Beyond Paris [suite] is the second studio focused on the development of Paris beyond its historic perimeter and into the periphery. The subject of this studio is the design of a new science campus for the University of Paris Orsay at Saclay, on the southwest outskirts of the city. It builds on the research of a prior studio for a new social sciences campus at Aubervilliers.
The future development of the Paris metropolitan region beyond the present political and physical boundary of the city continues to be a national priority, and in 2009 President Sarkozy solicited research and proposals from ten international teams of architects and urbanists. Jean Nouvel, Richard Rogers, and MVRDV were among those whose teams conducted broad based studies and proposed visions for a more integrated urban area. Among the priorities for the growth of the metropolitan area is the expansion of the university system to achieve international competitiveness known as “Opération Campus.”
Building on analyses of the region and morphologies of campus and open space the studio looks at the proposal for a new science campus on the Saclay plateau to the southwest of the city. The studio crossed disciplines to generate a landscape, infrastructure, and urban design framework for the campus and its district, as well as the architectural development of a principal building.
Located approximately 20km (35 minutes by RER commuter rail) from the center of Paris, the Saclay plateau is a large territory of 7700 hectares (30 square miles) with some 27 communes or towns, 320,000 inhabitants and significant agricultural production. It is a raised belvedere, with broad visual perspectives, and subjected to high winds. Its edges have more protected wooded slopes.
Paris sits on the cusp of one of the largest forest networks in the european continent. As the city begins to encorach outwards beyond the periphireque and the super-periph, the extensions of urbanism are beginning to challenege many of the rural and historic landscapes of the peri-urban condition. The first wave of this beyond paris growth is centered in the extension of the University network the surrounding areas. The studio’s task was to work with the Parisian authorities to relocate the University of Paris XI, Saclay at Orsay, from the bottom of the yvette river valley, to the top of the Saclay Plateau, encouraging the plateau’s stance as a new research and science hub. The plateau which already has become known for its atomic research and notable Ecole des Polytechnique, has succumb to a trend of urbanistic aggregations of large autonomous pieces without a vision for the plateau. The decision was made that while one new entity couldn’t bind together and thicken the urban quality of the entire plateau, a non synthetic use perhaps could.
The research became focused on attenuating the proposed Urbanism on the plateau with a strategic toolkit of re-forestation. The forest toolkit made up of buffer zones, stitch forests, cultivation plantations, and alley vectors, would become a way to both densify the existing as well as continue the history of cultivation on the plateau. The new cultivation however, rather than being relegated to wheat fields is now articulated in agro-forestry, a dual layer cultivation methodology that utilizes both the canopy and the understory simultaneously. This new trend of agroforesty is one that is being research in the greater France and could be very applicable to the urban context through various sizes of development. Further in areas that are not ready for development the forestation can take on the scale of Silva-culture popular land banking; forests intended for urbanism that are currently being used to grow sustainable deposits of wood.
Beyond its productive gains, the use of forestry creates a layer of fill and density which is desirable as the city moves beyond the periphery into its region. Though not having the density of program available to re-create the urban synthetic density achieved in the heart of the Paris Periphe, the forestation would allow for a similar layer of physical built F.A.R. while facillitated a unique natural quality of the other that is the Paris Peri-Urban Condition.
In order to develop a method for instantiating both new development and new forestry across the agricultural plateau, a cell structure was developed that would allow for various sizes of forestry and urban density with a direct proportionality: The smaller the forestry cell the larger the synthetic density. This was then inscribed across the plateau in a method to allow for more of an orginal agricultural preserved center, with a more dense ring edge of urbanism. Determined by a base grid of 50m x 50m which was articularted based on the ratios extrapolated from several park spaces in the center of paris, such as the plac de voge, the grid allowed for both center of campus as well as optimum planting beds for new agroforesty systems. This ring of urbanism would be accompanied by a new plateau wide transit system that would allow for the depositing of Parisians into urban fabric around the plateau periphery as opposed to the edge of forest and empty agricultural land as exists today.
Within the campus, the cells break down to a middle scale of density that informs a public quad for similar types of research program. The University for Saclay at Orsay, which is a chemistry and bio-chem program is typically arranged in clusters for which the strategy is very suited for. This nicely, created an interior farming approach as well as an exterior front mall landscape that is usable for the campus movement; intimate spaces and public spaces.
One of the forestry cells as an anomaly is left fully planted to accentuate the interplay between tree stand and buildling and that they work in tandem. This space becomes the life of the campus and a main point for public activity. Opposite to this space is the library, which has an extra large interior court of public program but also is the largest and central building for campus, acting as the proverbial wind stand and marker of the intellectual crop of the plateau. The low part of the library acts as a signpost, quite literally as the university name is emblazoned in the channell glass facade. This signpost acts as a waypoint for all the public and private spaces of the campus. Within this block are the public reading rooms, the audio visual areas as well as small classrooms and theatres that support the surrounding classrooms. In addition a public exterior eating environment is offered on two levels for the students.
The library featuring a southern and a northern exposure facade is treated by a green wall shade and a reading room system respectively. The green wall is designed to bring to the facade the program from within where the speciation is representative of the lighting needs and considerations of the internal workings. In addition several void spaces are left in the facade for bamboo courtyards which bring light further into the depth of the slab type. Built off a double core, the extra circulation between stack levels allows for the long slab to be an effective way to move up and down between levels. The elevation reflects a gradient of more public private reading spaces below moving upwards to larger numbers of stack and dedicated research spaces.
At its core, the project begins to ask whether forestry can actually be a method of urbanization that generates growth density and the same volumetric feeling of the city while maintaining a tie to the naturalness of the site.