolutely contemporary by their materiality, their openness and fluidity. The project generates an interesting interplay between the programs, the urban context and the landscape of lake Geneva and a very accurate scale relationship with its users and especially the children.
A family of buildings
The commission was the construction of several community facilities: a nursery school, an elementary school, a gymnasium, a library and a school canteen. Faced with the challenges of such an extraordinary programme in an ordinary village, a generic response would have been to design a unitary signal building. Instead, PNG proposes a lineage of buildings which reinterpret the archetypes of mountain architecture and blend discreetly into this small town located on the shores of Lake Geneva. The project consists of eight different buildings, scattered on either side of a covered path but united by a «family resemblance». Because in such a unitary urban fabric any architectural gesture would have scrambled the domestic scale of the place, the architects worked on a typology, granulometry and size of buildings that are similar to the context so that none of the additions are perceived as out of scale.
Sharing and dilations
The location of each facility on the plot promotes rich interactions between the programs, the outdoor spaces, the urban context and the landscape. Many accesses are created while the town penetrates the parcel through the covered passage which crosses the site from east to west.
This draughtboard organization of solids and voids along a main artery generates a quality landscape by the creation of multifunctional interior patios and courtyards protected from the prevailing winds. The embankment is used to install slides, orchards, bleachers, terraced gardens and other informal uses. From the classroom windows and from the covered path, kindergarten children can see their future school and occasionally mingle with older children.
Spaces of ordinary banality conceal multiple resources that contemporary architecture is able to reveal. Here, the transformation of existing constructions and the emergence of new buildings resulted from a study of vernacular mountain architectures. The heritage is respected for what it is: a legacy, a building to be transformed. While avoiding any pastiche effect, the new additions engage in a courteous dialogue with the past through effects of analogy and contrast. By moving away from a purely formal gesture, this project invites the public to take a new look at the urban condition of Neuvecelle, by attempting to restore its dignity.