Constructional Truth: Leonard de Vinci Technical College ―
The extension of the Leonard de Vinci technical college in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, in the outskirts of Paris, makes a strong statement on the way architecture can be pared down to its simplest constructional truth.
The architecture of a technical college needs to express construction. It must offer the flexibility essential to a continuously evolving program. It must be simple and strong, able to serve students and staff over time.
The project goes straight to the point. Shape and constructional traits arise from the rational imperatives of the program: doubling the surface area of the college, with the creation of a new building that will accommodate 1200 students, while maintaining the facility’s activities.
The new building is distributed on three levels. On the ground floor are areas for technical instruction with workshops, cloakrooms, and stores, forming a U around the courtyard and opening onto the forecourt. Movement is distributed via two interior streets which, as well as providing natural light, facilitate orientation within the complex.
The ground floor is built into the slope, so that the first floor, where the college’s student and administrative life takes place, is on the same level as the park that will eventually run through the building. These functions are connected by large, covered patios, creating a selective dialogue between themselves and the world outside.
On the second floor, classrooms provide exclusive views over the park and the central garden.
A 3.6 m load-bearing skeleton divided into 1.2 m units structures the building. The joinery and facade cladding, lights, radiators and electrical terminals maintain this same regular pattern. The uniform distribution of the utility networks, the repetitive design of the openings and the absence of internal bearing walls make for genuine modular flexibility.
The solar screens are fixed in such a way as to leave the views open. They are adapted to the orientation of each facade and play a structural role by providing rigidity for the high glass walls on the ground floor and support for the service passage on the second floor.
The extensive industrial metal surfaces are a showcase of powder coating application: The chosen tone, a dark brown that easily blends into the wooden material palette of the building interior and its surrounding landscape, highlights the slender metal profiles but remains light enough to allow for an impressive game of cast shadows, accentuating the rhythm of the modular building. Structural elements and solar screens are matte, coming into contrast with the high gloss ceilings that multiply space and enhance the feeling of levitation as one crosses through the circulation bridges.
Through this economy of resources and simplicity of construction, through the rejection of arbitrary design of all kinds, the architecture remains free of any formal presumption and pared down to its simplest constructional truth.
Photography: Camille Gharbi