M3A2 - Cultural and Community Tower in Paris, France by Antonini + Darmon Architectes, 2011
Paris Diderot Unversity, which bills itself as "the multidisplinary university in the heart of Paris," is located on the Left Bank of the Seine, just south of the National Library of France, the building designed by Dominique Perrault that opened in 1995. The university is expanding its facilities in this "new fast-developing part of Paris," which it has called home since relocating there in 2007. One of the six original campus buildings is the massive Halle aux Farines (Flour Market), which dates back to the 1950s but was overhauled by Agence Nicolas Michelin and Associés. A small corner lot abuts the market, what is now occupied by the M3A2 - Cultural and Community Tower.
Designed by Paris-based Antonini + Darmon Architectes, the sliver building takes on a strong presence through its height and the articulation of the exposed facades. The main elevation (facing left in the photos here) faces north, so then the narrow elevation on the street faces west. A generous park -- Esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet -- parallels the Flour Market to the north. This open space, combined with the Jardins Grands Moulins Abbé Pierre to the west, ensure that M3A2 is highly visible. At night the building acts as a beacon for the university.
[M3A2] acts as a light, gravitational counterpoint [to the Flour Market]. An architectural dialectic and emulation come into play much like a castle and its keep, both intrinsically inseparable. -Antonini + DarmonThe building, which totals 550 square meters (almost 6,000 square feet), stacks seven enclosed floors above an open ground floor. Eight round concrete columns mark the latter, as does an open stair that lands at the northern end of the building. The north facade of the Flour Market is visible through the base of the building. Above, each floor plate is approximately 6.5 meters by nearly 18 meters. A glass wall enclosure with operable windows occurs at this point, but a perforated corrugated skin projects approximately a half a meter in front of each elevation. This skin is what gives the building its character and presence.
The architects wrap the raised box with dark and light rectangles; as the building rises it shifts, at least on the north and west, from mainly dark to mainly light. The appearance of each section of the facade varies according to one's angle and the time of day. At dusk and later the light and dark blocks of the facade act as a foil to the bands of light that wrap the building; they create variety where it otherwise would not exist. Atop the building is an open floor, which makes the structure for the outer skin readily apparent. It gives the impression that this perforated skin is slid over another object; and to a certain extent that is what is happening.