Apprentice Formation Center

Apprentice Formation Center in Saint Maur des Fossés, France by AIR

Photographs are copyright David Boureau.

For the extension to the Apprentice Formation Center -- the complex of the Chambre des Métiers et de l’Artisanat du (Chamber of Trades and Crafts of) Val de Marne outside Paris -- French architects AIR (Cyrille Olivier and Hanappe Leclercq) created "an open-air sunny room, a generous public space linking the old and the new. This space is the heart of the project, brightly rendered in concrete tinted yellow.

The building program consists of a new three story building with a double-height hall and plumber's workshop, classrooms, and meeting room, and the rehabilitation of the existing building's classrooms and offices, with a new cafeteria in the same. The new building is located to create the open space defined by the yellow concrete wall. Turning the corner towards the street, the yellow wrapper gives way to a zinc facade punctuated by diamond windows. This dramatic change in cladding accentuates the importance of the plaza, yet it still provides a distinctive street face that blends utilitarian simplicity with some playfulness.

The new building's facade fronting the plaza helps activate the space by angling and folding the concrete planes. If the new building is seen as a simple box, the plaza-side is an appendage to the box. Its role in shaping the outdoor space is as important as the functions it houses. Reaching towards the existing building and the cafeteria space appended to it, entry to the plaza from the parking lot is via a pinch point, opening up towards the street. This shape effectively opens the plaza to the southern sun as well as passers-by.

The interiors are simple -- be it the recreation spaces off the plaza, the top-floor labs, and the double-height workshops -- yet varied in execution. The architectural budget clearly was not spent inside, but a number of sustainable features are also included, such as a green roof, rainwater harvesting, and solar panels. It is a low-budget project that elevates the outdoor social space and its edges over the functional and durable interiors.